In a game that came down to quite literally the final play, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns escaped from the No. 23 Kansas State Wildcats in overtime in Austin, 33-30. Facing a first and goal from inside the 10-yard line, the Texas defense held Kansas State to zero points to secure the win. After having the Longhorn offense get stopped from inside the 10 multiple times throughout the year, it was refreshing to be on the other side especially with the outcome of the game hanging in the balance.
Besides the final stop, the defense performed well against the run. On 28 attempts, the Wildcats amassed 43 rushing yards. Giving up 30 points is an unfavorable number, but part of this total was a result of the short field Kansas State was given thanks to three turnovers and a blocked punt.
The operative question is how the defense performed in key metrics. More specifically, how did the defense do in the four areas of emphasis — third down, fourth down, sacks, and turnovers? Let’s find out.
The Longhorns defense held the Wildcats to 2-of-14 third downs. Holding a team on third downs to a 14.3-percent conversion rate is phenomenal. In each half, the Wildcats went 1-of-7 on third down.
Texas was so successful because they put Kansas State into third-down situations that favor the defense. The Wildcats routinely faced third and distance, which allowed the Texas pass rush to pin back their ears. Add in the fact that Texas forced Kansas State to become one-dimensional and you get a recipe for success on third downs.
Season outlook: The Texas defense ranks second in the country on third down with a conversion rate of 26.4 percent on the year, significantly improved from the 41.3-percent rate in 2022.
Kansas State converted 1-of-2 fourth-down attempts on the game. Both occurred in critical moments. The first fourth-down play came with 26 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Facing 4th and 6 with the score 30-27, the Wildcats converted to extend the drive that would force the game into overtime. Lining up with two receivers on each side and a back off set to the left, Kansas State threw for the first down. The Longhorns rushed three lineman and a player from the secondary, none of which were able to get home, and a Wildcats receiver found a soft spot in the zone for a big gain.
Kansas State goes for the win in OT on fourth down… but Texas holds! pic.twitter.com/ScD5BAHZ8a— Pikkit (@pikkitsports) November 4, 2023
The second fourth down was the game-ending play. Kansas State opted to go for the win rather than play another frame of overtime and the defense came up clutch. On this play, the Wildcats lined up in the I formation then flexed into a five-wide set to utilize space in the right side of the end zone. The Texas defenders in coverage handled the routes and the defensive line was able to get a push that forced the Kansas State quarterback to scramble in the pocket before being taken down.
While Texas wasn’t perfect on fourth downs, they came up huge on the fourth down that determined the outcome of the game.
Season outlook: Texas has held opponents to a fourth-down conversion rate of 45 percent on the year, which is good for 54th nationally. This is 32 spots better than their No. 86 position from a season ago.
Texas amassed three sacks on the day, a solid performance, especially against such a talented and experienced opposing offensive line. Before the game on Saturday, Kansas State had given up 11 sacks in eight games.
Texas was led by sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke, who had two sacks on the day. Burke just returned from a knee injury and made his presence felt the entire day. Not only did he sack the Kansas State quarterback early in the third quarter, but he forced a fumble on the play, which Texas recovered, and scored on the next play. Burke is now the sack leader on the team with five.
The second sack of the day and the first career forced fumble by Texas EDGE Ethan Burke! pic.twitter.com/jebbE1IuG0— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) November 4, 2023
The other sack came from junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell, which tied him for second most sacks on the team. He also had three quarterback hits in the game. Sorrell has really shined as of late, recording a sack in each of the last two games after having just one in the previous seven games.
Texas EDGE Barryn Sorrell is on a streak rushing the passer in the last 8 quarters!— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) November 4, 2023
-10 QB pressures
-5 QB hits
-10.8% pass rush win rate (2nd among Big 12 EDGEs) pic.twitter.com/r2GzeKB5Nl
While three sacks against a stout offensive line is a strong performance, there is still room for improvement. Getting sacks in critical moments is the next step — Texas had no sacks in the fourth quarter or overtime. In fact, after recording the second sack with 8:36 left in the first quarter, Texas had just one sack for the remaining 52 minutes in the game.
Season outlook: Texas increased its sack total to 22 on the year, which is good for 41st in the country. The Longhorns need five more sacks to surpass their total from last year with three regular season games to go.
Texas forced two turnovers — a strip sack and an interception. As previously mentioned, Burke was responsible for the forced fumble and it was recovered by senior linebacker Jaylan Ford. The interception was recorded by Burke’s high school teammate, sophomore safety Michael Taaffe.
Mookie did it again. Lifetime Chap, Michael Taaffe, opens the second half with an interception against Kansas State. The pick is Taaffe’s third consecutive game with an interception. #HookEm #GoChaps pic.twitter.com/IOIwnckopf— WestlakeNation (@Westlake_Nation) November 4, 2023
In what ended up being a right-moment-at-the-right-time play, Taaffe was able to grab the ball after it bounced off a Kansas State receiver that was falling to the ground.
Taaffe, the former walk on, leads the team in interceptions and has recorded a pick in each of the last three games. His knack for the ball is apparent.
Season outlook: Texas has recovered five fumbles and intercepted 10 passes this year, placing them in a tie at 29th in the country, a significant improvement from No. 104 in 2022. With three regular season games to go, Texas has already surpassed last year’s turnover total of 14 takeaways.
Against Kansas State, the Texas defense shined in the four areas of emphasis. There remains room for improvement both within these four areas and in the broader play of the unit, but the win against the Wildcats was yet another strong showing. The improvements from a year ago are tremendous.