At a point in which Charlie Strong needs his Texas Longhorns to compile every win possible, the third-year head coach will guide his ‘Horns into Manhattan, Kansas on Saturday morning. Winning in the Little Apple is a task in and of itself, but historically even more so for Texas, as the ‘Horns haven’t escaped Manhattan victorious since 2002.
Last season’s meeting saw Kansas State fall 23-9 to the Longhorns in Austin, but Strong’s debut coaching effort at Bill Snyder Family Stadium resulted in a 23-0 loss. To head back to Austin this weekend with a 4-3 record, and the first win in Manhattan in nearly a decade and a half, the battle between a high-level K-State defense and a potent Texas offense will be the difference.
There was a time this season when Kansas State’s defense looked to be among the nation’s most imposing, but conference play has since arrived and the Wildcats’ have allowed 508 yards and 31 points per game in three Big 12 meetings. While that’s life in the pass-happy Big 12, K-State has still managed to hold each of its first six opponents well below their scoring average, allowing 19.5 fewer points per game.
The Wildcats’ passing defense has faltered since entering conference play, getting torched for 400 yards per game through the air, but the rushing defense has remained dominant, as its 90.3 yard-per-game efforts headline the Big 12 and rank fourth nationally.
The Wildcats’ tallest task of the season may come against Texas, as D’Onta Foreman is now among the nation’s elite running backs, averaging 146.2 yards per game. Collectively, the ‘Horns’ rushing attack ranks 20th in the nation with 238.8 yards per game.
History suggests the chances are slim for Texas when entering the Little Apple, but to remain perfect at home against the ‘Horns in recent memory, lowing down Foreman will be critical for K-State.
True freshman quarterback Shane Buechele is also fresh off of a 296-yard passing effort against Iowa State, which was largely aided by the play-action pass, as defenses simply have to remain firm in slowing — or at least trying to slow — the Longhorns on the ground.
Pitted against an offense that’s racked up at least 500 yards in four of the six games this season, Kansas State’s defense will need its stars, such as senior defensive end Jordan Willis and junior linebacker Elijah Lee, to be at their best.
While the Texas rushing attack versus Kansas State’s run defense will be key, a Longhorns defense that built some confidence last week against Iowa State could be in for another statement performance against KSU.
Through six games, K-State’s offense ranks 119th in yards per game with 343, while the Wildcats’ 167 yards per game through the air ranks 112th. Considering Texas’ defensive weakness is its secondary, having a less-than-stellar offense and often inaccurate quarterback responsible for producing points — likely quite a few — could be problematic.
On the other hand, if the Wildcats can become a red-zone mainstay on Saturday, that won’t bode well for the ‘Horns. To this point this season, K-State is a perfect 28-of-28 in the red zone, with 19 touchdowns and nine field goals. More impressively, Snyder’s ‘Cats have converted on their last 53 trips to the red zone dating back to last season — the longest active streak in the FBS.
So from the outside looking in, Texas’ blueprint to success against the Purple Merlin is simple — keep Kansas State out of the red zone, find success against a stout rushing defense and replicate last week’s defensive effort. But that’s easier said than done, especially on the road in Manhattan.
· Texas is 7-9 all time against Kansas State, making the Wildcats the only Big 12 program with a series edge over the Longhorns.
· Texas was shut out 23-0 last time the ‘Horns visited Manhattan in 2014.
· The Longhorns last win in Manhattan was 17-14 in 2002.
· 12 of 16 meetings decided by at least two scores.
· The home team is 12-4 all-time.
· The Longhorns are 1-6 all-time in Manhattan.
Wildcats to watch
· Jesse Ertz – The dual-threat quarterback got banged up against Oklahoma, but will remain the starter against Texas. Between his arms and legs, the junior has compiled 1,049 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
· Jordan Willis – The senior defensive end is a handful and a half and should give Brandon Hodges or Tristan Nickelson all they can handle on Saturday. Willis has recorded 21 total pressures in the last three games, while leading the Big 12 in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (8.5). Willis is also the Big 12’s active sacks leader with 21.
· Elijah Lee – The junior linebacker has followed up his 80-tackle sophomore campaign with a team-leading 51 through six games in 2016, headlined by 32 tackles, a sack and an interception in Big 12 play.
· Texas has compiled at least 400 yards of total offensive in each of the first six games this season. marking the second time that feat has been reached in school history. The 2008 team was the other to so, reeling off eight straight 400-yard games to begin the season.
· The 232 points scored by Texas this season is 85 more than the ‘Horns had through six games last season.
· The Longhorns defense allowed only six points versus Iowa State — the fewest point total allowed by a Big 12 team in a conference matchup this season.
· D’Onta Foreman has rushed for at least 100 yards in seven consecutive games, which currently leads the FBS. Only Earl Campbell had more consecutive 100-yard efforts at Texas with 11 in 1977.
· The Texas offense has been among the most balanced in the nation, as the passing yards per game (261) and rushing yards per game (238.8) differential of 22.2 is the fourth-best in college football.