With two major games in the next 12 days, there isn't time to feel sorry for yourself. You still have miles to go.
Nov. 13, 2011
Bill Little, Texas Media Relations
COLUMBIA, MO - Saturday reminded me of something I wrote several years ago, reconnecting my college learning experience with the reality of the day.
Etched in my memory is a college English professor who was trying to get us to understand the poet Robert Frost. Frost, you will recall, wrote a poem entitled "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."
In it, the writer is traveling on a cold winter night, and stops along the road to observe a scene. He ends the poem with words, "The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep...and miles to go before I sleep."
When our professor asked us what the writer meant, at the time, being a cut-to-the-facts journalism major, I simply said the guy saw a significant scene and wrote about it.
Saturday in Columbia, I remembered that a few years ago the answer to the prof's question came to me. What he meant was, whether the scene is beautiful or ominous, you can't stop there. You have to go on. And so it is with the Texas Longhorns of 2011. Despite the loss to Missouri, and more significantly the loss of a player who represented a major part of the senior leadership of this team on the offensive side of the ball, there are still three games left in the season (plus a bowl game) that are on the schedule to be played. You can't just pull the sled over and take a long November nap. Texas has two games to play in the next 12 days, and three within less than three weeks.
Mack Brown has often said what a fun team this has been to coach, and Saturday the fun took the turn of consternation. Officials at the University of Missouri say they will replace their dilapidated old artificial turf next year, but that will be too late for Fozzy Whittaker, whose right leg twisted without contact as he took a step on the seven-year-old field surface that has not weathered well the ravages of the Missouri winters. Fozzy was injured when he planted his foot to cut on the rock-hard surface.
The Longhorns had gone into the game short-handed at running back, but the recent involvement of Fozzy, both as an offensive force at running back and in the "wild" formation gave the Texas folks hope for a solid attack, despite injuries to Malcolm Brown (toe) and Joe Bergeron (hamstring) which hadn't responded to treatment during the week. Both were tested before the game, and neither could safely play without threat of further injury.
But for this team of 2011, there has always been Fozzy. He was, unequivocally the heart and soul leader of a young offense which had only recently found its identity. And Fozzy was a huge part of that identity. And when he went down, despite whatever they tried, the Texas offense was unable to regroup. For this young team, it was a blow not unlike what the loss of Colt McCoy was to the 2009 team in the BCS National Championship game.
With the offense reeling, the Texas defense battled gallantly against Missouri, which would also lose their star running back Henry Josey late in the third quarter to a severe knee injury on the poor footing on the treacherous turf. Despite losing stellar senior linebacker Keenan Robinson to thumb injury on the game's first series, the Longhorn defense held Missouri to only three points in the second half - and those came following a goal-line stand that came after a blocked punt gave the ball to the Tigers at the Longhorns' one yard line. In the fourth quarter, Missouri gained only 55 yards.
The windy, gray day seemed a throwback to college football in the 1950s. There were - as there always are on days like this - some superb individual performances, and linebacker Emmanuel Acho turned in one for the Texas defense. Among his 14 tackles were five behind the line, as well as a stripped fumble that stopped the Tigers' initial drive. The Longhorns had some good work from kicker-punter Justin Tucker and a punt block team which netted the Longhorns' third safety of the season, but those, even with some outstanding defensive work, just weren't enough to overcome the struggles of the star-stripped Texas offense.
In a way, the game was indicative of what has been a weird season throughout college football. The Big 12 has been a microcosm of the game nationally. Fraught with strange twists and inexplicable turns, 2011 has been a year where it is impossible to predict anything.
And that brings us back to the guy on the road looking at the woods. Texas is now 6-3 on the season, with three tough games remaining - two of which are on the road. Locked in the image of the scene they view is the loss of Whittaker, and the question marks of when several other playmakers may or may not return.
The youth, which has been the trademark of this team from the beginning, will now have to pull together under the leadership of a coaching staff which in its first season as a unit. Including a bowl game, they have four games remaining to write their legacy. Truth is, the road doesn't stop in Columbia, Missouri, it only pauses. There, you gather your belongings and move past the woods.
You hurt for great guys such as Fozzy Whittaker, a young man who has already graduated and has done so much for so many people. He deserved a chance to finish his final college season differently. The hard thing, and the great thing about football is that it does mirror life. Hard moments give way to new opportunities, tough lessons begat positive learning experiences, and nobody ever promised this deal would be fair.
For the Longhorns of 2011, the 24-hour rule will be in effect. With two major games in the next 12 days, there isn't time to feel sorry for yourself. You don't forget the scenes of life - like the woods Frost told us about - but you do have to keep going. You still have miles to go.