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Chủ Nhật, 29 tháng 12, 2013

Injuries, loss of MVP sap squad of its depth - The Register-Guard

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AUSTIN, Texas — Injuries, and how they are coped with, are the wild-card in football, one of the two aspects (along with weather) that a coaching staff can’t control during the preparation of its team.

And when injuries strike, like lightning or a flash flood, they can change everything if a team is not prepared.

The Texas football team has been hit with season-ending injuries to five of its top players — including starting quarterback David Ash to concussion symptoms that continue to linger — through the attrition-riddled first dozen games of the season.

Also lost for the season at various stages of the 2013 campaign have been junior linebacker Jordan Hicks (who played just three games before blowing out his left Achilles heel), senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley (left ACL) and sophomore running back Johnathan Gray (right Achilles), both against West Virginia on Nov. 9, and junior linebacker Steve Edmond (lacerated liver Nov. 27 against Texas Tech).

That’s a quintet of players the Longhorns started the season relying on in key positions and for leadership. Where would preseason prognosticators have placed Texas if they knew those five players would not be available? It’s unlikely that the Longhorns would have made a blip on many radar screens.

The Longhorns’ depth has also been compromised by season-ending injuries to sophomore cornerback Sheroid Evans (left ACL tear Oct. 3 versus Iowa State) and junior linebacker Tevin Jackson (left ACL tear on Nov. 2 against Kansas), who were injured during the season. Senior linebacker Demarco Cobbs has not played at all this season since suffering a right knee injury that forced him to miss the last two games of 2012.

Texas coach Mack Brown, who will lead the Longhorns for the final time in the Alamo Bowl, said that the plethora of injuries was one of the reasons his team struggled to live up to preseason expectations.

“We lost our quarterback (Ash), and we lost eight of our top 10 players this season, and it’s been a huge factor — nobody wants to hear it, but its fact,” Brown said. “How do we know it’s not going to happen next year? We’ve had really bad injuries for the last three years. I think that’s something the new coach has to look at — why have there been so many injuries for the last three years. I can’t answer that. I’ve tried and I can’t.”

Ash was lost for all but two quarters since the BYU game Sept. 7. His absence meant Texas had to completely change its offense from an option-based set that featured the quarterback as a runner to one that revolves around a pocket passer, power running and occasional deep throws.

And while plenty of credit should be heaped on Texas offensive coordinator Major Applewhite for finding ways to make backup quarterback Case McCoy a weapon and for steering the Horns’ offense in the right direction, there is no doubt that the Horns (8-4) were a better team with Ash behind center.

Hicks was one of Texas’ top tacklers and a leader on the field when he was hurt in the Kansas State game, but the Horns’ defense was solid without him as Texas won six straight Big 12 games from Sept. 21 to Nov. 7. He has been injured the past two seasons as well and says he will return for his senior campaign in 2014.

Gray, one of three Texas tailbacks talented enough to play in the NFL, beat out Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron (both juniors) for the starting role in 2013. He still leads the team in rushing despite missing the past three games.

But Whaley’s injury has been the most difficult to work through. Not only had the 6-foot-3, 295-pound former running back made two of Texas’ signature plays this season — an interception runback for a TD against Oklahoma and a fumble recovery and return for a score versus TCU — he had been a force in the middle on just about every snap he’d played and a mentor for the younger interior linemen.

At the team’s annual banquet Whaley was voted the Longhorns’ most valuable player by his fellow players.

“We adopted the slogan of ‘Man on your left and right’ as the theme for our team and its determination to work together and never give up,” said Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas’s All-America senior defensive end and Hendricks Award winner. “When one of our teammates has gone down, it’s up to the next man up to do their job. It’s been tough to deal with the injuries but we continue to fight and adapt.”

History books rarely mention the role injuries play in a team’s final results in a world where legacies are determined by wins and losses. How the Longhorns’ coaches are able to deal with those challenges one more time, will, ultimately, be what’s remembered the most about this Texas team.

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