Tray Allen

Jackson Jeffcoat (44) and Emmanuel Acho (18) makes a tackle against Texas Tech. Jeffcoat, a sophomore, wants to send the seniors off right this season.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

This senior class has been through a lot. In their first year as Longhorns, the team finished the season ranked third in the country and went 12-1. As sophomores, they went all the way to the national championship game. As juniors, there was a big change and they didn’t even qualify for a bowl game. Now this season, the seniors are leading the team through another rough patch.

With so much experience with ups and downs, underclassmen have come to respect and admire the class of 2011.

“They’ve definitely been mentors for us throughout this whole season, and you know, to play for them on senior night, it’s an honor for me,” said sophomore cornerback Carrington Byndom. “And I’ll go out there and give it all that I have for them and for the team. Definitely having those guys back there is an honor.”

With such a young team, leadership is vital. The team has been through a lot in the past couple of years and many young players admire specific upperclassmen who helped them transition to college football.

Junior safety Kenny Vaccarro said he credits senior safety Blake Gideon for getting him where he is today.

“He has been through a lot here,” Vaccarro said. “Obviously, as far as the mental side of the game goes, it’s hard to come in and learn these systems. He helps the defense glue together and puts us all in the right positions.”

Jackson Jeffcoat, who has been playing well all season, said he wants to send the seniors off on a high note — especially fellow defensive end Kheeston Randall.

“Kheeston is a great guy, and he is like a big brother to me,” Jeffcoat said. “It’s always fun having him around. He was with us last year as a junior and unfortunately we didn’t get to send our seniors off the way we wanted to.”

Sophomore offensive lineman Mason Walters said seniors David Snow and Tray Allen helped him, especially when he first arrived on campus. Walters said the team will fight as hard as they can on Saturday.

“Coming in, both those guys, they were already kind of established older guys when I was new on campus, and they’ve both helped me out in places on the field and off the field,” Walters said.

Senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have both been playing well this season and leading the defense to the best team in the Big 12 in total defense. Acho has the fourth-highest amount of tackles in the conference and was named game captain for the BYU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Missouri games this season. Robinson was named team captain for the games against Texas Tech, BYU, UCLA and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Robinson injured his thumb in last week’s game against Missouri. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks said he has a huge amount of respect for them.

“They’re both great leaders,” Hicks said. “I’ve learned almost everything I know here about this defense from them and Coach Diaz. So they’ve taught me a lot.”

Acho said this senior class has been through a lot and that they have grown together.

“I love this senior class,” Acho said. “We’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through the ups. We’ve been through the downs. I like where we are, and I like the friendships that have formed.”

Gideon agrees that the team has been through a lot of highs and lows in their four years at Texas.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker said the team was embarrassed by last season. He, along with the other seniors, took it upon themselves to make sure this season was different.

“The senior leaders of this team were going to make sure that we didn’t let that happen again, and we were going to find a way, brick-by-brick, build a new foundation to build up this team so that we’re stronger than ever,” Whittaker said.

Head coach Mack Brown had a lot to say about the senior leaders. He had kind words for many specific seniors. He noted Blake Gideon has started every game at Texas, Christian Scott’s athletic and academic performance, Whittaker’s unselfishness, Cody Johnson’s willingness to move to fullback, Tray Allen and Blaine Irby’s recoveries from injuries and Justin Tucker’s consistent impressive performances.

It’s pretty clear that this is a senior class with a lot of character and a willingness to lead a young team.

“This is a great senior class that’s given us a lot of joy, and that’s why I want the fans to give them their proper greeting when they come into the stadium on Saturday night for the game,” Brown said.

Texas' offensive linemen try to make push up front for quarterback David Ash. The line was hammered by Oklahoma all game, giving up eight sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Many units were considered strengths for Texas heading into this year’s Red River Rivalry before getting embarrassed against Oklahoma. The offensive line was no different.

Despite giving up only five sacks in its four games, the Longhorns offensive line allowed the Sooners to rack up eight. Oklahoma’s defense also made 17 tackles for loss as Texas averaged fewer than one yard per carry in spite of the production the Longhorns got out of running backs Malcolm Brown (59 yards), Fozzy Whittaker (45 yards) and D.J. Monroe (23 yards)

“We did not play well in the offensive line,” said head coach Mack Brown. “We did not make the yards we needed to make. We did not protect the quarterback like we needed to. We’ve got a lot of work to do this week at that area.”

There could be a bit of movement along the offensive line as there is now an “or” between senior Tray Allen’s and true freshman Josh Cochran’s names on the depth chart at left tackle. Allen, who waited four years behind players such as Kyle Hix and Adam Ulatoski to start, was the top-rated offensive tackle coming out of high school in 2007. Cochran, on the other hand, is in his first season at Texas and was not nearly as highly touted of a prospect as Allen.

“[Cochran]’s a guy that comes in and competes,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “Like a lot of our young guys, you’re wanting to get those guys experience and you’re wanting to get those guys
to play.”

Another first-year offensive lineman who has also caught the coaching staff’s eye, Sedrick Flowers, is finally over an ankle injury. The earliest the 6-foot-3, 310-pound guard would see the field, however, would be after the Longhorns’ bye week against Kansas Oct. 29.

“We think he has a chance to be really good,” Brown said. “He’s better but he hasn’t been able to get the experience in practice we’d need him to get so he’s not as far along as we’d like him to be at this time.”

Even though Texas held Oklahoma to 86 yards rushing, 64 of them coming on one long, Dominique Whaley-touchdown run, the Longhorns were out-rushed as they managed only 45 yards on 36 carries.

Texas lost 51 yards on eight sacks and a whopping 117 yards on Oklahoma’s 17 tackles for loss, including going backward 35 yards on back-to-back sacks of David Ash.

“That stuff can’t happen, especially against a good team,” said senior guard David Snow. “You can’t have that. You play a really good team and make mistakes, it’ll cost you.”

Another chunk of lost yardage came on trick plays, which had worked wonderfully in the Longhorns’ first four contests. Freshmen receivers Miles Onyegbule and Jaxon Shipley were both brought down for big losses on reverse-pass plays. One piece of trickery was effective, however, when a screen pass went for a sizable gain with Allen lining up near the left sideline and throwing a nice lead block.

Oklahoma State’s defense, even though it ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in yards allowed, is superb at getting takeaways. The Cowboys have already forced 17 turnovers and the nation’s third-best turnover margin, along with 14 sacks in five games, which is good for 21st in the country and third in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Texas’ offensive line should have easier time with Oklahoma State’s defensive front than it did with Oklahoma’s.

“We played a very good opponent up front,” Harsin said. “Those guys did a very good job of giving us some different looks and obviously being talented. I thought the O-line did a nice job of competing. It wasn’t perfect, nor was any position on the field, but those guys kept competing.”

The blame for turnovers is often placed on those who commit them. However, the fact that McCoy and Ash had their worst game the same week that their offensive line did is no coincidence. Texas won’t be giving up eight sacks or committing five turnovers anytime soon but that doesn’t mean the Longhorns offensive line doesn’t have to step up this weekend.

Senior running back Fozzy Whittaker looks for some running room Saturday against Rice. Whittaker found the end zone twice in the Longhorns victory.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Maybe a change in jersey number was just what the doctor ordered.

In four quarters Saturday, Fozzy Whittaker scored as many touchdowns as he did all last season.

The senior running back, who wears No. 2 but wore No. 28 last season, scored on a seven-yard scamper after taking a direct snap and found the end zone on a 26-yard screen play.

“Fozzy has one speed, and that’s full [speed],” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “He’s just a dirt dog. He’ll do whatever he needs to do. That’s what we love about Fozzy.”

Whittaker was the catalyst of a five-headed backfield that shredded Rice’s defense, one that produced more yards than the Owls’ entire offense. He was also impressive catching passes out of the backfield, making a team-high four grabs for 55 yards.

“Fozzy is just a workhorse,” said senior offensive tackle Tray Allen. “He brings excitement to what he does. We make sure we throw our blocks and Fozzy’s going to use his speed. His cuts make the rest of it work. Fozzy did a really good job on Saturday.”

The Longhorns have plenty of talented tailbacks at their disposal. Six other players carried the football, four of them running backs. Senior Cody Johnson was solid in short yardage situations, junior D.J. Monroe showcased his world-class speed as he ran for 41 yards on five carries, and even freshman receiver Jaxon Shipley got 25 yards on three rushes. It was evident that Whittaker’s time spent with the freshmen running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron paid off. Brown had a game-high 86 yards while Bergeron showed potential as well, going for 28.

“Before the game, I was just getting in their ear,” Whittaker said. “I was saying, ‘Hey, just play like you played in high school. There’s going to be a lot of people here. Block it out. Don’t focus on anything else but what you have to do on the field.”

When the dust settled, Texas had amassed 229 rushing yards, including 123 in the fourth quarter.

After a season of futile attempts to establish a dominant running attack, Whittaker and his fellow running backs had their way with the Owls, though it took a couple quarters to get on track. Texas ran for just 83 yards in the first half with only 51 of them coming from running backs. In the second half, however, the Longhorns offensive line took over in the trenches and the Texas running backs took advantage.

A solid rushing attack will be necessary to keeping the Longhorns offense balanced and take pressure off of the passing game and quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who happened to have Texas’ longest run of the game — a 24-yard sprint up the middle on a broken play. The Longhorns didn’t have the personnel to make the running game a point of emphasis last season. Now that the backfield has added Brown and Bergeron and seniors like Whittaker and Johnson have improved, they do.

“I’m glad we’re back to Texas football,” Allen said. “That’s been Texas’ strength for the last 100 years or so. Running the ball is how we make the fans happy.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Whittaker starts season on right foot

Texas hopes its offensive line will be better than last year, when it struggled to open up holes in the running game and give quarterback Garrett Gilbert protection. New line coach Stacy Searels is trying to establish a more physical mentality.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns offensive line is out to prove one thing this season — their toughness.

Many considered the O-line to be soft after a poor showing in 2010, the result of a nonexistent running game and an increase in sacks allowed.

But with new offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who joined the Texas staff this offseason after spending his last four years at Georgia, the Longhorns have taken on a new mentality up front.

“It’s all about smashing you in the mouth and moving quickly to get there,” said senior left guard David Snow.

Searels is an imposing figure on the practice field, standing 6-feet-6-inches and weighing over 280 pounds, and brings a tougher, meaner and nastier edge to his new squad.

Senior left tackle Tray Allen said the linemen talked about being a punishing group after the Longhorns loss to Texas A&M on Thanksgiving, and they’ve been striving for that persona ever since.

“Being a tougher offensive line is what we’ve been working on and hopefully we show everybody on [Saturday],” Allen said.

The Longhorns admit they were complacent a year ago, after coming off back-to-back trips to BCS bowl games. With Searels in the fold, though, that’s unlikely to be the case in 2011.

“He’s going to make practice as hard as he can [to prepare] for game situations,” Snow said. “He’s going to push you throughout the whole practice.

“He has a lot of energy, he’s very exuberant. He’s going to get after you.”

Gone are the days of zone blocking schemes and lateral running plays. Searels has Texas blocking downhill this year, a return to the philosophy that preceded the spread offense.

Now, the Longhorns’ mentality is to come right at the defense, a change that Searels instituted on the first day of camp.

“He established it the first day,” Snow said. “When a new coach comes in they have to change the culture.”

Searels is one of six new Longhorns coaches this year. Despite all the new faces on the staff, head coach Mack Brown says he’s been pleased with the way the group has meshed.

“It’s always hard to fit your line coach in with all the other guys,” Brown said. “Stacy’s come in and been great. Stacy and [first-year defensive tackles coach] Bo Davis are best friends, so the offensive and defensive lines have worked.”

So far, Searels has put his stamp on the offensive line and settled on a starting five. Now it’s up to him to identify the backups.

“Stacy feels pretty good about the first five,” Brown said. “Now he’s got to find seven, then he’s got to find eight, then he’s got to find 10 and we’re not there yet.”

Whoever the top 10 linemen will be, one thing is certain: Searels won’t tolerate softness. Come Saturday, he’ll find out just who has the toughness to restore Texas to prominence.