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Texas Longhorns Game Week: Five Things to Watch Against Kansas State

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas overcome the Wildcat Curse? If it seems like a long time ago since Texas beat Kansas State in football, it kind of has been -- that would be 2003, when a redshirt freshman named Vince Young badly turned his ankle early in the game, only to improbably return to help the Longhorns beat a highly-ranked Wildcat team in Austin.

That's ancient history. Before the Curse. Want the ingredients?

To create the curse, add a dash of short-yardage ineffectiveness, magically creating an injured Colt McCoy on a goalline sneak. Then add a heaping helping of inexperienced, true freshmen quarterback. A full dose of terrible linebacker play that boils up to trick-play disasters because your secondary isn't the third level of the defense, it's the second. And that completes that upset.

That's not all though, that's only one small part of the recipe. How about this brilliant ingredient? Special teams disaster -- a punt return for a touchdown. A kick return for a touchdown. An interception return for a touchdown. Oh yeah, and a slow white linebacker covering a fast, white slot receiver. 12 catches for 116 yards and a touchdown. No other player had more than three catches or 17 yards for the entire team! Can I introduce you to the nickel back position Duane Akina and Larry Macduff?

Sounds like that all adds up to the (former) worst loss of the Mack Brown era. Now featuring competition from UCLA and Iowa State. Texas football 2010, everyone!

But it goes on. How about throwing in Cartier Martin and Denis Clemente, crushing losses to the Kansas State basketball team. Yeah, and baseball, too, that three-game series sweep at home in 2009.

Add it all up and a certain Texas fan who writes for this website and may in fact be myself might get to the point where he tells his friend, a K-State alum, that if the Longhorns can't beat Kansas State in 2010 in football, well, there just might not be any reason left to live, even if Texas were to lose every single other game.

Well, Iowa State, Baylor, and UCLA losses just about amount to "every other game," so maybe the Longhorns can at least reverse that pesky Wildcat Curse. So many other streaks are ending, why not this one, too? In a season like this, there's the only type of logic there can be.

Horns_bullet_mediumIs Garrett Gilbert taking the McCoy leap as a runner? Everyone remembers the turning point for Colt McCoy. Injured for a play against a Nebraska team in 2007 that was blitzing 90% of the time, John Chiles had just entered the game and picked up big yardage on a zone read as the Husker defense keyed on Jamaal Charles.

More than a year and a half into his tenure as a Texas quarterback running the zone read, the lightbulb finally went on for McCoy as a runner as he pulled the ball on the zone read for a big gain. It was the first time that he truly understood how much he could impact a football game in college with his feet. He made the leap and never looked back until his last play in a Texas uniform. Ahem.

So as much as McCoy's injuries are a warning sign, especially since the Longhorns may be tempted to once again sneak the ball near the goalline with the goalline package struggling for the first time since that 2006 season (no!!!!!), the greatest progress that the offense can make the rest of the season is for both Garrett Gilbert and the coaching staff to understand just how well Gilbert can run the football.

The sophomore is still leaving yards on the field as a scrambler and Greg Davis can better take advantage of those skills by making sure that run/pass options, draws, and zone reads are a part of the gameplan every week. For Gilbert, it may not be one play that causes him to make the same cognitive leap as McCoy, but a series of play that one by one give him that confidence. His 20-yard TD scramble against Baylor may have been one of piece of that confidence and a spin move for a first down in the first half another. Can it all add up to his own version of the leap?

Horns_bullet_mediumHow much and how well will the young'uns play? Along the offensive line, there's no question that Texas fans will get a good, long look at players like Trey Hopkins and Thomas Ascraft, who will both log heavy snaps in replacement of the injured Michael Huey. Garrett Porter and Paden Kelley, both of whom will likely have to contribute next season, were also mentioned this week as offensive linemen who need to play more.

Of course, every week the coaches talk about guys who need more playing time who then barely see the week. DeSean Hales was the example from last week, then didn't see the field against Baylor. Darius White sounded like he was going to see more action this week until his mother got into a car accident and White had to drive back to the Metroplex to help take care of his family. Another excuse waiting to happen.

Defensively, Ashton Dorsey was mentioned this week by the coaches as well, then had the flu. Jackson Jeffcoat is questionable with his ankle injury. The only good news for the young players is that Aaron Williams will be out with his concussion, giving one of the young cornerbacks a chance, probably Carrington Byndom.

At this point, it's not a good thing that Williams is injured -- who would wish injury on the best defensive back the team? It is, however, a positive that the coaches won't have any excuses this week for not getting players onto the field who have earned the right to some playing time by practicing well. No excuses! The only hope!

It's the confusing thing this season that smacks of the Derry/Killebrew/Bobino "bled for the program" era. How do the coaches keep wanting to get players into the game and then fail to do it? If it's a priority, it's an absolute failure for the coaching staff not to achieve objectives that are nearly as important for the short term as they are for the long term.

If young players are playing well enough in practice, supposedly the most important thing to a head coach who doesn't believe in the concept of "gamers," to talk about a need to get them on the field, get them on the field. Period.

Horns_bullet_mediumHow well will the defense handle the power rushing game of Kansas State? On paper, this should be the recipe for success for Will Muschamp's defense -- stopping a power-running team on first and second down, then forcing them to pass on third and long. Problem is, this Texas defense doesn't stop the run as well as some in the past and it's been a bit of a struggle this season to find a third linebacker and a second defensive tackle.

Dravannti Johnson struggled early with his zone-read assignments (which he at least won't be seeing this week), Dustin Earnest played poorly against Iowa State, Jared Norton has been banged up once again, and Ryan Roberson moved to fullback. When he was needed against Iowa State, Jordan Hicks couldn't get on the field because the coaches hadn't trained him on the strongside spot.

This week, it's going to be Emmanuel Acho in the middle, with Johnson on the strong side and Robinson at the Will. All three will have to do a good job beating blocks, as will as the defensive linemen. With Jackson Jeffcoat's injury and the ineffectiveness of Tyrel Higgins and Calvin Howell, it's basically been Sam Acho, Eddie Jones, Kheeston Randall, and Alex Okafor playing a ton of snaps. Suddenly, there isn't any defensive end depth and both Okafor and Randall are playing too many snaps. Someone beyond that top six is going to have to start making plays.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas get off to a fast start and score touchdowns? Since this is a defensive line that can get worn down easily, especially if Kansas State can get an early lead and run the football, their blueprint for success.

And this isn't exactly news for Texas -- getting behind early is exactly how the Longhorns lost to Oklahoma and mediocre football teams like UCLA and Iowa State and then inability to score touchdowns in the redzone early against Baylor ultimately helped turn the game.

Greg Davis talked about not being so conservative inside the 20 this week and using all of the available field. Sounds like a novel idea, might be worth a try.

Turnovers, of course, are the other major determinant for this team, but even if the turnovers are even, if Texas can only score touchowns on only 25-33% of their trips inside the red zone, Texas will lose. It's pretty much that simple this season. Better finally find some answers, GD.