Longhorns adjust to loss of Chris Whaley, Johnathan Gray

Peter Sblendorio

The Longhorns overtime win against West Virginia on Saturday extended their win streak to six games and allowed them to rejoin Baylor atop the Big 12 standings.

The night remained far from perfect for Texas, as the Longhorns suffered a pair of critical losses in the victory. Senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley (knee) and sophomore running back Johnathan Gray (Achilles) each sustained injuries requiring surgery in the game, ending both of their seasons.

Gray enjoyed a breakout season through his first nine contests, leading the team with a career-high 780 rushing yards on 159 carries while scoring four touchdowns. Despite this prolific start to the season, Gray believes junior running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are capable of filling his void.

“Malcolm and Joe can handle the workload for sure,” Gray said. “Those guys are more mature and older, so I have faith in them to get the job done and do what the coaches ask of them.”

Brown is expected to receive the majority of Gray’s carries after compiling 379 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his past four games. Bergeron also figures to see a considerable spike in touches as the new backup running back, especially after receiving just 16 rushing attempts in the past six games.

Texas also faces the tall task of replacing Whaley, who accumulated 25 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss in nine starts this season. Whaley also scored a pair of defensive touchdowns, one on an interception return against Oklahoma and the other on a fumble return against Kansas.

“When you have somebody like Chris Whaley — who’s such a big-time leader — go down, you need people to step up,” senior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “We all have to raise our play without him.”

Junior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson turned in an impressive performance Saturday after Whaley went down, racking up eight tackles and two sacks in the victory. He is slated to be the starter this week in Whaley’s absence, with freshman Hassan Ridgeway stepping in as the backup. 

While the injuries to both Gray and Whaley are substantial, Texas is no stranger to losing key players on both sides of the ball. The Longhorns lost junior linebacker Jordan Hicks to an Achilles injury after the fourth game of the season, while junior quarterback David Ash played in just one of Texas’ last seven games after suffering a concussion on Sept. 7 against BYU.

Because of this, head coach Mack Brown believes the Longhorns possess the ability to weather the injuries to Gray and Whaley as they have in the past.

“This team has been very resilient,” Brown said. “It’s been next man up. It’s time to get someone else ready to play. As disappointed as you are and as much leadership as you lose, the guys just said, ‘It is what it is’ … They just understand that’s part of the deal.”

The Longhorns remain confident in their ability to carry on without Gray and Whaley, and they expect their depth to allow them to combat this new list of critical injuries.