HATTIESBURG — It’s tough to find a star on the USF football team after Saturday’s 27-6 losing effort. But at Southern Miss, Huey Whittaker improved on his standout senior season and showed why he is one of the best receivers to ever play at USF.
Despite a tough day offensively for the Bulls, whose six points were their lowest total of the season, Whittaker had a career day with 122 receiving yards, topping his previous mark of 101 yards at Utah on Oct. 6, 2001.
“If they call my number I just try to step up and make the plays, and they called my number a couple times today,” Whittaker said.
Whittaker has been the top receiver for the Bulls this season and after Saturday’s game he now has 109 catches, moving him to No. 2 in receptions on USF’s all-time list behind Hugh Smith.
The senior, who entered the game trailing former wide receiver DeAndrew Rubin for No. 3 on the all-time receiving yards list, surpassed his former teammate and now has 1,351 career receiving yards.
A big chunk of those yards came from Whittaker’s longest catch this season, a 48-yard reception that came in the second quarter and gave some momentum to the Bulls, who were reeling from a blocked field goal that was returned for a Golden Eagles touchdown.
The Bulls offense looked as if it would have to punt the ball back to Southern Miss on third-and-8 at their own 22-yard line until Banks dropped back and spotted 6-foot-5 Whittaker who was sprinting down the sideline with a defender stride for stride alongside him. Banks threw it deep to Whittaker, who outran the USM player and made a diving grab.
“It was a good throw,” Whittaker said. “I’d put the emphasis on Ronnie (Banks). It was a good play, and I caught the ball.”
Even with five receptions and his most receiving yards, Whittaker was unable to get into the end zone. The pre-season All-Conference USA wide receiver has had only two touchdowns this season.
Whittaker attributed USF’s inability to score Saturday to turnovers, but he also said that what he is able to do depends on the play calling.
“It’s not really always up to me.” Whittaker said. “It’s still the play calls and there is a lot of factors that go into that.”
In the third quarter a bit of trickery on the Bulls’ part could have gotten Whittaker his third touchdown of the season. Banks took the snap, turned and passed back to Brian Fisher, who immediately held the ball up high ready to pass.
He threw to DeJaun Green for a 28-yard gain, but ignored Whittaker, who was wide open downfield.