On Saturday against the No. 24 Kansas Jayhawks, the No. 3 Texas Longhorns defense and run game powered the team to a 40-14 victory in Austin. After a couple of miscues that resulted in only a 13-7 half time lead, Texas outscored Kansas 27-7 in the second half.
The Texas defense held Kansas to only 14 points, both of which came on big plays — 45-yard run and fumble recovery and a 58-yard passing touchdown.
Kansas really turned a fumble into a touchdown pic.twitter.com/mABC5g0Yvc— ESPN (@espn) September 30, 2023
Aside from these two plays, the Texas defense was stout. Holding an offense that was averaging 37.8 points per game to just 14 points and 11 total first downs is tremendous. On the day, Kansas had 260 yards but excluding those two plays, that number falls to just 157 yards.
However, solely because the overall performance appears strong or the outcome ended in the Longhorns favor, does not mean that the defense necessarily performed well. Before the season, coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski identified four areas of emphasis that he wanted the defensive unit to improve on: third downs, fourth downs, turnovers, and sacks. When evaluated under the microscope, how did the defense perform in these four metrics? Let’s find out.
Kansas came into the game leading the country in third-down conversion rate at an astounding 62.5 percent. Against Texas, Kansas went 0-of-8 on third down. 0-of-8. The Texas defense prevented the best team in the country on third down from converting a single one the entire game.
Throughout the season, the Longhorns has relied on bringing pressure and third and distance to thwart opposing offenses. Against Kansas, Texas faced a considerable number of third and short to medium. The defense didn’t flinch.
On back-to-back drives in the second quarter, with a one score lead, the Texas defense forced Kansas off the field on 3rd and 5. In the first instance, the Jayhawks opted to run a triple option and the Longhorns forced the quarterback to pull the ball and strung the play out until the ball carrier was forced out of bounds short of the sticks.
On the second instance, Kansas tried a short pass, but the Texas back seven covered every option and the Jason Bean was forced to scramble. With multiple Longhorns in pursuit, there was no chance to gain a first down and the Jayhawks were forced to punt.
Through and through, the Texas defense stepped up on third down. It did not matter the score, distance, or part of the field — they stopped Kansas.
Season outlook: With the performance against Kansas, the Texas defense has now cracked the top 10 in the country at forcing opponents off the field on third down — the Longhorns boast a 26.9-percent opponent third-down conversion rate, which is good for sixth in the country.
Kansas opted to attempt two fourth downs against Texas and was stopped short of the line to gain both times. Forcing the Jayhawks to go 0-of-2 on fourth downs in a huge win for the Longhorns defense.
The first fourth-down stop was not only a stop, but also a fumble recovery by the Horns. Facing 4th and 1 in a one-score game near midfield, Kansas kept the offense on the field and once again opted to use a multi-option run play. There was nowhere to go. Texas swarmed the backfield and forced Bean to linger at the mesh point, holding the ball too long before trying to pull it. The end result? A fumble recovered by Texas defensive back Jahdae Barron.
Texas NB Jahdae Barron has made some HUGE plays this game against Kansas!— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) September 30, 2023
-1 defensive stop to force a fourth down
-1 tackle for loss
-1 fumble recovery pic.twitter.com/2xE4y3mZfL
Just five plays later, the offense punched it in for six.
The second stop on fourth down came much later in the game. Deep in Texas territory, Kansas elected to go for it on 4th and 4 with the game already decided. Junior linebacker Jaylan Ford shed a block from a Kansas running back and put immediate pressure on the Bean. Sophomore Michael Taaffe was also in pursuit quickly and worked with Ford to push the quarterback out of the pocket immediately. With no time to properly survey the field, the Kansas quarterback made an errant throw that harmlessly fell to the turf and Texas was back on offense.
Staying tight on fourth down is key in any close game. Being able to hold Kansas when the game was close and once the outcome was already decided shows that the defensive unit has taken a level of ownership for their performance this season that we haven’t seen in recent memory.
Season outlook: Texas has held opponents to 4-of-11 on fourth downs this year (36.4 percent). This rate is remarkably lower than last year’s 57.1 percent and good for 27th in the country.
Texas was unable to rack up any sacks against Kansas. While a lack of sacks is somewhat worrisome, it is likely that the game plan prioritized staying in rushing lanes and keeping contain as opposed to bringing down the mobile Bean. When facing a dual threat that was as speedy as the Kansas quarterback, defenses will often emphasize different goals than normal — I’d remain confident in the pass rush given their ability to stop the Kansas ground game and create general havoc on other plays.
Season outlook: The Texas pass rush seems to be hot and cold thus far this year. Unfortunately, this was a cold game even if the plan was to keep contain rather create sacks. Through five games, the defense has tallied 13 sacks.
As previously mentioned, the Texas defense was able to force and recover a fumble on a key fourth-down play, the sole turnover caused by the Texas defense; however, the game featured the first two forced fumbles of the season. It also continues the streak of creating a turnover in every game this year.
Season outlook: Texas has now forced eight turnovers on the year — after creating 14 all of last season, this unit is on pace to create over 19 takeaways for the year which would be a 35.7 percent increase from last year.
The Texas defense came to play on Saturday. The unit stifled Kansas overall and performed well in multiple key areas. Under the microscope, the Longhorns continued the trend of improving in the four areas of emphasis compared to last year.