All season long, Texas has depended on arguably the Big 12's best group of defensive tackles to help close out opponents' running attacks up the middle. And that tackle group took a big blow this past weekend when defensive coordinator Greg Robinson lost senior leader Chris Whaley for the season with a knee injury.
"He's a rare guy on a football team in the sense of this: first of all he has genuine enthusiasm and love of the game of football," Robinson said of Whaley. "It's so obvious the way he plays, the way he interacts with his teammates. He does all the things that a coach just really admires. And on top of that he's an athlete. He's an athlete playing a three-technique position and plays it very well. He can pass-rush and he can stop the run. So we lose somebody that's a special person to everybody in that room. "
Not only was Whaley a stellar defensive player, but he returned two turnovers for scores in a three-week period. The good news? When Whaley went out against West Virginia, Desmond Jackson filled in admirably. Jackson had eight tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble in his place.
"He's a young player, you know, he's on the come," Robinson said. "He's getting an opportunity and he's a good football player. And I just see that he is just developing."
Jackson has started 11 games in his career, so he's far from an unknown quantity. The bigger question lies with redshirt freshman Hassan Ridgeway, who now goes from back-of-the-rotation player to the Longhorns' much-needed No. 3 player at the position.
"Well, I think he's young, and to think that he is going to get his game to the level of Chris Whaley, I don't know about that," Robinson said. "But if he can be a positive force when he is in there, we gain from it. You know, I don't see that things are going to be all that tough for him. It's just honing it."
The Longhorns will likely need strong play from the defensive tackle position against Oklahoma State this week.
"Well, they bring you a good amount of offense," Robinson said. "If they want to play a little bit of the option game, they can do that stuff with you. They know how to throw the ball well. So they are two-dimensional; they can run the football very well and at the same time I really like their passing game too."