Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Jesse Ertz entered the game against the Texas Longhorns with four rushing touchdowns and an average of 5.4 yards per carry, all while nursing a shoulder injury sustained against the Oklahoma Sooners in the previous contest.
All while ranking dead last in the Big 12 in passer rating.
And yet, somehow, the Longhorns didn’t take his running ability seriously, at least according to senior safety Dylan Haines.
“He’s a great player, a great athlete,” Haines said after the game. “He can throw the ball but can also run and I think that is something we maybe overlooked coming into this game, his ability to run. He got us on a few big third downs and those were him just scrambling.”
Perhaps the former walk on wasn’t accurately representing the preparation of the Texas defense, but the results were equally damning for head coach Charlie Strong, who took over the defense following to loss to Oklahoma State.
It’s now been more than a month since the ‘Horns suffered the crushing loss to the Golden Bears in Berkeley and Strong made a subsequent promise to fix the defense.
In giving up 78 yards and two touchdowns to Ertz on 18 carries, it’s clear that Strong hasn’t fulfilled his promise.
Most alarmingly, Texas seemingly didn’t consider the shoulder injury to Ertz or his running ability in putting together the game plan or making in-game adjustments.
The No. 118 passing offense in S&P+ was efficient on the arm of Ertz despite the fact that he could barely throw a spiral, as the Longhorns cornerbacks spent most of the game providing large cushions for the wide receivers of the Wildcats.
On several plays, cornerback John Bonney couldn’t identify the first-down marker and allowed Ertz to complete passes to Kansas State wide receivers right in front of him for important conversions.
To the point of Haines, however, the inability to stop the quarterback running game was one of the major differences in the outcome, as Kansas State converted 19 of 27 first downs via the run and Ertz ran for those two critical touchdowns.
On the first, Fox end Breckyn Hager blew his assignment by getting too wide on the speed option, allowing Ertz to cut inside for a six-yard touchdown. Hager is a fan favorite because of his aggressiveness, but that same aggressiveness often leads to him making mistakes because he doesn’t come under enough to control to make the correct decisions.
On the second touchdown run and many other plays, Ertz was able to scramble even though his arm wasn’t the greatest threat — he converted a 3rd and 8 with an 11-yard run on the second scoring drive.
A number of other plays looked the same, as the Longhorns defense wasn’t able to maintain rushing lanes and the Wildcats kept a running back or fullback in the backfield to serve as a lead blocker, anticipating the scramble.
Poor angles and poor tackling from the linebackers and safeties often compounded the problems, as well as a failed attempt by Strong to use freshman linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch as a spy. When McCulloch decided to come downhill in an attempt at a sack, he missed in the backfield, allowing a significant gain.
On five different occasions during the game, Ertz scrambled to pick up first downs or set up fourth-down conversions on third and long or second and long.
Credit to Ertz for his toughness in battling through his shoulder injury and to Kansas State for having a better offensive plan than Texas had a defensive plan.
And the point here isn’t to litigate the athleticism of Ertz, downplayed in some corners and played up by Haines, it’s to point out the fact that Strong once again failed to properly prepare his defense or couldn’t get it to execute.
It’s more of the same from Strong and his defense and it’s now past the point of any excuse. Once again, the Texas head coach promised he would get it fixed more than a month ago. It hasn’t happened.