Of all of the struggles during Charlie Strong’s tenure with the Texas Longhorns, perhaps the most-embarrassing was the 24-21 overtime loss to the Kansas Jayhawks a year ago. That loss not only eliminated the Longhorns from a possible bowl berth, but it also essentially sealed Strong’s fate at Texas.
In-spite of the talent differential, if last year’s game proved anything, it’s that Texas cannot afford to overlook any team. If the Longhorns want to vastly improve their chances of making a bowl game and build momentum heading into the critical last two games of the season, they’ll need not to overlook a 1-8 Kansas team on Saturday.
And don’t let the record fool you — Kansas was 1-9 last season before upsetting Texas.
The Jayhawks have struggled mightily this year and sit firmly at the bottom of the Big 12 conference. After a season-opening win against the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks, the Jayhawks have lost eight consecutive games, including a 38-9 loss a week ago against the then-winless Baylor Bears; a game in which they only managed to score three field goals.
Kansas has struggled all year to move the ball (sound familiar), managing just 354.2 yards per game on 650 plays this season, averaging 4.9 yards per play. The Jayhawks have not established a running game throughout the entire season, averaging 114.9 rushing yards per game, in-spite of the efforts of talented running back Khalil Herbert. The 5-foot-11 sophomore has racked up 631 yards and four touchdowns on his 96 attempts this season, averaging an impressive 6.57 yards per rush.
Kansas has had a bit more success through the air than on the ground, ranking No. 58 in the nation in passing offense with 293.3 yards per game, but quarterback Peyton Bender struggles to take care of the ball.
The junior signal caller has completed 131 of his 240 pass attempts this season and tossed eight touchdowns, but has been picked off eight times, as well. Bender’s favorite target is junior speedster Steven Sims Jr., who is on-pace to lead the team again this season.
Through Kansas’s nine games this season, Sims hauled in 39 receptions for 679 yards and four scores, including a 77-yard touchdown in the season-opener against Southeast Missouri State.
To compound the Jayhawks’ problems, in addition to their inability to move the ball offensively, they have struggled to keep opponents off the board. For the year, the Jayhawks give up an average of 42.4 points per game, which ranks No. 127 out of the 129 FBS schools. Kansas has been worse on defense since conference play began, allowing 46.16 points per game in Big 12 play.
The bright spot defensively for Kansas is the conference’s leading tackler, linebacker Joe Dineen, who has racked up 110 total tackles - 76 solo - and averages 12.2 tackles per game. Sophomore safety Mike Lee is the closest Jayhawk to Dineen, with 65 tackles, but also leads the team with two interceptions on the year.
As Texas tries to right the ship under new head coach Tom Herman, a win over the Jayhawks this year puts Texas one step closer to bowl eligibility, with West Virginia and Texas Tech still on the schedule.
Despite the Jayhawks struggles, though, as Texas learned last year, a win won’t come easy.