In the first half, the Texas Longhorns managed to combine the best and worst elements of an up-and-down season.
In the second half, an overmatched Kansas Jayhawks team was no match for an opportunitistic defense and an offense that was able to produce big plays at a high rate for a runaway 59-20 victory in Austin.
On a night when Texas honored legendary safety Freddie Steinmark and the 1969 football team by wearing clean throwback uniforms that featured no "TEXAS" lettering on the front, no Longhorns logo at the neck, no numbers on the shoulders, and a 100-year anniversary logo on the helmet, the Longhorns at times looked like a football team worthy of that honor.
Sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman started the second-half route with a 93-yard touchdown run that once again showcased his big-play ability. The second-longest running play in Texas history provided an impressive bookmark to the 84-yard touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard to freshman wide receiver John Burt on a post route on the offense's first play of the game.
The long run and the long pass helped the Horns achieve an ideal balance passing the ball and running the ball after multiple poor games through the air, gaining 299 in both areas.
Following Foreman's big run to extend the lead at a critical time after the Longhorns defense had to hold twice in goal-line situations to maintain the 24-14 halftime lead, Burt struck again with a 19-yard touchdown on a hitch route. Head coach Charlie Strong has talked repeatedly about the need for a guy who can gain yards after the catch in those situations and the talented freshman stepped up big in that area after a quiet week in Ames, pivoting outside and showing his track speed to finish the play.
Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes continued the onslaught with a 43-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Armanti Foreman and added a 44-yard touchdown to highlight the big second half.
The performance after the break was an important response to the uneven first half, when Texas then took advantage of two turnovers by Kansas to score two quick touchdowns and race out to a 24-7 lead.
Unfortunately for the schizophrenic, inconsistent Horns, aside from the two long passing plays, the offense struggled to get going, allowing the Jayhawks an opportunity to get back into the game. Texas gained 142 yards on the first three drives, then finished the half with only 190 yards after gaining only 38 over the final five drives.
After stopping Kansas on the first five third downs of the game, the familiar issues returned and a long drive resulted in a touchdown after conversions of 3rd and 5, 3rd and 10, and 3rd and 4.
Ultimately, however, the defense helped avoid an even worse result in the first half by twice holding at the goal line and keeping points off the board. Kansas had the first chance after recovering a bad fumble by Heard at the Texas 7-yard line when he tried to throw the ball away late and had his hand hit the shoulder pad of a defender.
Jayhawks quarterback Ryan Willis stepped out of bounds just before crossing the goal line on a perimeter run on third and goal. Kansas predictably went for it on fourth down, but Texas sophomore safety Jason Hall made a huge play by standing up the running back on the perimeter. Then things got weird -- after Hall's hit, a fumble into the end zone was recovered by the offense, but it was ruled an illegal play, as the the offense can't fumble forward and recover on fourth down, negating the touchdown.
Just before halftime, the offense wasn't able to move the football after the tunover on downs, giving Kansas good field position in Texas territory. More third-down issues hurt the defense and the Jayhawks threatened again by pushing the ball inside the 10-yard line, but the defense held again and the subsequent 26-yard field goal hit the goalpost.
Offensive play caller Jay Norvell fulfilled his promise to play more young players, as sophomore Tristan Nickelson starting at right tackle pushed junior Kent Perkins to left guard in replacement of underperforming senior Sedrick Flowers. More young wide receivers played, too, with freshman wide receiver Ryan Newsome making a nice catch on third down and sophomore Lorenzo Joe contributing to the early surge in the first half.
Defensively, the story was similar, as coordinator Vance Bedford finally fulfilled his promise to play more the young safeties and both PJ Locke and DeShon Elliott responded with good performances. Elliott was particularly impressive in his extended action, recording two interceptions and generally looking like the star he's suggested he could be with good special teams play.
Make no mistake -- Kansas is a bad football team and the first half highlighted some major continued issues for this football team, but large chunks of the game featured Texas doing the things it should do to an overmatched opponent. Considering that Heard rebounded in the passing game and numerous young players flashed with more playing time, like Elliott, the game ultimately accomplished most of the necesssary objectives with just enough coaching points for the staff to deal out some criticism in the film room.
Now the challenge, once again, is to actually show some progress by playing better on the road with a key trip to Morgantown looming that will essentially determine whether the Horns can escape from the regular season with six wins.