Masks and handwashing won’t protect you from torn muscles, sprains and strains, apparently.
Texas football has remained COVID-free these last few weeks, but now the ninth-ranked Longhorns are dealing with normal football-related injuries after the season-opening win over UTEP.
Receiver Jordan Whittington will be out 3-4 weeks with a “small tear of his lateral meniscus,” UT coach Tom Herman said Monday. Groin problems ruined Whittington’s freshman season. With this injury, he’ll be on the shelf possibly through the Oklahoma game on Oct. 10.
“He’ll have surgery here in the next couple of days,” Herman said. “Nothing to repair, we don’t think, so just a snip and clean out. I’m being told 3-4 weeks, so plan to have him back for most of conference play. So that was good news.”
This comes after fellow slot receiver Jake Smith was held out of the opener with a hamstring issue. He’s expected to play against Texas Tech, but those injuries are tricky.
“His rehab is going great,” Herman said of Smith. “Other than that, we’re moving right along.”
Also on the injury front, Herman said cornerback Josh Thompson “got too many stitches to count” in his ear Saturday night. Thompson is expected to be fine.
And from the nothing-to-see-here department, Herman downplayed a weekend report that defensive back B.J. Foster quit the team at some point during the second half. The junior was upset with his playing time but has since talked to coaches and returned to the fold.
Herman said that Foster will “serve his penance” internally and then the whole issue will be “water under the bridge.” Foster was listed as the backup strong safety for the UTEP game, but it’s unclear where he falls in the pecking order going into the bye week.
“It’s OK to be frustrated,” Herman said. “But we’ve got to be able to control our actions, and he realizes that.”
Like the T-shirt says, Herman’s trying to keep calm and coach on despite these receiver injuries. The receiving corps was thin already and perhaps the team’s most unproven position group. Having two key contributors down isn’t helping.
Fortunately for UT, the next game is still off on the horizon. Texas (1-0) plays at Texas Tech (1-0) on Sept. 26 in what will be the conference opener for both teams.
Herman credited first-year offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich for devising the UTEP game plan to get a lot of receivers involved against a lesser foe. Seven different Longhorns caught touchdown passes, including graduate transfers Tarik Black and Brenden Schooler. Yurcich was deliberate about getting “those guys involved and to get their feet wet,” Herman said.
Sophomore Joshua Moore caught the game’s first pass and went 78 yards for a score. He finished with six catches for 127 yards. Black had five catches for 80 yards. Perhaps lost all the gaudy numbers was that seven different receivers also had catches longer than 20 yards.
Texas fans on social media celebrated walk-on Kai Money’s 17-yard touchdown. The relatively unknown receiver from Brownsville had four catches for 26 yards. “Wow Texas I love you,” Money tweeted late Sunday.
And yes, that’s his real last name. “I thought it was made up, too, when we first met,” Herman said. “He was certainly the personification of his last name Saturday night, so that was good.”
No offense to the pride of South Texas, but relying on walk-ons is never a championship-winning strategy. The only reason Money got as much playing time as he did was because of Smith’s and Whittington’s injuries.
“I don’t know that we’ve got maybe one or two dominant players like we’ve had in years past, and that’s OK,” Herman said. “We’ll adjust to where we’ve got six or seven really, really good players. They’re all going to play. And like I’ve said before, the defense will tell us where the ball goes, too.”
That’s on quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The senior set career highs in passing yards (426) and touchdowns (five) with relative ease. He was named the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week and the Big 12’s offensive player of the week.
It’s rather remarkable how Ehlinger can be so exceptional, and now it’s greeted with mostly a knowing nod of acceptance. This type of quarterback play should never be taken for granted. Then again, it was UTEP.
“We have a lot of confidence in our receivers that they’ll get open and that when Sam does find them when they’re open, they’ll make the play,” Herman said.
Ehlinger wasn’t exactly putting this game ball in his trophy room. “I left a lot of throws out there that I should have made,” the quarterback said late Saturday. “I can’t wait for the bye week to continue to get better.”
An off week this early in the season was a deliberate scheduling quirk implemented by the Big 12. The league wanted to space in extra time in September in case any team had a COVID-19 outbreak and needed to reschedule. Three Big 12 teams have already had to reschedule games. More games may be shuffled around if the coronavirus flares up.
Texas players have continued to test negative for COVID-19. “When I look around and I read the news of what other teams are dealing with, all across the country,” Herman said, “I tell our guys every day how proud I am of them every day.”
Doctors can’t slather hand sanitizer on Whittington’s knee or Smith’s hamstring, unfortunately. The training room is a different kind of quarantine. Everyone else remains on their toes.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.