The word from Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown this last week was that he was excited because his team hasn't scratched its full potential yet. Consider few marks made in that regard in an underwhelming and mostly forgettable 35-13 win over the Kansas Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks have managed to hang with previous opponents early in the game and that trend continued thanks to a turnover on downs and a Case McCoy interception in the first half that helped keep the Horns from burying the visitors early.
The positive was that while the Texas defense allowed three drives inside the red zone, Kansas produced only six points until a late garbage touchdown run by Jayhawk quarterback Montell Cozart on at time-consuming drive that consumed much of the fourth quarter after Malcolm Brown ran for his fourth touchdown of the game on a play that nearly didn't get off as Case McCoy tripped over the fullback while coming out from under center.
Brown continued his recent surge that started in the Oklahoma game with 20 carries for 119 yards and the four scores on a day when yards were hard to come by as the normally porous Kansas rush defense committed numbers to stop the Texas attack.
The Longhorns didn't manage to create separation until defensive end Cedric Reed sacked Jake Heaps and forced a fumble that bounced up nicely to defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who scooped up the ball and rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown, his second in the last three games.
Defensively, Texas gave up 306 total yards and 13 points to a team that averages 290 yards per game (119th nationally) and 17.7 points per game (115th nationally) -- it was a solid performance helped by the big play from Reed and Whaley, but a long completion that set up the Kansas field goal at the end of the first half was disappointing because it came on third and long and cornerback Duke Thomas was not able to get his head around on the play.
Otherwise, the starting linebackers played one of their better games of the season, keyed by some big hits from Dalton Santos. Steve Edmond continued to show small signs of improvement, but twisted his ankle celebrating with Whaley after his fumble return.
On the offensive side, Case McCoy threw two more interceptions, making that five in the last three games and four in the last three, emphatically ending his remarkable stretch of avoiding turnovers. The senior made a good pass on a fade down the sideline to Marcus Johnson and was able to connect with Jaxon Shipley in the intermediate game in the first half.
In terms of completion percentage, connecting on 20-of-29 passes was efficient, though the big plays weren't there as against TCU, a result of some good coverage by a Kansas secondary that is better than most would assume given the overall state of the program and McCoy lacing the same sharpness that he has showed over much of the two previous games.
The biggest story offensively may be the usage of back up quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who didn't come in for McCoy in the fourth quarter after the starter took a big hit on his second interception. The following drive featured five runs by Malcolm Brown.
Perhaps it was understandable that Swoopes didn't play earlier based on his three throws late, two of which were tipped, while the third was airmailed to the sideline. Whatever Swoopes has shown in practice, his passing ability in a game was revealed as incredibly suspect, so the results certainly decrease the disgust associated with burning his redshirt and then not playing him in a semi-meaningful situation.
Of course, the obvious rawness of Swoopes as a passer begs the question of why his redshirt was burned, a decision that goes back more to overall roster management than it does to the decision to get an unexperienced back up some game reps since Jalen Overstreet doesn't seem like a legitimate option behind McCoy.
In the end, it was a win that didn't contain any major injuries or red flags about the Longhorns moving forward, assuming that the left hip injury to safety Adrian Phillips won't limit him in coming weeks. The win also didn't provide much hope for beating Baylor or handily winning games against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, for that matter.
That improvement Mack Brown talked about? It still needs to happen and winning the conference will depend on doing more of it than the Horns showed on Saturday.