The No. 15 Texas Longhorns open this week as 21.5-point favorite over the Kansas Jayhawks following their disappointing performance against the Oklahoma Sooners at the Cotton Bowl. Kansas comes into the game with a 2-4 overall record and a 0-3 record in the Big 12.
A review of the film reveals that Les Miles’ team is still adjusting to their first-year head coach. The Jayhawks have not executed well on either side of the ball in 2019, leading to Miles firing offensive coordinator Les Koenning and promoting analyst Brent Dearmon to the position.
Although he does not have any offensive coordinator experience at the Division I level, Dearmon was successful in three years as the play-caller for Division II Arkansas Tech. In his first year at Arkansas Tech, the offense saw a 360-percent increase in production, coming in as the second-best offense in the GAC. Dearmon was the head coach at his Alma Matter, NAIA program Bethel in 2018. He led Royals to a 10-0 record in 2018, averaging 540 yards and 55 points per game in his only season with the school.
Dearmon runs an RPO-based up-tempo offense, a far change from what the Jayhawks have shown over their first six games, so it will be interesting to see what Kansas brings offensively coming out of the bye week. With that said, lets look for three keys that the Longhorns should focus on in their Week 8 match-up with the Jayhawks.
Get off the bus
While the Longhorns have had one of the most successful offenses the school has fielded in recent history, they have only averaged 4.7 points in the first quarter, ranking 91st in the country. Texas needs to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders offensively and capture the momentum early, especially given the defensive struggles and uncertainty around the Jayhawks offensive scheme coming into the game. The Longhorns should aim to find the end zone at least twice in the first quarter against a less-than-stellar Kansas defense.
Run the football
Texas only handed the ball to a running back 13 times in the Oklahoma game, despite averaging 10.4 yards per carry and contributing two of the three offensive plays of 20-plus yards. On the season, the duo of Roschon Johnson and Keaontay Ingram are averaging only 21.8 carries per game. The duo has a combined per game rushing total of 114.2 yards and are averaging 5.23 yards per carry.
True, Sam Ehlinger is the heart and sole of this offense, but he cannot carry the burden he has if Texas wants to give itself a chance to be competitive for the Big 12 Championship in 2019. Some of the burden needs to be shifted to the offensive line and running backs. The fact that the Jayhawks rank 119th in the FBS in rush defense, surrendering 235.8 yards per game on the ground, provides an excellent opportunity for both running backs going into the second half of the season. If healthy, each back should get at least 15 carries, with at least one eclipsing the 100-yard mark.
Finish the game
While the offense has opened games sluggishly, the defense has been stout in the first quarter. Texas is ranked 22nd in the nation in that regard, giving up a mere 3.3 points in the opening frame, on average. In fact, Texas is allowing only 10.7 points per game in the first half, good enough for No. 32 in the nation. In contrast, the Longhorns are giving up an average of 14 points per game in the final quarter, which ranks dead last in the FBS.
If Texas is going to compete against the better teams left on its schedule, the Horns are going to have to play complete games defensively. This could be especially challenging given the uncharted territory that Texas is in, seeing Dearmon in FBS action for the first time in his career.
The Longhorns need to focus on starting a trend of keeping teams out of the end zone late in games and carry that forward throughout the rest of the season. In order to be considered successful in this category, Texas needs to cover the spread of 21.5 points, in which case, they may allow a score or two in garbage time with the second team defense in the game. Regardless, covering the spread while beating an up-and-coming Kansas team could provide the Longhorns the spark they need to get their season pointed back in the right direction.