On Saturday, the No. 24 Kansas Jayhawks will travel to Austin to face off against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in a battle of undefeated, ranked teams, the first time in the all-time series both teams are ranked entering the game. While the line is currently set at -16.5 in favor of Texas, according to DraftKings,* just two short years ago the Jayhawks came into Austin and upset the Horns.
Each team boasts a veteran roster, an explosive offense, and am naggressive defense. Here are five matchups that could determine the outcome on Saturday.
1. Jalon Daniels vs. the Texas QB spies
Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels is the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year. In just three games this season, Daniels has shown why — the true dual-threat quarterback has completed 74.7 percent of his passes for 705 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception. He’s also averaging 9.0 yards per carry on the ground in 27 attempts.
Daniels leads a potent Kansas offense, so one of the most interesting matchups in this game will be the ability of the Texas defense to contain Daniels on scrambles — the Jayhawks quarterback is dangerous on off-schedule plays when exiting the pocket to pass or run.
Against Alabama, Texas opted to utilize freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. to spy on Jalen Milroe in order to limit his ability to scramble. Look for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski to deploy Hill Jr often on Saturday in a similar role.
The Texas Longhorns decided to let their true freshman ultra talented linebacker Anthony Hill Jr spy Jalen Milroe last night and he put on a clinic.— CFBLIVE247 (@CFBLive247_) September 10, 2023
6 tackles | 2 tackles for loss | 2 sacks pic.twitter.com/1b7VwfYgj7
The athleticism of each of these players is off the charts — Daniels and Hill both present uniquely powerful builds with excellent speed and quickness.
For Hill to win this match up, he’ll need to rely on efficient angles, solid tackling techniques, and confident decision making. If he can successfully contain Daniels, the Longhorns defense will be limiting a huge threat of the Jayhawks offense.
2. Kansas ground game vs. the Texas front seven
While limiting the scrambling ability of Daniels is key, the running game for Kansas does not solely rely on creative plays from the agile quarterback — the Jayhawks offense also relies on designed quarterback runs from Daniels and possesses a two-headed running back threat of Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw.
Currently, the Jayhawks average 217.8 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. Neal comes in averaging just below 100 yards per game on 6.9 yards per carry while Hishaw is slightly above seven yards per carry but sees less volume. This duo has combined for eight touchdowns through four games and sets the tone for the Kansas offense.
Kansas RB Devin Neal rushing yards by direction:— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) September 26, 2023
Between the tackles:
– 27 attempts
– 114 yards
– 4.22 YPA
– 12 MTF
– 1 TD
Off the ends:
– 30 attempts
– 280 yards
– 9.33 YPA
– 12 MTF
– 4 TD
Kansas will rely on the ground game heavily both to advance the ball and set up the pass game — it’s key to their entire offensive gameplan. If Texas can stop the ground game and force Kansas to be one dimensional, the Longhorns can gain a significant advantage.
Texas will rely on the front seven to stem the Kansas rushing attack with opponents averaging just 2.7 yards per carry and given up a lone touchdown on the ground.
Texas DL Byron Murphy II continues to wreak havoc in opposing team's backfields! pic.twitter.com/SVB7VfCIuA— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) September 24, 2023
The onus to stop the Kansas ground game will be equally distributed among the front seven, but look for interior defensive lineman for Texas to play a critical role in this battle. If the Longhorns can repeatedly get a push up front like they did against the Bears in allowing 60 rushing yards on 31 attempts, things will be in their favor.
3. Kansas third-down offense vs. the Texas third-down defense
Kansas comes into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium leading the country in third-down conversions as the only team to convert at a rate higher than 60 percent. After converting 49.3 percent of their third downs last year, this team has moved the chains on third down at a 62.5-percent rate.
The Longhorns defense has currently held opponents to a 30.5-percent conversion rate, good for 18th in the country thanks to an ability to create third and longs and then get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The battle on third down has the potential to decide the outcome of the game.
4. Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell vs. the Kansas Secondary
On the other side of the ball, the matchup between the Texas wide receivers and the Kansas secondary has large implications. Against Alabama, Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell both reeled in long touchdown passes that altered the games final outcome.
Quinn Ewers to Xavier Worthy. 44 yards. Touchdown Texas.— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) September 10, 2023
If these two vertical threats can get past the Kansas secondary, look for the Texas offense to move the ball effectively in other areas as well. While the big plays are momentum-swinging moments, if Texas can establish a vertical threat early, the Kansas secondary will be forced to adapt and leave holes for the run game or the intermediate passing attack.
Quinn Ewers to AD Mitchell, touchdown Texas.— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) September 10, 2023
Dot x2 pic.twitter.com/K2C70s1GV2
Texas hasn’t utilized the deep ball as frequently as some may have expected before the season — it is entirely possible that aspect of the aerial attack has remained underutilized in order to bring it out for this game.
Worthy and Mitchell will undoubtedly have one-on-one matchups down the field against Kansas. If Texas can connect on shot plays early and often, the Longhorn offense will be able to put up points at a rate that could swing the final outcome in their favor.
5. Quinn Ewers vs. an INT-forcing secondary
Beyond just the deep threat look for turnovers, particularly interceptions, to be a key matchup in this game. Kansas has intercepted six passes through four games while Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers hasn’t thrown an interception in 228 attempts.
Only 3 FBS quarterbacks have attempted as many passes as Quinn Ewers this season without committing an interception: Washington State’s Cameron Ward (13:0 TD:INT), Penn State’s Drew Allar (8:0), and Notre Dame’s Sam Hartman (14:0).#HookEm #texasfootball— Corey Smith (@HornsBeat) September 26, 2023
Ewers has demonstrated remarkable poise and decision making, but now faces a secondary that has been able to force opposing quarterbacks into throwing interceptions and is currently playing with a high level of confidence.
If Ewers can continue to protect the ball in the air, it will significantly bolster the odds of a Texas victory. However, if Kansas is able to force poor decision making or even an interception, it could swing the momentum in their favor.
As the game plays out on the field, these five matchups have the potential to sway the outcome in either direction. With both teams aiming to stay undefeated, the team that can best exploit these key matchups may end up victorious.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.