In the uneven overall history of the series between the Texas Longhorns and Kansas Jayhawks, recent history both in Lawrence and elsewhere suggests that a 23-0 win for head coach Charlie Strong and his team on the road without any great difficulties would be a reasonably encouraging achievement.
Except that the specter of Baylor and Oklahoma and the rest of the Big 12 conference slate looms large over any assessment of the first road win and Big 12 win for Strong at Texas and the first win of any kind as a starter at Texas for sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who keyed the offense by accounting for all three touchdowns.
In a muddling second half, the Horns looked extremely mediocre on offense in punting on the first three possessions and not exactly dominant on defense in allowing two Kansas possessions to take up more than nine and a half minutes of the third quarter.
At the same time, taking care of business on the road without any great difficulties represents a significant step forward for this team. Yeah, expectations are that low right now.
Positives and negatives. Building blocks.
Backed by two interceptions and a long punt return by senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley, Texas took a 13-0 lead into halftime.
Texas managed an early victory in the game by accepting the opening kickoff after Kansas won the toss and deferred to the second half, a marked changed from two weeks ago when senior defensive tackle Desmond Jackson mistakenly opted to kick the ball when UCLA deferred, giving the Bruins the ball to start both halves.
After that, it was a turnover-fest early, as Texas senior cornerback Quandre Diggs stopped a potential scoring drive for Kansas by intercepting a pass in the end zone that was tipped by senior linebacker Steve Edmond.
On the ensuing drive, the Horns marched 78 yards on 11 plays, but a fumbled exchange between sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and redshirt freshman center Jake Raulerson handed the ball to the Jayhawks deep in Kansas territory.
Two more interceptions by Texas helped keep the Kansas offensive attack off of the scoreboard and gave the ball to Texas in scoring position for the second score, when Swoopes ran for a 7-yard touchdown run on a zone read wrinkle with a lead blocker following an interception and return by junior cornerback Duke Thomas down to the Kansas 13.
Swoopes finished the half 10-of-18 for 108 yards and the one-yard touchdown to junior tight end MJ McFarland, along with five carries for 16 yards and the touchdown.
And Thomas added another interception on the last play of the pass on a Hail Mary immediately after intercepting the previous play that should have ended the half. Sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway extended the drive and the half by getting flagged for a personal foul penalty when he hit Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart late.
Unfortunately for Texas, other than the long punt return by Shipley to set up the first touchdown, special teams were once again a mess, with place-kicker Nick Rose missing an extra point and then having a long field goal attempt blocked just before halftime that looked to be the fault of his blockers.
And punter Will Russ was inconsistent once again, booming one punt after shanking a 38-yarder that gave Kansas the ball in excellent field position.
But Rose recovered in the second half to hit a 42-yard attempt, the longest of his several career makes.
Swoopes was once again mostly a positive influence on the game for Texas, running for that 7-yard touchdown, hitting Jaxon Shipley on a 48-yard heave, and throwing several bullets outside the hash marks to make some big plays, including a number of connections to senior wide receiver John Harris, who was consistent and explosive on the day in leading the team with six catches for 89 yards and a 16-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter to finish the scoring on the day.
By the time he was victorious as a starter for the first time, Swoopes had completed 19-of-34 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns through the air, representing a modest improvement in his yards per attempt at 6.4 with several throws he unquestionably left on the field.
There was more inconsistency for Swoopes on his passes than there had been in his first two starts as the playbook opened up some and the young quarterback threw several intermediate touch passes outside that missed and a notable deep throw over the head of streaking junior wide receiver Marcus Johnson, who had created separation and could have had a long touchdown catch.
Perhaps the bigger issue was the running game, which didn't create many big plays all game. Swoopes looked ineffective on the zone read and there was an odd appearance of the speed option during the game that was also ineffective and resulted in a turnover on downs in the first half.
Combined, senior running back Malcolm Brown (12 carries for 29 yards) and junior running back Johnathan Gray (13 carries for 44 yards) only had one carry over 10 yards apiece, with Brown turning in an 11-yard run and Gray managing a 10-yard run.
A lot of it is on the offensive line and some on the play-calling, but it's also disappointing to see two five-star running backs who struggle to break tackles or move the pile much. And even after Brown made several nice cuts for important runs in the first half, including that 11-yard effort, the offense seemed to go away from him for a stretch, with Gray getting most of the carries and failing to provide much extra value.
The defense, at least created big plays on the day with four interceptions and three big fourth-down stops against Kansas, all three in Texas territory, including one near the goal line that featured Thomas coming up with a big play in the end zone on a 4th and goal fade route.
Senior linebacker Jordan Hicks made an impressive turning, leaping interception in the second half for his second career interception to join Diggs and Thomas in picking off Cozart.
For the number of plays that the Jayhawks ran in Texas territory, coming out with a shutout was an impressive performance, especially because it also indicates that the Horns didn't give up any long, game-changing touchdowns. All Kansas caveats apply, of course, but it's an improvement.
On the day, the defense harried Kansas quarterback Montell Cozart into 12-of-21 passing for 140 yards and those four interceptions. Content mostly to throw on the move, Cozart made bad decisions, averaged only 4.5 yards per attempt, and failed to provide much as a runner outside of a 13-yard run.
A conference win is a conference win for a team that is going to struggle to gain bowl eligibility this season and there were those good signs with big plays defensively and important conversions on offense, as each of the scoring drives came on a short field as a result of interceptions and the punt return by Shipley.
Problem is, these baby steps aren't going to cut it over the next two weeks.
Buckle up, Horns fans. It's about to get bumpy.