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Worthy, Whittington’s hustle to force, recover fumble after INT vs. TCU illustrates improved Texas culture

Five-star players embodying five-star culture.

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

AUSTIN, Texas — With nothing but open field in front of Texas Longhorns wide receiver Xavier Worthy on Saturday against the TCU Horned Frogs in Fort Worth, the star pass catcher lost his balance and fell, ending a 45-yard catch on a dime from redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers.

Worthy had good reason for his inability to find the end zone and extend a 7-6 lead over the Horned Frogs — two plays prior, after running a route 40 yards downfield that resulted in an underthrown interception by Ewers, the Texas wide receiver ended up underneath a TCU defender just inside the numbers at the 22-yard line, got up, and sprinted over 40 yards to be in position to recover the fumble forced by senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington.

Was Worthy tired after that play?

“I was. I exhausted. That’s probably why I didn’t score,” Worthy told the media on Monday.

But Worthy wasn’t the only Texas player exerting max effort to get the ball back after the interception.

Whittington, a two-way standout in high school at Cuero who was named Offensive MVP and Defensive MVP of the 2018 4A Division 2 state title win over Pleasant Grove, showed flashes of the defensive playmaking ability that made him the No. 2 athlete in the 2019 recruiting class in tracking down Millard Bradford and punching the ball out on a violent tackle.

The forced fumble wasn’t as simple as merely catching Bradford from behind, though — Whittington initially missed a tackle attempt at the TCU 36-yard line and jumped back to his feet to knock the ball loose at the Texas 38-yard line.

“Sark always says, ‘The play isn’t done, you never know what could happen.’ And that just happened to be one of those, an example to show keep playing through the play and good things will happen,” said Worthy.

For Sarkisian, the effort of Worthy and Whittington was emblematic of the cultural growth in his program over the last several years.

“So many times we talk about effort, we think about maybe a guy who has minimal reps or a guy who just is on special teams, but when you watch that play and you think it’s Jordan Whittington, who misses a tackle, gets back up, comes all the way back 40 yards later and makes a tackle and punches it out and Xavier Worthy, who was the intended receiver who a guy’s laying on top of him at the opposite 20-yard line, to sprint himself back to dive and recover that fumble, I think is just indicative of the character of this team, the culture of this team. When those two guys are playing that way I think that sends a pretty easy message to everybody else of what’s the standard in the way that we play the game,” Sarkisian said on Monday.

It wasn’t the lone culture play on Saturday by Whittington, who didn’t have a catch and was only targeted once, giving him just five catches over the last four games.

“I don’t think he is concerned or consumed with catches and so many of his plays do not show up on a stat sheet,” said Sarkisian. “You can go to the touchdown run that Jonathan Brooks has at the end of the first half, go watch him blocked the safety and the intent in which he blocks that safety to to spring Jonathan on that touchdown. And so as much as I’m sure he’d love to have 50 catches at this point of the season, he’s doing so many things for the team.”

Three years after former Iowa State running back Breece Hall infamously suggested that a three-point win by the Cyclones over the Longhorns was “five-star culture versus five-star players,” the hustle from Worthy and Whittington to force and recover a fumble that led to a field goal in a three-point road win illustrated how Texas can have it both under Sarkisian — five-star players embodying five-star culture.