Congratulations — you’ve made it to the final week of the Texas Longhorns season! But instead of preparing for the College Football Playoff, or the Sugar Bowl, hell even the Alamo Bowl, you’ll be enjoying the bowl season without the burnt orange.
That is unless they win Friday, and there aren’t enough 6-6 teams to receive a bowl bid. Then the Horns could snag a bowl bid. Did I just ruin your day? Wait, we haven’t even got into the preview yet!
Before we get ahead of ourselves and dream about a trip to the Nobody Cares Bowl, Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns (4-6/2-5) must get past Kansas State (7-4/4-4).
Chris Klieman and the Wildcats have had an up-and-down season thus far. After starting off 3-0 with a neutral field win over Stanford and a 21-point victory over Nevada, Kansas State lost three in a row, albeit to three of the best teams in the Big 12 (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State).
Then they found their stride again, winning their next four games, albeit against some of the worst teams in the Big 12 (Texas Tech, TCU, Kansas, and West Virginia).
Last week, they lost to Baylor in Manhattan 20-10 after starting quarterback Sylar Thompson was carted off.
With Thompson’s status for Friday an “outside shot” and Will Howard in line to start, Texas will host a frisky Wildcast team to close out the first regular season in the Sark era.
Texas and backup quarterbacks have not gone well this season. Caleb Williams and OU, Colombi and Tech, and most recently, Jalon Daniels and Kansas. As of Wednesday, it looks like the Horns might have to face another one in Howard.
A familiar face to the Longhorns, Howard started in last years 69-31 shellacking as Tom Herman’s tenure was ending. Boy, doesn’t that feel like 100 years ago?
Howard threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns but turned the ball over three times, including a fumble and a pair of interceptions. He posted a poor 45.9 QB rating but finished with 79 yards rushing.
This season, Howard has seen action in four games and started against Oklahoma State leaving the game with an injury. He’s completed 50 percent of his passes (21-of-42) with one passing touchdown and one interception as he still remains raw as a passer.
Howard’s best game of the season came in Week 3 against Nevada when he threw for 123 yards, rushed for 56, and accounted for three touchdowns. Half of his passing yards came on a 68-yard strike early in the game before Kansas State was able to run the ball at will.
K-State rushed for 274 yards in last year’s game against Texas but turnovers like these — plus not being able to stop Bijan and Roschon — helped the Horns win in a blowout:
You’ll see him drop back a few times, but the majority of the time Kleinman will try and get Howard in RPO action or quick throws, especially screen passes. He’s also going to run. A lot.
Howard finished with more rushing attempts than completions in the 38-17 victory over Nevada. It was the same story last year against the Horns — 18 rushing attempts to 16 completions.
You can bet your bottom dollar that Kleinman, Howard, Vaughn, and KSU will attack a Texas run defense with a lot of holes in it. Literally.
Expect a lot of play action and look out for pre-snap motion to confuse the Longhorns defense.
Sometimes they’ll put the quarterback in an empty set and motion over Vaughn, other times they’ll have a half back in the backfield and bring Knowles or another wide receiver in motion across.
It’s a matchup that scares me if you’re a Texas fan. The Wildcats have a great arsenal of solid weapons that are quick and don’t go down easy. I haven’t really added any of the Wildcats offensive numbers because, well, against Texas you can throw those out.
Statistically, they’re one of the worst offenses in the Big 12 and bottom third in total yards per game, passing yards per game, points per game, and are seventh in rushing yards per game.
However, their yards per play tells a different story where they rank 36th in the nation in yards per play (6.31) and points per drive (2.65). An area they struggle in is offensive drives that start inside their own 20-yard line, where they rank 108th in the country by averaging just 1.07 yards per drive.
Offensive yards might be a struggle for the Horns offense with injuries to both Casey Thompson and Hudson Card, but flipping the field position battle in their own favor could be huge. Thankfully, Texas will have Cameron Dicker for at least one more game.
I could write about Deuce Vaughn and throw you some stats, but it’s probably just as good to show you some highlights instead.
I think my ankles broke just watching that run. Goodness.
Vaughn has over 1,500 yards from scrimmage this season and 17 total touchdowns. He might break 2K against Texas.
Kleinman loves to use Vaughn in a variety of ways, both on the ground and in the air. He’s eclipsed 100 total yards of offense every game this season and averages 6.72 yards per touch. He leads the team in rushing and is one yard behind Phillip Brooks for most receiving yards on the team as well.
Deuce Vaughn did it again! pic.twitter.com/9wed3sfdgo— Max Olson (@max_olson) October 3, 2020
Vaughn finished with 165 yards and two touchdowns against Texas last year. Leddie Brown ran for 158 yards LAST WEEK.
If Vaughn doesn’t scare you enough, let me introduce you to Malik Knowles.
Malik Knowles takes it to the house! ⚡️— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 2, 2021
Don't look now, but @KStateFB is back to within one score pic.twitter.com/33j353Zeok
Knowles leads the Big 12 with two kickoff return touchdowns and is third nationally in average return (32.1). I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Dicker and Texas have 45 touchbacks for you, one of the best numbers nationally. But in the 15 kickoffs that have been returned, the Horns give up 26.27 yards (120th nationally).
In conclusion, don’t kick it to Knowles.
Kansas State and Klieman’s defense is the best it’s ever been during his time in Manhattan. The Wildcats defense is at a three-year low in total yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed per game, rushing yards allowed per game, and points allowed per game.
They allow 5.21 yards per play, top-25 nationally, but they also do a great job of limiting big plays. KSU only allows plays that gain seven yards or more 20 percent of the time (19th in the country) and plays over 10 yards or more just seven percent of the time (12th in the country).
That doesn’t bode well for a Texas team that has struggled to create big plays and will be banged up come Friday.
Klieman’s defense only returned six starters from last season, but has really turned it on over the last month. It starts with a solid defensive line and linebacking core that average 6.6 tackles for loss and 2.64 sacks per game. Timmy Horne and Eli Huggins are the tackles that are great at creating penetration and blowing up run plays.
They allow just 118 rushing yards per game and a mere 3.46 yards per carry. But in their four losses this season, the Wildcats gave up about 205 yards per game.
The havoc comes from sophomore defensive end Felix Aniduke-Uzomah. The kid is legit. Aniduke-Uzomah leads the conference with 11 sacks and tied the NCAA single-game sack record with six against TCU. He’s also forced six fumbles.
Klieman has an experienced secondary thanks to a pair of transfers in Julius Brents (Iowa) and Russ Yeast (Louisville). They allow 226 yards in the air per game (3rd in the Big 12) and just above 10 yards per completion.
Texas might be challenged offensively depending on the health of Casey and Card. Sark may have to depend on the running game that was able to rush for 203 yards against West Virginia.
Expect a low-scoring game and that might benefit the Horns with Skylar Thompson injured.
Texas is a three-point favorite over Kansas State, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.