After scoring 28 points in the first quarter, the Texas Longhorns held on against the Kansas Jayhawks to avoid the type of embarrassing loss that defined the 2016 season, but hardly dominated in a 42-27 victory on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.
With junior Chris Warren III lined up at H-back, Texas struck quickly on the first play when sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele hit senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe on a post pattern to open the scoring. Joe had five catches for 98 yards on the day, including that 49-yard touchdown reception, to set a career high in yardage.
And unlike previous contests, the defense also started out strong, forcing a three and out and then benefiting from pressure on Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley when senior nickel back Antwuan Davis intercepted a pass and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
It was the first career interception for Davis, who was playing his second game as a starter in replacement of junior PJ Locke III. Davis also secured another first-half interception in the end zone to help maintain a 35-17 lead.
As the ‘Horns got out to such a fast start, the defense played a big role — other than the touchdown by Davis, two other scores came on drives of nine and 22 yards. Unfortunately, using senior Mitchell Becker at kicker didn’t help the ‘Horns, as the replacement for Josh Rowland missed a 44-yard attempt in the first half.
After that failed effort, head coach Tom Herman opted to go for it on fourth down repeatedly. For the game, Texas converted 4-of-6 chances in those scenarios.
In the second half, however, the Longhorns offense stalled until the fifth drive, with two turnovers on downs, a punt after failing to gain any yardage, and an interception thrown by sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele.
The game wasn’t out of reach until a 12-play, 68-yard drive culminated in a short touchdown plunge by Warren with 5:34 remaining.
The running game struggled once again with offensive coordinator Tim Beck opting to play two tight ends for most of the game. The team finished with 40 carries for 113 yards playing senior Tristan Nickelson at left tackle and junior Terrell Cuney at center.
Defensively, Kansas was able to move the ball unexpectedly well, totaling 364 total yards and 268 yards through the air. Todd Orlando remained in a dime package that substituted senior Jason Hall for junior John Bonney, while playing with junior Davante Davis at cornerback and Davis at the nickel. It didn’t work as well as it did in previous games against the pass.
All that despite the fact that Hall in particular put some big hits on Stanley throughout the game. Meanwhile, the struggles in the secondary raised some serious questions about how the ‘Horns will play against the Mountaineers and Red Raiders to close out the season.
Given that the worst-case scenario was hearing rivals talk about losing to Kansas for another year, Texas avoided that, for sure. But it wasn’t exactly inspiring across the board against a bad football team.