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Inside the Numbers: Stopping the run continues to anchor the Longhorns’ defense

The Longhorns are on pace for one of the best rush defenses of the last 10 seasons.

Texas v Kansas State Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Coming out of the bye week, the No. 24 Texas Longhorns needed to win out to make it to the Big 12 title game and you can’t win out if you don’t win your first one.

It may not have been the complete performance fans and coaches wanted, but coming away with a 34-27 win over the No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats in a game ended on a defensive stop may have been what the doctor ordered for Texas. If the Longhorns can turn this game into a trend, erasing their penchant for blowing second-half leads that started against Oklahoma a year ago.

Rush defense: 35 att, 139 yards (3.9 ypc), TD

After struggling a year ago, perhaps the biggest turnaround for the Longhorns is the rush defense, which came up big against the Wildcats. If the season ended today, the Longhorns would claim the best rush defense since 2017 and the second-best season performance of the last 10 seasons.

Kansas State is a team that values balance, with a nearly-even run to pass distribution against the Longhorns, but couldn’t really get much on their 35 rush attempts. It was the second-worst performance from Kansas State this year on both total yards and yards per carry, with the 10-9 game against Iowa State taking the low mark for the year.

This marks just the third time this year Kansas State has been held with one or fewer touchdown rushes this year, joining the 17-10 loss to Tulane and the aforementioned Iowa State low-scoring affair. Texas also managed something that has happened just eight times in the last two seasons — holding Deuce Vaughn under 100 yards. The Wildcats are 2-6 in that run.

Red-zone conversions: Offense — 5/5 (3 TD, 2 FG), Defense — 3/4 (1 TD, 2 FG)

It’s easy to be frustrated by the bend-but-don’t-break defense from Texas, but trading field goals and red-zone stops for touchdowns is normally a winning proposition and it came true on Saturday against the Wildcats.

There have been just four occasions this year that Kansas State went to the red zone and came away without points, with Texas’s stop of the Wildcats on 4th and 2 on the Longohorns’ 16-yard line the latest. That sparked the 10 unanswered points Texas scored to take a 31-10 lead into halftime. It also marks the second-lowest red-zone touchdown rate for the Wildcats this season, outdone by the two low-scoring affairs against Tulane and Iowa State.

This also marks just the second time this year that Texas held an opponent to less than a 50-percent touchdown ratio in the red zone with the other coming in Week 2 against UTSA.

Conversely, Texas was perfect in the red zone and converted touchdowns on three of its five trips inside the 20-yard line. Texas is 6-1 this year when converting at least 50 percent of its red zone trips into touchdowns, with the only loss coming against Texas Texas, when they only made it to the red zone twice and converted one.

The only two times Texas went below 50 percent were its 1-of-4 performance against Alabama and its 1-of-3 performance against Oklahoma State.

Quinn Ewers: 18-31 (58%), 197 yards, 2 TD

Battling another windy day, the talented freshman still had some struggles, but managed to take care of the ball better than he did a game ago and played well enough to win. That being said, with the TCU Horned Frogs coming to town, Ewers will have to do a better job connecting on the deep balls.

Twelve of his 18 completions were on attempts shorter than five yards, including six completions at or behind the line of scrimmage. Most of his total yardage came from the feet of his receivers, with 115 of his 197 yards coming after the catch. Texas was actually 2-of-8 on attempts longer than 15 yards, both coming on the same side of the field.

Unlike earlier in the year, Ewers has had trouble finding his favorite target Xavier Worthy on the deep balls that made up so much of their early connection. He targeted Worthy a total of eight times on the day, coming away with four receptions for the former All-American, totaling 42 yards and a touchdown.

Now Texas turns its sights to TCU, which coming to the Forty Acres along with the pageantry of ESPN’s College GameDay pregame show. The Horned Frogs feature a quarterback within striking distance of 2,500 passing yards and a running back in Kendre Miller who just moved to No. 2 in the conference in rushing yards behind Bijan Robinson.