A win in Manhattan is a win in Manhattan.
For the second straight week, the Texas Longhorns vanquished a purple demon, as head coach Tom Herman’s team went into the Little Apple and emerged with a 19-14 victory over the Kansas State Wildcats in Bill Snyder Family Stadium, ending a five-game losing streak there.
A 19-0 lead achieved by the Longhorns in the first half gave way to a stressful second half for the road team, which hadn’t won in Manhattan since 2002, as the Wildcats scored 14 points to narrow the deficit.
Once again, however, the defense came up when it was necessary, as senior defensive end Breckyn Hager came inside on a twist and deflected a pass from Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson to force a punt with four minutes remaining. Thompson had replaced starter Alex Delton in the second half and sparked an offense that largely struggled with the lesser passer in the opening 30 minutes.
Once again, the offense responded with a key late-game drive, continuing a trend that now stretches back to the Tulsa game. The drive nearly stalled early, as freshman running back Keaontay Ingram lost yardage on his first run and then committed a false-start penalty following a five-yard gain on a swing pass that included a hurdled Kansas State defender.
Facing a critical 3rd and 10 in Texas territory, sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger calmly scanned through his progressions in a clean pocket and then delivered a low, safe pass to junior wide receiver Collin Johnson for a 12-yard gain.
Three runs by Ehlinger and two runs by Ingram sealed the game in a four-minute drill that not only included ideal execution in critical moments, but also lasted a pure four minutes as the clock ticked to zero after two kneel downs sealed the program’s first four-game winning streak since 2013 ahead of next week’s grudge match in the Cotton Bowl.
Ehlinger finished the game hitting 29-of-36 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown, along with 26 rushing yards. Critically, Ehlinger once again avoided a turnover and has now thrown 128 passes without an interception, now the third-longest streak in school history.
However, even though Ehlinger completed more than 80 percent of his passes, the misses stood out. The sophomore once again missed junior wide receiver Devin Duvernay on a post route to open the game, continuing a disturbing trend in attempted targets of the speedster. Texas ultimately punted on that possession, so Ehlinger’s miss cost the Longhorns a critical score.
There was also a throw that went wide of junior wide receiver Collin Johnson on a 3rd and 7 in Kansas State territory following the Wildcats score that narrowed the deficit to its final margin.
So while it may seem odd on the surface to criticize a player who completed so many passes, within the context of the game, Ehlinger demonstrated that his accuracy is still the missing piece to becoming a truly good quarterback.
It’s also the missing piece to an offense that needs to produce more explosive plays, as head coach Tom Herman noted immediately after the game.
A healthy Ingram could make a big difference there, as well — the freshman is dealing with knee and hip injuries and didn’t look close to 100 percent while wearing a bulky knee brace, but he was still as close to electric as his body allowed. With 10 carries for 68 yards and five catches for 27 yards, Ingram did damage on the ground and through the air, consistently creating extra yardage with his special vision and unique ability to make defenders miss.
Ingram doesn’t have the speed of former standout Jamaal Charles, a world-class track athlete, but he has a similar ability to make himself narrow and not present a tackling surface for defenders.
To the extent that Ingram can manage it physically, Texas should get him the football as often as possible in the coming weeks.
As Herman likes to say, this team remains a work in progress, with plenty of areas to clean up. The foremost issue against the Wildcats concerned the rash of penalties — the Longhorns committed 10 that cost the team 105 yards, with many of them happening on the defensive side of the ball.
Beyond the penalties, Thompson’s insertion into the game highlighted a Texas defense that struggled to get off the field on third downs in the second half and gave up several fourth-down conversions. The secondary in particular gave up too much separation, with senior cornerback Kris Boyd a major culprit. Boyd was beat on a double move once again, benefitted from a dropped pass in the second half, and committed penalties.
One of those penalties helped set up a touchdown.
Before the game turned in favor of the home team, Texas was in control early and appeared ready to pull away Kansas State.
In a first quarter that only featured two possessions by each team, the Longhorns struck first with a 90-yard punt return by freshman D’Shawn Jamison, who finally showed the electricity that forced the coaching staff to move him to offense and use him on both return units:
SHAKE AND BAKE, @D_JAMISON5! 7-0 HORNS!! #HookEm pic.twitter.com/oU38aD8SB8— Texas Longhorns (@TexasLonghorns) September 29, 2018
The big-time return by Jamison came after Texas missed some opportunities and hurt itself with penalties on the first drive.
First it was redshirt freshman tight end Reese Leitao with a holding penalty on the opening kickoff return. Then it was sEhlinger missing Duvernay for that would-be touchdown on a post route. Then it was junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey putting too much air under a pass intended for senior wide receiver Jerrod Heard that turned the former quarterback into a defensive back. Then it was senior tight end Andrew Beck getting caught for a block in the back.
Eventually, Texas had to settle for a punt.
There were also odd moments and bad moments on offense in the first half. The multiple trick plays, which also included lining up offensive tackle Calvin Anderson at wide receiver near the goal line on a possession that ended with a field goal, and a pop pass to Jamison that went for a massive loss when he tried to cut back across the field. The poor decision by the freshman and a subsequent sack gave the Wildcats the short field that nearly led to a half-ending touchdown.
The defense largely held against a Kansas State offense with Delton at quarterback that clearly didn’t intend to throw the football at any point other than when it was absolutely necessary. Delton was able to pick up some yardage and a face mask penalty on senior cornerback Kris Boyd provided some extra yardage.
The mistakes nearly gave the Wildcats a chance to get back in the game before halftime. Fortunately, the defense did what it’s done often this season — held near the goal line. This time, though, Todd Orlando’s group also benefitted from a little bit of luck, as a Kansas State player dropped a touchdown in the end zone on the final play of the half.
So despite the sketchy finish to the first half, the defense largely played well, limiting the damage of Delton on the ground and producing two points for the offense thanks to two big plays by senior defensive end Charles Omenihu. On the first, Omenihu quickly discarded the Kansas State offensive tackle for a sack. On the second, he chased down Delton in the end zone for a safety.
Those points ended up mattering.
So even though the ending of the half was unsatisfactory and the end of the game felt like an escape, the overall results were historic — Texas had never led at the half against Kansas State in Manhattan, had scored only 31 total first-half points there, had never shut out the Wildcats in the fist half, and scored more points in that single half than in any other road game against KSU.
Ultimately, the outcome produced on the back of those first-half results led to another historic outcome for a team that isn’t playing close to full capacity, but still secured the program’s longest winning streak in five years.
Most importantly, Longhorns finished once again, proving that the offseason emphasis is now turning into critical results on the field.