The Texas Longhorns struggled on both sides of the ball early but managed to pull it together late to top the Kansas State Wildcats, 27-24, on Saturday. With the win, the Longhorns take sole possession of third place in the conference standings with three games left to play.
Against the Wildcats, Texas managed to right several wrongs on the ground, both offensively and defensively en route to the win.
Team rushing: 214 yards, 5.9 yards per carry
Texas has been looking for consistency in the ground game all year and with their performance against Kansas State, led by running back Keaontay Ingram, they may have found it. Texas went over 200 yards as a team for the fourth time this year, which happened just three times in the first two years under head coach Tom Herman. It’s not just the yardage, but the big chunks the Longhorns managed to get — their 5.9 yards per carry is the third-highest under Tom Herman.
In the contest, Ingram showed why he was a highly-coveted back out of high school and why he could be a feature back for Texas moving forward. His 139 yards and 8.69 yards per carry are both career highs, while his two scores tie his career high set earlier this year against Rice. One of the most important runs of the game for the Longhorns, a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to tie the game, was the longest rush of his career so far.
Rush defense: 51 yards, 1.9 yards per carry, no rushing TDs
It wasn’t just the Longhorns ground game that was a difference-maker, as the much-maligned Texas defense absolutely shut down the normally-potent Wildcats on the ground. The 51 yards allowed on the ground is the lowest total in the last two seasons, behind the -5 rushing yards against USC a season ago. It’s the fourth-lowest total allowed under defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, which is remarkable given how dominant the defense was in 2017. It was a much-needed reprieve after giving up 697 yards and five rushing touchdowns in the previous three games.
Kansas State has really and truly owned Texas in the matchup, propelled predominantly by their ground attack. This was the first time since 2011 that Texas held Kansas State below 100 yards on the ground and just the third time in the last 10 years that Texas has managed that feat. In fact, it was the lowest rushing total from the Wildcats since managing just 34 yards against the UCLA Bruins in the 2015 Valero Alamo Bowl.
Special teams — KSU kickoff return for a touchdown, Brandon Jones 53 yards punt return
If it has not been a kicker or punter, it has been nearly impossible to figure out what is going on with Texas on special teams and Saturday’s matchup was no exception. Early in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Longhorns finally put a stranglehold on the Wildcats, thanks to a 21-yard touchdown run set up by a 53-yard punt return from senior captain Brandon Jones. However, the Wildcats returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score to close the lead back to three points.
Texas has been flat awful this year fielding punts, sitting at -12 return yards on the year heading into the game against KSU. Jones’ 53-yard return changed Texas’ status as the only school in FBS with negative return yardage on the year, but they still sit dead last in the conference and No. 114 in the nation. Strangely enough, Texas has had success against the Wildcats in that specific area, holding the two longest punt returns against the Wildcats in the last five years — Saturday’s return and last year’s 90-yard touchdown by D’Shawn Jamison.
Beating Kansas State is the first leg of what will likely be a long journey for the Longhorns if they want to play for a conference championship in December. Next up will be a tough road matchup against Iowa State, a team acoming off of a narrow loss against Oklahoma in Norman.