AUSTIN, Texas — For the first time in the series between the Texas Longhorns and the Kansas Jayhawks, both teams are ranked as the No. 3 Longhorns host the No. 24 Jayhawks at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
Both teams are undefeated and have their eyes set on Arlington in December in the home opener for head coach Steve Sarkisian’s program, which sets to avenge an overtime loss to Kansas and head coach Lance Leipold two years ago. In 2019, the Horns escaped with a 50-48 win against the Jayhawks — Texas hasn’t had a convinced victory against Kansas on the Forty Acres since a 42-27 win in 2017 that featured a 28-point first quarter by the home team.
More german to Saturday’s proceedings is the status of star Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels, the preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year — Daniels did not participate in the bulk of pregame warmups with Jason Bean taking the first-team reps, reportedly because of back tightness.
Bean is a dangerous runner himself and the North Texas transfer started nine games for Kansas in 2021, as well as the season opener against Missouri State last season, but he certainly doesn’t pose the same threat as Daniels.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Bean took the field with the Kansas first-team offense, running a triple option play to the right that running back Devin Neal took for 26 yards behind strong blocking. The Jayhawks quickly got behind the chains, however, when Longhorns sophomore cornerback Terrance Brooks broke up a pass and what looked like an attempted double pass resulted in a fumble and a loss of six yards. Bean scrambled into space on third down, but the nine yards wasn’t enough for Leipold to risk a fourth-down attempt and Kansas punted down to the Texas 12-yard line.
Playing at tempo, the Horns started quickly with an eight-yard run by redshirt sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks, a run-pass option glance route to junior wide receiver AD Mitchell for 12 yards, a play-action pass to Mitchell for 17 yards, and a third straight completion to Mitchell on a deep crossing route for 20 yards. Kansas finally secured a key stop, dropping junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy for a four-yard loss on a quick throw, but Brooks was able to gain five yards on third down and redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers continued to flash his scrambling ability on third down, climbing the pocket and finding a seam up the middle for a 30-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead. The seven-play, 88-yard drive took only 2:45.
The Jayhawks hit the Longhorns with another triple-option run pitched to the perimeter where an arc blocker led the way, but got hit with a holding penalty that resulted in a 3rd and 8. Bean hung in the pocket with good protection on the money down and had a receiver open over the middle dropped by his intended target.
With another punt inside the Texas 20-yard line, the Horns faced another long field. Brooks continued to look dangerous, finding a crease for a seven-yard gain on first down and then taking a misdirection flare pas for 23 yards and nearly breaking off an even bigger play. After a first-down incompletion intended for Mitchell, freshman running back CJ Baxter made his first appearance with a five-yard gain and senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington moved the chains with seven-yard catch on an out route.
A reverse for Mitchell was successfully strung out by the Jayhawks, who somehow avoided a penalty for a late hit out of bounds. Ewers scrambled to avoid a sack on second down and then stood tall in the pocket to hit junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders for a 10-yard gain to set up 4th and 3. Behind a strong surge by the Texas offensive line, Brooks burrowed his way for the first down.
The first-down pass from Ewers was errant and hit the hand of a Kansas defender before Brooks was stopped on a run that saw Sanders rolled up on and hobble off the field and Ewers couldn’t find Whittington on a fade into the end zone, forcing a 26-yard field goal by junior Bert Auburn and a 10-lead.
The first quarter ended with Kansas gaining two first downs on two runs and a scramble by Bean to find tight end Mason Fairchild for an 18-yard gain after Bean avoided a cornerback blitz by freshman Malik Muhammad.
As Sanders exited the medical tent and remained on the sideline with his helmet, Bean made a defender miss on the speed option on a 27-yard run, fumbled at the end of the run on a hit by Texas safety Jalen Catalon, then benefited from running back Daniel Hishaw recovering it on the run and finding the end zone from 18 yards away.
Kansas just scored the best touchdown I’ve seen this season pic.twitter.com/a338qLQTxq— The Locksmith (@Your_Locksmith) September 30, 2023
Brooks responded quickly, taking an outside-zone run up the middle, breaking a tackle, and then racing 67 yards into the Kansas red zone. The Jayhawks defense took advantage of the short field, however, stopping a run by Baxter for a loss of two yards, sacking Ewers for a three-yard loss, and then making a key open-field tackle on Baxter on the perimeter to send Auburn onto the field for a second short field goal, this time from 27 yards and a 13-7 lead.
The Texas defense was able to force Kansas into a 3rd and 6 with Bean keeping the triple option play for a short gain to end the Jayhawks drive.
Three runs by Brooks continued his strong start to the game with three carries for 38 yards to start the drive before he gave way to Baxter for a five-yard run. Sarkisian went to the air with with a play-action pass from the shot zone with Ewers hitting Mitchell on a comeback route for 14 yards. Kansas stopped Baxter for three yards and cut down senior running back Keilan Robinson on a throw into the flat to force 3rd and 9 for Texas. Back in the game, Brooks was stopped for no gain and Auburn missed left from 49 yards when his attempt drifted on him.
With an old veer look, Kansas tried to hit a play-action pass over the top to open its drive with the overthrow falling incomplete. After Hishaw ran for five yards, the Texas defense got off the field with another three and out when Barron made a huge open-field tackle on Bean, who was trying to scramble to the edge.
A screen pass to Worthy gained eight yards and Brooks moved the chains with a five-yard gain before Texas was hit with a holding penalty on sophomore right guard DJ Campbell and an ineligible player downfield thanks to an error lining up. The Longhorns were able to convert the 1st and 25 when Baxter ran for 18 yards on two carries and Ewers hit Mitchell for 22 yards. After a scramble by Ewers, he found Whittington for 11 yards with 11 seconds remaining in the first half, but Ewers threw his first interception in 228 pass attempts to effectively end the opening 30 minutes with the Longhorns leading 13-7.
Texas senior linebacker Jett Bush recovered a short kick by Kansas to open the second half, but the Longhorns found themselves facing 3rd and 8 after a short run a long incomplete pass by Ewers, who scrambled for a first down to make the Jayhawks pay for man coverage on third down once again. Ewers missed Robinson on a return motion wheel route, but Brooks finally made Kansas pay for its questionable run defense with an untouched 54-yard touchdown run and some breathing room at 20-7.
Another look at the 54-yard rushing TD from Texas RB Jonathon Brooks to open the second half! pic.twitter.com/uIMFaOLucy— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) September 30, 2023
The Jayhawks responded, however, when Longhorns senior safety Kitan Crawford was beat in one-on-one coverage for a 58-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 20-14.
A third-down catch by Mitchell moved the chains for the Longhorns, but Ewers wasn’t able to find him over the top for a big play on first down. Quickly facing a 3rd and 6, with Worthy making a catch at the stick on an out route to keep the drive alive. Trying to hit another big play in the passing game, Ewers was sacked for a two-yard loss. Freshman wide receiver Johntay Cook made a 26-yard catch over the middle to seemingly generate some momentum immediately lost when the shotgun snap on first down went over the head of Ewers for a 15-yard loss. Mitchell came up with a tough 14-yard catch on third down to get back into Auburn’s field-goal range and he missed another long attempt, this time wide right from 47 yards.
Kansas was able to get a running back matched up on Texas junior Buck end Barryn Sorrell on a wheel route to start the drive, but Sorrell was up for the task and forced an incompletion with strong coverage. Facing 3rd and 6, the throw from Bean forced his receiver behind the chains, a potential drive-ending play negated by an offside penalty on the Longhorns. Flying into the backfield on 3rd and 1, Catalon helped force no gain on the play and an eventual timeout by Kansas to contemplate a fourth-down attempt in their own territory. Lined up in the Pistol formation, Bean tried to pull the ball late, causing a fumble recovered by Texas.
Back on the ground with Brooks, the Longhorns running back found room up the middle with runs of seven yards, 11 yards, and three yards. A more decisive Baxter took a 10-yard gain to the goal line and Brooks finished it in the jumbo package from one yard out. When the two-point conversion failed, the Longhorns led 26-14 after running the ball on all five plays on the scoring drive.
For the third time on the day, the Texas defense got off the field after three plays, putting Bean under pressure on third down and forcing an incompletion. The Longhorns hit a big play to Worthy on a deep comeback route for 39 yards before heading to the fourth quarter facing 2nd and 9 from the Kansas 31-yard line.
Worthy opened the first quarter with a 10-yard reception on a glance route run-pass option and Baxter picked up 10 yards on a run before the Jayhawks stopped the freshman and Brooks setting up third and goal, a touchdown pass from Ewers to Mitchell to create some separation from the Jayhawks at 32-14.
Under heavy pressure from the Texas defense, Kansas went three and out for a fourth time with Bean forced to throw a ball away, a tackle for loss by Longhorns redshirt sophomore safety Michael Taaffe, and a short, stumbling scramble by Bean.
Content to stay on the ground, Texas picked up a first down on two runs by Brooks, then converted a 2nd and 10 with a screen pass to Baxter and hit Mitchell over the middle for 18 yards. A glance route to Worthy picked up 11 yards on 2nd and 10 into the Kansas red zone. On 3rd and 8, Mitchell converted another first down with a catch down to the 1-yard line and Ewers beat a Kansas defender to the pylon on a bootleg to move into blowout territory at 40-14.
By the end of garbage time, freshman Texas running back Tre Wisner converted a fourth down to tick down the final seconds of the win.