In shades of 2021, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns built up a big early lead but found itself in a tight game with the No. 23 Kansas State Wildcats late, coming away with a narrow overtime win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
It wasn’t pretty, and Texas may have more gaps than previously thought, but in a survive-and-advance mode, the Longhorns got the job done — Steve Sarkisian’s team is still in control of its destiny in the Big 12 and the College Football Playoff.
1. Texas needs an answer at quarterback
When Quinn Ewers went down against the Houston Cougars, Maalik Murphy wasn’t asked to do much, so the last two weeks have been his baptism into the world of starting quarterbacks.
A week ago, Murphy started the game poorly and finished strong. Against Kansas State, Texas led by three scores after a strong start but let KSU claw its way back in and make it closer than it needed to be. Murphy completed seven of his first nine attempts for 152 yards and a score, then, following an interception, the wheels fell off and he closed 12-of-28 passing for 96 yards.
It seems like Ewers will be out for a few more weeks, so it then becomes a Sarkisian and AJ Milwee problem to solve during the week. If the Longhorns want to achieve their goal, the coaches need to find a way to win at the quarterback position.
2. Texas is susceptible behind the linebackers
The Texas defense shut down the Kansas State ground game, so the Wildcats turned to what several others have found against the Longhorns — intermediate passing.
Kansas State quarterback Will Howard capitalized on the soft coverage schemes, with 14 of his 26 completions coming between 5-and-14 yards for 175 yards. Once again, in a repeat of what Houston managed to do, Kansas State, not known for its passing prowess, found space in the zone and kept their offense moving and on schedule.
Schematically, Texas seemingly chose to play a softer game following the big lead, creating a perfect storm of defensive letdown and offensive struggle to keep KSU in this game. Ultimately, it landed on the defense to win the game and they answered the call, but it was a lot closer than it should have been.
3. Texas still needs to improve its closing
The Longhorns had an opportunity to put Kansas State away permanently, leading 27-7 with four minutes left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats responded with three unanswered touchdowns to tie the game in the fourth quarter and put all the pressure on Texas. That’s a flip from what should have been an “warm up the bus” start of the game for the Longhorns, but they couldn't close. Then, after the unlikely Kansas State field-goal miss to maintain the three point lead, Texas needed one first down to end the game.
They went three-and-out and gave up the game-tying field goal.
After being able to run the ball when they wanted to earlier in the season, Texas needed to run three times for a first down to end the game in regulation, but they could not. The Longhorns were lucky to escape with a win, but added fireworks where none were needed.