There wasn't much doubt that Texas would beat the Jayhawks on Saturday, but fans were eager to see if the Longhorns could assert themselves and control the game for four quarters against an inferior opponent. They most certainly did, obliterating Kansas 43-0, outgaining the Jayhawks 590 to 46 in total yardage. No, that's not a typo.
With the win Texas moves to 5-2 on the season, 2-2 in the Big 12, rebounding from back-to-back losses against the Oklahomas in impressive fashion, on a weekend when we were reminded that anything can happen in perhaps the deepest year in Big 12 history. Oklahoma rebounded from their home loss to Tech to crush previously undefeated Kansas State with 38 unanswered points, while Tech got blown out at home by Iowa State(!), and Texas A&M blew yet another second half lead in an overtime home loss to Missouri. The only thing that could make the A&M GTFO Tour better at this point would be for this young Texas team to pull off a win in College Station.
Even this Kansas team had managed to remain competitive going into halftime of three of their four conference games this year, so while there seemed to be little chance that Kansas would come in to Austin and challenge UT for an upset, it was hardly a given that the Longhorns would dominate the Jayhawks as completely as they did. Consider some of these numbers (after the jump):
* Texas picked up 35 first downs, while allowing Kansas just 3.
* Texas rushed the ball for 441 yards on 72 carries, the most since Vince Young, Cedric Benson, and Selvin Young teamed up for 513 on the ground versus North Texas in the 2004 season opener.
* On the other side of the ball, Texas held Kansas to -2 yards rushing on 20 carries.
* Overall, the Longhorns defense held Kansas to 46 total yards of offense, and before anyone qualifies that with, "Yeah, but Kansas sucks," consider the following: (1) You have to go back to 1944 to find a better defensive performance by the Longhorns defense (37 yards allowed against Southwestern - who?), and (2) the 46 yards allowed Saturday was 359 yards below the Jayhawks season average heading into the game.
* How completely did Texas control the game? They ran 93 plays and had the ball for 44:07, while Kansas managed just 36 plays across 15:53 of game time. The 36 total plays is the fewest allowed in the history of the Big 12 conference.
* All told, Texas outgained Kansas 590 to 46, just the third time in school history that Texas has recorded over 500 yards of total offense while holding the opponent to under 100 total yards. The other two instances came in 2001, when Texas crushed Kansas (606 yards gained versus 67 allowed), and 2009 when the Horns dominated UTEP (639 yards gained versus 53 allowed).
As thorough a whipping as it was, I could go on (and on and on), and if you enjoyed those numbers, go ahead and print out the box score -- it's ridiculous. And to think, this is still a green offense with a freshman quarterback who's learning his way.
So what's the big takeaway from this game? The truth of the matter is, Kansas was so outmatched physically that there's not too much we can say about what this means for the rest of the season, where the competition will be decidedly better, but it was nonetheless a very satisfying and encouraging win that confirmed a lot of the progress this team is making. Above all else, it was a tremendous performance by a very good and steadily improving defense, as well as another encouraging data point that our offense is improving in its blocking and overall execution, the importance of which I'll expound on at the end of this post.
Beating this Kansas team may not be much to brag about, but Texas fans have to like how this team continues to develop and improve. A few specific notes:
Run the damn ball! Those who wished Bryan Harsin would just RUN THE DAMN BALL had to be pleased with Saturday night's performance, as Texas pounded out 441 yards on the ground across 72 carries (6.1 per attempt), including 4 touchdowns from the tailbacks -- 2 each for both Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. The two freshmen each finished with over 100 yards, as Brown methodically picked up 119 yards on 28 carries (4.2 ypc) while Bergeron had a breakout performance dominating the 4th quarter, finishing with 136 yards on 13 impressive carries (10.5), and Fozzy chipped in 68 more on just 9 carries (7.6).
More important than the gaudy stats is the ongoing development amongst the offensive linemen and tight ends. The true freshman Josh Cochran did a fantastic job anchoring the left side of the line, where the left tackle was extremely effective at the point of attack. Harsin also rolled out some new players at tight end, trotting out Luke Poehlmann as a blocking tight end, and giving Traylon Shead some looks at the position as well. An underrated component of Boise State's offense was/is their tight end play and Texas is aggressively trying to find its best options to assist its blossoming running game.
A nice balance. As much and as well as Texas ran the ball, I liked what Harsin did to try and continue to bring along David Ash. Though Texas assuredly could have won the game without attempting a single pass, Harsin wisely involved his freshman quarterback, and Ash did a solid job managing the game. Ash completed 14 of his 18 pass attempts for 145 yards, and made just two freshman mistakes -- taking a bad sack running backwards to try and make a play, and throwing a pick into double coverage on a terrible read. Texas also failed to execute a QB sneak on 4th and Goal from the 1, but the whole offensive unit looked discombobulated on the botched attempt.
Beyond those two mistakes, Ash turned in a steady performance, and scored his first career rushing touchdown on a nice scamper when he couldn't find a receiver in the end zone. All in all, it was a positive performance for the freshman to build on as the team gets ready for a challenging closing stretch to the season.
Dominant defense... Even early in the season when Texas jumped out to a 4-0 record we talked about waiting for four quarters of dominant play from this defense. We certainly saw that on Saturday night, and I liked that Manny Diaz reinserted his starters late in the fourth quarter to preserve the shut out. Kansas has bigger problems, and I thought it was a good way for our defense to finish the game. We may well find ourselves in a situation where we need a stop to preserve a win over one of the teams left on our schedule, and I like that Diaz brought back in our starters to try and preserve the shut out, our first since 2005 (62-0 over Baylor).
You don't want to get too carried away about wins over bad teams, but this was the second straight strong performance from this defense. Yes, we lost to Oklahoma State, but our defense provided the most resistance the Pokes have seen this season, and they followed it up by whipping the Jayhawks offense like no other defense had to date. Coming into the game KU's offense was averaging 5.5 yards per play on the season, and 5.2 per play in Big 12 play. They managed just 1.3 per play against Texas, failing to nudge their total yards gained (46) above total plays run (36) until their final drive of the game, all 28 yards of which was gained against our back ups, until Diaz reinserted his starters to finish off Kansas for good.
Dominance up front. The performance of Texas' defensive line this season has at times been underrated by fans, largely because of the stats it was (or wasn't, as the case may be) recording, but they finally 'got theirs' against Kansas, completely dominating the Jayhawks up front with a performance that didn't leave much else for the rest of the defense to do. Jackson Jeffcoat apparently got tired of hearing that he's struggling and led the way on the stat sheet with a team-high 7 tackles, including 3 for a loss (1 sack), 2 QB hurries, and a pass broken up. Kheeston Randall forced a fumble and had 3 tackles and 2 QB hurries, and both of Alex Okafor's tackles went for losses and he forced two fumbles of his own. Add in Chris Whaley's impressive sack and the Texas' DL combined for 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 QB hurries. And the Jayhawks only managed to run 36 plays, mind you.
Although this unit has at times struggled to get pressure on the quarterback, a big part of that has simply been a reflection of the choices made by opposing offenses, who have largely fired the ball rapidly. Overall, though, this group has been the primary reason why Texas has largely shut down opponents rushing games, and the three big busts that have gone for long touchdowns (Whaley's 64-yarder in the RRS, and Smith's 30- and 74-yard romps) were failures at the second level.
Manny Diaz's defensive scheme tends to funnel the tackling stats to the linebackers, so it was nice to see Saturday's box score reflect the quality play that this year's D-Line has mostly delivered. We'll certainly need them to play well against the remaining offenses on the schedule, all of which can light up the scoreboard like OU and Oklahoma State.
Other hat tips. Briefly, salutes as well to: Quandre Diggs, who's rebounded exceptionally well from his "Welcome to the big leagues" moment in Dallas, finishing with 5 tackles (2 for loss) and his second pick of the season, showcasing more of his playmaking skills as the game continues to slow down for him.... Chris Whaley, who's coming along nicely at DT, a la Henry Melton, and is starting to look like a likely starter next year.... and Kenny Vaccaro and Carrington Byndom, who are somewhat quietly anchoring what's quickly becoming a difficult secondary to pass on. We'll certainly find out a lot more against the remaining offenses on the schedule, but there's been a whole lot to like about the progress and development of this unit thus far. Hopefully they'll be peaking by Thanksgiving and give us a chance to send off A&M in style.
Final thoughts. The dominant theme of my discussions with fellow fans in the 24 hours since the game ended has been, "Just how terrible is Kansas?" Safe to say they're awful, and perhaps getting worse with every loss in this miserable season, but in any case it was great to see this Texas team clamp down and dominate the game for four full quarters. As fabulously as we ran the ball, given the season-long ineptitude of the KU defense and modestly competent performances by the offense, I think the bigger takeaway from the game was the obliterating performance of our defense.
On offense, more than the success itself -- seemingly a given for any offense facing KU this year -- I found myself focused on three important storylines. First, we saw Harsin stick with his commitment to David Ash, not only as QB1 but as a passer. After the loss to OSU, not only could the offensive coaches have re-introduced more of a time-share amongst the two quarterbacks, but they could have pounded out a 64-point shredding of Kansas without attempting a single pass. I was pleased with both decisions. Kansas provided a nice confidence builder for Ash, who still made freshman mistakes but was given the chance to throw nearly 20 passes and improve his ability to manage the offense. To the extent the coaches believe he's the long-term guy at QB -- as they clearly do -- this was great to see, and important for Ash's development.
Second, it was interesting to see Harsin's tweaks to our base running sets, where he experimented with new players at tight end -- one bigger and stronger (Poehlmann), one smaller and quicker (Shead). Whether or not those players last in their roles, it was perhaps a message to the incumbents (Grant, Irby, Jones, and Matthews), who have variously struggled to provide the blocking Harsin demands from the position, as well as a pretty strong indication of what this base offense is going to look like the rest of the year. I like it on both counts, and don't much care which personnel gets it done. With our true freshman QB under center, we're going to be an extreme power rushing team that mainly asks our quarterback to keep defenses honest by being an effective manager who can introduce some variety.
Third and most importantly, the very real, observable improvement we're seeing in this offensive unit in terms of blocking and execution is hugely encouraging. Although the offenses in the SEC the last decade have often been underwhelming -- in part because of mediocre quarterback play, and in part a reflection of the superior defenses they face -- the thing that's often overlooked (but is a huge reason why they've won five straight BCS titles) is how much the offenses of the top teams in the conference improve as the season goes on. They're rarely flashy, but year in and year out the offenses of the top teams in the SEC get stronger and steadier as the season goes on, a big reason why offenses with underwhelming quarterbacks have nonetheless been able to combine with elite defense to control title games.
Obviously we're not talking about a championship caliber Texas team this year, but to those of us who are (properly, in my opinion) evaluating this 2011 season not by wins and losses but by the developmental processes the staff employs, it's impossible to overstate how encouraging it is to see the in-season improvement that we are. I think you have to just throw out the OU game -- the first time our youngsters got popped in the mouth, and struggled to respond. What's mattered to me has been the ways we've continued to get demonstrably better in foundational ways. Looking at how strong a rushing team we've become with little passing game to help out, I see a lot of the same kind of development you see in those top SEC teams, and like those teams we won't need our quarterback to be a superhero to compete for championships if we're going to continue to field teams that steadily build and improve, both in-season and season-to-season. From what we're seeing this year, that's looking like what to expect. It's important, and exciting.
So yeah, it was a terrible Kansas team, and yeah, the rest of the season ahead could be pretty damn bumpy. But once again we saw the kinds of things that bode well for our long-term trajectory. Whether we win out or lose each of our next five, that's the standard that really matters.