At long last, the 2022 Texas Longhorns have won a true road game. After defeating the No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan on Saturday by a score of 34-27, the Longhorns notched a few key accomplishments in their belt with the win
- Texas won their first true road game of the season, and is now 1-2 in three road games this year with just one more road game (at Kansas) remaining.
- Texas won its second true road game under head coach Steve Sarkisian, who is now 2-6 on the road as head coach of the Longhorns.
- Texas won just its second game over a ranked opponent in the Sarkisian era, improving to a 2-5 record against ranked teams. The win over No. 13 K-State is also the highest-ranked team defeated by the Sarkisian-led Longhorns.
None of the above stats should surprise anyone who’s followed this team the last 15 months. Going 5-7 last season, and with the warts of this year well documented, it hasn’t been the best of times when the Longhorns hit the road for a football game. And for a brief moment yesterday, sometime after Texas raced out to a 21-point second half lead and before Kansas State’s final drive of the game with a chance to tie or take the lead, it looked as if the Horns’ trip to the Little Apple of Manhattan Kansas would go the way of many Sarkisian-led efforts — blowing a late lead and dropping a very winnable game. After all, that’s how all three of Texas’ losses have came this season.
Yet, against all odds, the Texas Longhorns managed to hold off the Wildcats, preserve their lead, and escape with the win.
Here’s some key things I noticed in yesterday’s game:
Obviously, some of the second half demons are still there
Nearly one year ago, the Texas football program was dealing in perhaps the most bizarre state the program had ever been in with Monkey Gate. And nearly one year to the day, the Longhorns were able to shake the proverbial monkey off their backs by getting a road win and hanging on to a big lead they built up early in the game.
But, winning aside, there’s still issues with this team — namely, that they fade as the game goes on. For a team whose moniker is “All Gas, No Brakes”, the first-half Longhorns have resembled a driver on the Autobahn while in the second half looking like a driver on Mopac during Tuesday rush hour.
Yesterday against KSU, the Longhorns scored 31 of their 34 points in the first 30 minutes of play, and carried a 31-10 lead into halftime. But we’ve all seen this song and dance too many times to trust the first half results at this point. It was at this point, while watching the game with my non-Longhorn father who suggested putting the Texas game to rest in favor of the World Series, I told him, “Just you watch, K-State is going to find their way back in this game before you know it.”
And sure enough, not only did K-State outscore Texas 17-3 in the second half, the Wildcats out-gained the Horns by nearly 100 yards (215 to 119). In another slow second half performance from Quinn Ewers, the Texas quarterback threw for only 51 yards in the second half and just 197 on the day. Whether it was just the weather or a more conservative game plan to prevent turnovers against the defense leading the conference in interceptions, the BON Inside the Numbers report shows that of Ewers’ 18 completions, 12 of them were on throws of less than five yards downfield.
Aside from the yardage, self-inflicted penalties (four false starts in the second half alone, for example) and turnovers (losing a Xavier Worthy fumble and not capitalizing on all three K-State fumbles, only recovering one) added to the frustration of getting things going in the final thirty minutes.
In most cases, shooting yourself that many times in the foot and having too many bounces not go your way would spell doom against one of the most disciplined and well-coached teams in the Big 12 in Kansas State. But in an uncharacteristically messy game, Texas got a few calls to go their way. A questionable targeting call on K-State’s best cover defender almost immediately set the tone early for the Wildcats, who accumulated 85 yards in penalties for the game. It won’t be like this every game for Texas — and Sarkisian knows that.
“It’s not like we just have our head in the sand and we’re not aware that we’ve got work to do,” Sarkisian said. “First of all, we need to play better than we played in the second half tonight for whatever reason. I’ve got to keep digging.”
That being said, Texas actually played a much better overall game than in their previous two conference losses thanks to an improved defensive performance
Reading and digesting everything above will carry an obvious negative tone suggesting Texas struggled in the second half and nearly lost the game. But if you look at the game’s biggest moments and focus on the game with a broadened view — it isn’t as bad as it appears in the stat sheet.
First off, yes, the offense struggled to score and only put up three points in the third and fourth quarter combined. There’s very little “good” that can be said from that data point. But the defense, on the other hand, finally showed marked improvement late in the game and really stepped up to win this game.
K-State’s offense featured a running quarterback in Adrian Martinez, and the defense played well in forcing him to beat the Horns with his arm, not his legs. Ignoring the TCU game which he exited early, Martinez averaged 132 rushing yards per game in Big 12 play. The Longhorns held Martinez to just 52 yards, forcing the quarterback instead to gain yards through the air, forcing an interception and allowing an ESPN QBR of 58.6, just slightly above average.
In general, the run defense in this game was much better. On top of holding Martinez in check, the Horns limited the damage from versatile playmaking running back Deuce Vaughn, limiting him to under 100 yards rushing for the game.
Reviewing the 17 points scored by K-State in the second half, one touchdown came via a short field off Worthy’s fumble to open the third quarter and the field goal to bring K-State within seven at the end of the game was in some ways a back-breaking drive for the Wildcats, as it took over six minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter and ended in failing to punch in a touchdown with three plays inside the Texas 10-yard line. As annoying as Kwiatkowski’s “bend-but-don’t-break” defense can be, this was a great example of the defense playing well and forcing K-State to take three points instead of really cutting into the lead with a touchdown.
Lastly, the defense forced one interception and caused three fumbles. The Longhorns may have only recovered one of those fumbles, but they did so in the most crucial point of the game, with the late Jaylan Ford fumble recovery sealing the win for the Horns.
“I think we had three forced fumbles and we only recovered one,” Jaylan Ford said. “My thing was take it slow and just get on the ball.”
It’s easy to review this game via the box score and see the headline as “Longhorns nearly blow another one to K-State” given the recent struggles of this team. But head coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t see it that way.
“Really proud of our football team,” Sarkisian said. “That was a good team that we beat tonight in a really hostile environment.”
That’s it. That’s the note. Bijan was incredible again yesterday, having a career day with 209 yards rushing and 34 yards receiving for a career-high 243 yards from scrimmage to go along with a touchdown. Instead of writing about it, you can just watch for yourself in an eight minute-long highlight reel.
Texas is going bowling and looking for more
With their sixth win on the season, the Longhorns have clinched a bowl berth. Where that will be, no one knows. But what is known is that in year two, Sarkisian has a team that has made significant strides over last year, and now those gains can officially be seen in the win-loss column.
Even more exciting than the bowl berth is that Texas is still in control of its own destiny for an appearance in the Big 12 Championship game. The team’s goal at the beginning of the season was to play in Arlington for the conference championship in December and with just three games remaining, Texas sits squarely in a position to do just that.
The good news is that Texas, now tied for second, will have two of their final three games at home, and will likely be favored in all of them to win. The bad news is that those final three games are all against some of the Big 12’s top teams in No. 7 TCU, Kansas, and fellow tied-for-second Baylor.
Texas will most likely need to win all three of these games to make the conference championship game and will kickoff their quest to do so against undefeated TCU this week at home. The weight of the game has been noticed at the national level, with College GameDay returning to the Forty Acres for the second time this year and the game flexed to ABC’s primetime 6:30 pm Central time slot.
Fresh off one of the best games of his career, what did Bijan Robinson have to say about the upcoming potential Big 12 title preview in Austin?
“I can’t wait to play an undefeated team,” Robinson said.