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No. 3 Texas 40, No. 24 Kansas 14: Three things from Steve Sarkisian

How Longhorns receivers are complementing each other, a breakout running back, and a huge stop by the defense.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 3 Texas Longhorns used 27 second-half points to pull away from the No. 24 Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium to move the Longhorns to 5-0 for the first time since the 2009 season.

“I think first of all, this was a good team win for us,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said after the game. “We keep talking about being versatile and finding different ways and I think that today was another good example that — obviously the balance on offense was really critical for us, something coming into the game that I had talked to the to the guys about, let’s be really balanced today.”

The Longhorns achieved that feat, rushing for 336 yards and throwing for 325 yards — an almost perfect balance — though the touchdowns tilted toward the ground with four rushing scores, exceeding the season total of three entering the game.

In fact, it was historic balance for Texas in addition to historic overall production.

“Any time you can throw for over 300, you can rush for over 300 and have a 200-yard rusher, and have two receivers basically have 100 yards receiving, that’s good balance. The ball was getting spread around the right way today. I thought we were very efficient and although we really didn’t throw the ball over their head, we found explosive plays,” Sarkisian said.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers was 25-of-35 passing for 325 yards, one touchdown, and one interception while rushing for two more touchdowns, including a 30-yard run to open the scoring in the first quarter.

On the ground, redshirt sophomore Jonathon Brooks ran for a career-high 217 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns, the second-most rushing yards for a Texas running back in the Sarkisian era behind the 243-yard effort against Kansas last year by Bijan Robinson.

Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell complement each other well

Texas junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy caught all seven targets against Kansas for 93 yards, the most receiving yards for Worthy this season and tied for his most receptions.

But the efficiency with which Ewers connected with Worthy wasn’t the only storyline in the passing game for the Longhorns — the headline was how Worthy’s deep-threat ability helped junior wide receiver AD Mitchell produce his most productive game in college.

Entering the Kansas game, the Georgia transfer had a career high of five catches in 2021 against Tennessee and a career high of 78 receiving yards in this year’s win over Alabama.

On Saturday versus the Jayhawks, Mitchell notched 10 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets in the most prolific performance of his career, albeit one long teased by his obvious upside.

With two high-level receivers threatening defenses at all three levels, opponents are no longer able to devote the resources they did last year to simply stopping Worthy and thereby removing the primary explosive-play element of the Texas offense.

“It’s seven attempts to Xavier and he catches seven balls when that number a year ago never really used to look like that — for example, to catch seven balls last year, it would take about 14 or 15 attempts in his direction because everybody knew we had to throw it there,” Sarkisian said.

Never was that more apparent last season than when Worthy was targeted 12 times in the 17-10 loss to TCU, often on deep throws, and only caught four passes for 32 yards with a long of 15 yards. So, for each target of Worthy that game, the Longhorns only gained 2.7 yards. Yikes.

The attention paid to Worthy as Sarkisian continues to seek one-on-one chances for him is producing opportunities for Mitchell, who showed strong hands and averaged 10.8 yards per target even though the Jayhawks were able to keep the Longhorns from hitting throws over the top.

“So now all of a sudden when you have a complementary receiver on the other side, I think sooner or later people are going to start paying more attention to No. 5,” Sarkisian said.

Good luck with that balance working out for Texas opponents.

Jonathon Brooks continues to break out

The addendum to Sarkisian’s discussion of how Worthy and Mitchell help open up the field for each other is the ability of Brooks to make defenses pay for committing resources deep.

“I think one thing that JB is doing, he’s playing with a lot of confidence. I think that he’s a very patient runner. He’s always had natural running ability,” Sarkisian said.

The difference now for Brooks, besides receiving high-leverage carries, is forcing missed tackles behind an offensive line that create the chances against third-level defenders.

“Now as he’s finding opportunities in the open field, he’s making safeties miss, and when you can do that at running back when you block things right and you trust the run and then you can make that last layer of defense miss, you can create explosive runs,” Sarkisian said.

Against Wyoming it was a big 61-yard run in the fourth quarter that extended the lead to 21 points. Against Baylor it was a big 40-yard run to score the first touchdown and capitalize on the early aggressiveness of the Texas defense. Against Kansas it was a 67-yard run on the first play after the speed option run and fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Jayhawks. And then the 54-yard touchdown run untouched on the first drive of the second half that helped fuel the post-halftime surge by the Longhorns.

“Now this is three straight weeks where he has hit home runs. As much as he’s running really good — hard yards between the tackles — he’s a home-run hitter for us right now to which I don’t know if everybody appreciated that about him coming into the season,” Sarkisian said.

“But if you think back over the last two years when he’s gotten in games at the end of these games, he’s hit home runs — hit one against Kansas last year in that game. So he’s done that and now he’s putting the two together, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.”

The fourth-down stop by the Texas defense was huge

Sarkisian admitted that the Longhorns struggled to defend the modern triple option run by the Jayhawks early in the game that featured an arc blocker leading the way to the speed option side. One run in the first quarter produced a sizable gain and so did another before it was called back for holding.

The fourth-down stop in the third quarter after the long touchdown pass by the Jayhawks was yet another triple option look by Kansas that Texas made difficult enough that Jason Bean held onto the mesh point too long on 4th and 1, producing a fumble recovered by Longhorns senior nickel back Jahdae Barron.

“It was going to be triple option again and we started defending it better and made the read a little bit tougher and that’s when they have the exchange issue with the quarterback and the running back and ultimately create that turnover on downs,” Sarkisian said.

Texas took advantage by running the ball five times for a touchdown and a 26-14 lead. Just as important, over that fourth-down stop and the following two possessions, the Longhorns defense allowed five yards on 10 plays following the 58-yard touchdown pass by the Jayhawks that arrested momentum from the 54-yard touchdown run by Brooks on the previous possession to the Kansas touchdown pass.

“At that point, we seized the opportunity and that’s complementary football — when you’re playing against good teams, it’s hard to create and find turnovers, but when you get them, what do you do with them? I think that’s the complementary football piece that we’re trying to continue to be really good at and I think that’s an area where we’ve improved,” Sarkisian said.