The Texas Longhorns return from a much-needed bye week finally somewhat healthy in time to face the red-hot Kansas State Wildcats. Tom Herman and company have a tall-task ahead of them on Saturday against Chris Klieman and his staff.
A couple members of the Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to breakdown Saturday’s matchup and reflect on where Texas is at right now.
The level of panic is high among the Texas fanbase. How are you currently feeling about Texas football?
Anthony Rizzo — After drinking the kool-aid for awhile, I’m back on the cautiously optimistic side of the spectrum. Hopefully the loss against TCU and their ensuing week off was the wake-up call and reset that this team needed. There’s still a month left of football and a Big 12 championship to play for. Not all hope is lost just yet.
Wes Crochet — I’m no where near panicked because this is sports. But I would say there are definitely some concerns with where this team is now and how they got here. I’m also fascinated to see where it all goes from here. There are a lot of good teaching moments and leadership lessons with all of this.
Gerald Goodridge — Frustrated is probably the right word for me. I’ve seen people saying that Texas won’t win another game this year, which I think is kind of crazy. At this point, a 5-3 Texas is basically one loss away from where they realistically should be. LSU is currently the No. 2 team in the CFP rankings and OU is No. 2. Would I like for Texas to be that caliber of team, of course, but realistically they aren’t. This sure has been disappointing, but when healthy this is a team that is an onside kick away from a chance at beating the No. 2 team in the country.
Chris Klieman has Kansas State rolling -- winning two in a row (OU and Kansas). What about the Wildcats worries you the most? What can they exploit about this very exploitable Texas team?
Anthony — Their ability to wear teams down on the ground. Klieman’s transition from North Dakota State to Kansas State has quickly gone quite well. He’s brought that same championship winning culture from Fargo to Manhattan. Not many coaches can prepare their teams for games as well as Klieman does. It speaks to how he won four National Championships at the FCS level. With that being said, Kansas State is a big opportunity for the Longhorns coaching staff to prove themselves against a very well-coached team.
Wes — KSU does seem to be back on track after a three game skid earlier this season. This Wildcats team is just a solid, physical, team that will win the game if you let them hang around long enough. And offensively, they continue to develop their identity as well.
Gerald — Kansas State plays ball control and I’ve seen too many wasted possessions from the Texas offense in the last few weeks. Against a team that ranks No. 3 in the country in time of possession, they’ll need to be way more efficient on offense than they have been in the last few games.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger pressed hard against TCU -- and it was his worst performance since the 2018 Maryland game. What can Texas do -- if anything -- to alleviate these types of situations for him?
Anthony — Texas has to do a better job at being more effective in early-down situations. We’ve seen the offensive coaching set Ehlinger up for failure with long third-downs way too many times throughout the past few games. It starts with developing an identity on offense. This group needs consistency more than anything.
Wes — How much does a performance like last week concern you? Many will say run Sam more, and I agree. He needs more of that. I’d also think this bye week will have done him well with honing in his decision-making.
Gerald — Hand the ball off more. Texas handed the ball off just 21 times, compared to Ehlinger’s 48 pass attempts. Texas only handed the ball off to a running back nine times in the second half, which is just awful. Any defensive coordinator worth their paycheck can create a nightmare scenario for a quarterback if they know you’re going to pass four times for every one rush. I think Ehlinger is closer to the guy who goes several weeks without throwing an interception, rather than the struggles against TCU.
Kansas State ranks dead last in the Big 12 in passing offense. That being said, Texas can make any passing offense look good. Do you expect the Texas secondary/pass rush to step up against KSU or do you think it could be a long day?
Anthony — Ultimately, that’ll be dictated by how much pressure the Texas pass rush is able to create. Skylar Thompson is a crafty quarterback and is at his best when he’s able to improvise. The blitzes must get there or else Texas will continue to pay in the secondary.
Wes — I’d expect the coverage to be better with Texas coming off a bye week and also getting key defenders back. Though the plays that get called also matter, and we’ll have to see how that goes.
Gerald — Normally I’m the guy that says take away what they do best and if the other part of their offense beats you, you have to deal with it. However, this year the Texas defense has been the cure for the common quarterback, so I don’t know. I’ve not seen a whole lot from Thompson that makes me think he’s the kind of guy that can beat you with his arm, even if the throws are there, since he was recruited to be a quarterback for a ball-control, QB run-heavy scheme. But go ahead and tag Cold Takes Exposed anyway.
Todd Orlando is trying everything. The Texas fanbase has already fired him. Have you?
Anthony — No, but these last four games will tell the tale on that. Texas gets a few more starters back on defense — he’s gotta show improvement with a healthy group. No more excuses.
Wes — I haven’t written him off though I do think there is merit in focusing on one thing or a foundation rather than seeing what sticks on a wall. I also think he could find himself in a deeper hole if he continues to lean on too much aggressive play calling as a default.
Gerald — This is tough, because I think expecting this defense to be world beaters was a false expectation. Last year they were historically bad, lost eight starters from that unit, and then got blasted by injuries. That being said, the defense is on-pace for back-to-back worst seasons in school history, so I’m struggling with what is a fair judgement. I think if the defense shows a marked improvement over the next four games, Orlando may get another year. Although, I wouldn’t be mad if Chris Del Conte just wrote a blank check for the Utah defensive coordinator.
Pass rush. Secondary play. Rushing attack. Only one can play well against Kansas State. Who would you like to see step up this week?
Anthony — A mix between the pass rush and the secondary play. It’d be refreshing to see a strong showing on that side of the ball.
Wes — Rushing attack. Control the clock, get the offense back on track, and hit Kansas State where they’re weak.
Gerald — Pass rush. I think some of the secondary struggles are actually on Texas’ inability to get pressure on quarterbacks and take them off schedule.
Pick one player that hasn’t had much of an impact in 2019. Who would you like to see “break out” against Kansas State and why?
Anthony — After being suspended for the TCU game, I’d love to see a revenge game similar to his performance against LSU from Brennan Eagles.
Wes — TaQuon Graham. More disruption on the defensive line would do this team wonders.
Gerald — Malcolm Roach is a guy that springs to mind as someone that I expected to be a bigger player defensively for Texas. He’s played well in spurts, but I was hoping for a bigger contribution from a senior captain. I think if he can have an impact against KSU on the ground, it will go a long way for what Texas wants to do defensively against them.
This time last year, Texas was in the midst of back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The season ended up OK. Do you think the same is possible this year?
Anthony — While the odds are probably low, it’s certainly possible. But as of right now, it’s hard to see this Texas team winning back-to-back games away from home against Iowa State and Baylor.
Wes — Getting back to the Big 12 Championship has always been the goal so even if Texas wins out, it could still be disappointing if the Longhorns don’t get back into that game.
Gerald — I legitimately think there’s a shot for Texas to win out and find themselves in the Big 12 championship game. Realistically though, I think if they can win three of four, without getting embarrassed in the one loss, as well as their bowl game I am likely appeased.
If Texas loses to Kansas State -- what would be your level of panic?
Anthony — All my hope for this season would certainly be lost, but it’s hard to say what a loss would do for the foreseeable future of this program.
Wes — Can I buy “dejected” instead? And let’s say Texas loses to KSU, there’d still be four more games for the Longhorns to end on an upswing. We’ll see...
Gerald — Panic would be low. Need to fire a coordinator could be high.