Amidst swirling rumors of a coaching change in Austin and numerous injuries and key players opting out, the Texas Longhorns had a game to go win on Saturday afternoon against the Kansas State Wildcats in Manhattan.
They did exactly that, thanks in large part of a dynamic showing from true freshman running back Bijan Robinson, who headlined what became a game with back-and-forth scoring after Texas established early control and ultimately cruised to a comfortable 69-31 win.
The action opened in ideal fashion for Texas. Back-to-back tackles for loss from linebacker DeMarvion Overshown and defensive end Moro Ojomo forced a quick and easy K-State three and out. The Longhorns offense, on the other hand, went to work in short order. On Texas’ second play from scrimmage, quarterback Sam Ehlinger connected with Jordan Whittington on a quick slant, and Whittington flashed his abilities when healthy, bursting for a 32-yard gain.
But capping a drive that began with Ehlinger connecting with his receivers on four consecutive attempts was Robinson, who hauled in Ehlinger’s fifth completion of the morning and scampered 13 yards to put Texas in striking position at the K-State 12-yard line. Two plays later, Robinson was on the receiving end of a lateral from Ehlinger and turned 12-yards of turf info his first career rushing touchdown to give the Horns an early 7-0 edge.
KSU’s ensuing drive kicked off with much more success, as backup quarterback Will Howard found a crease up the middle on a misdirection and broke free for 25 yards. But the Wildcats enjoyed little success after Howard’s run quickly placed K-State at midfield, converting only one more first down on a drive that ended with the Umpire’s head forcing an incomplete on 3rd and 7 and ultimately, a 53-yard field goal attempt by Blake Lynch, which clanked off of the right upright.
Not to be outdone, Texas’ second drive featured a heavy dose of Roschon Johnson, who chewed up 37 yards on four consecutive carries, including a 22-yard burst and bullish 12-yard gain to ultimately put Texas in position for a Cameron Dicker field goal to push the lead to 10-0.
Only moments later, though, Johnson was back on the field and into the end zone for his first touchdown since the Texas Tech game — a three-yard burst — after true freshman safety Jerrin Thompson, who started in place of Caden Sterns (opt out) and B.J. Foster (hamstring), recorded his first career interception and returned it 21 yards to K-State’s three-yard line.
“This is a kid that as a true freshman has a knack for the football,” Texas head coach Tom Herman told Longhorn Network prior to the game.
With Texas owning a comfortable 17-0 first quarter edge and the game seemingly getting out of hand early, K-State finally sustained some success.
Three consecutive runs to begin the drive, the last of which was a 12-yard run by Howard, move the chains on third down and moved KSU into Texas territory. After a flex-worthy hit from Chris Brown on K-State receiver Chabastin Taylor forced an incomplete on a deep strike the following play, the Wildcats found some space through the air, with Howard connecting with Malik Knowles for a 25-yard catch and run on first down to reach the red zone.
And then the Deuce starting getting loose, with freshman running back Deuce Vaughn elusively evading multiple Longhorns for a 19-yard touchdown run to cut the Texas lead to 17-7.
The Longhorns wasted little time responding, though.
Courtesy of a D’Shawn Jamison kick return that gave Texas great field position at the 41-yard line, the Horns needed only four plays to chew up 59 yards. Three of those plays featured Robinson, who began the drive with back-to-back physical carries for 15 yards, and capped the drive with an excellent cut and the line of scrimmage and a 30-yard touchdown sprint — his second of the afternoon — for a 24-7 lead.
On K-State’s ensuing drive, though, Vaughn picked up right where he left off, turning a slant across the middle into 20 yards to quickly reach Texas’ territory. On the very next play, he broke free 25 more yards, so despite a Joseph Ossai third down sack, Vaughn’s two explosive plays put Lynch in position to drill a 47-yard field goal to trim the lead to 24-10.
But like clockwork, Texas responded, with a 27-yard catch and run by Robinson that featured the freshman running over multiple Wildcats headlining another touchdown drive, capped by Johnson’s second rushing score, this time from seven yards out for a 31-10 lead.
Only moments later, the Longhorns offense was back on the field after Thompson botched a handoff to Vaughn on the first play of the drive, and defensive end Jacoby Jones quickly recovered at KSU’s 16-yard line to put Texas back in position for another score.
What came next, though, seemingly drained the life from the Longhorns throughout the remainder of the half.
On the second play of the drive, Ehlinger was sacked on 2nd and 5, but the story of this short drive was senior Derek Kerstetter, who slide over from center to right tackle, having to be carted off the field after suffering a gruesome leg injury as part of the cluster of bodies falling during the sack.
Two plays later, kicker Cameron Dicker missed a 30-yard chip shot field goal and Vaughn and the Wildcats went right back to work.
After Howard found Knowles on a deep out to move the chains on 3rd and 5, Vaughn broke free for a quick 13-yard run to move the chains again. Moments later after Knowles move the chains again on third down with another catch, Vaughn followed suit with a 10-yard first down catch on the next play, and then with another first down reception two plays later.
Again, it was Knowles and Vaughn shouldering the offensive load, with Knowles inching towards the goal line with a three-yard run on first down, and Vaughn finishing the job, leaping over Thompson along the way for a four-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 31-17 entering halftime.
After an intermission to regroup — likely more emotionally than anything after Kerstetter’s injury — Robinson went right back to business in short order, escaping free from a mass of bodies and using his hand to maintain balance to break free for a 75-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive. This run — the most explosive of his young career in Austin, brought his afternoon total to 180 yards and three touchdowns on only nine touches.
In maintaining the offensive theme, though, familiar faces continued finding success for K-State on the other end.
In capitalizing on a Juwan Mitchell targeting call that transformed a 3rd and 8 into 1st and 10 in Texas field position, Vaughn broke free again this time for 19 yards to the Texas 8-yard line. And again, Howard found Knowles, who built upon his big day by breaking two tackles for a seven-yard touchdown strike.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Longhorns refused to allow any consistent momentum.
Only moments later on the ensuing kickoff, Jamison exploded down the sideline and dragged a K-State defender approximately 25 more yards. After 98 yards in total, the Longhorns drive started at the 1-yard line, and Johnson needed only one play to bully his way into the end zone for his third score and a 45-24 Texas lead.
⚠️Kick at your own risk⚠️ pic.twitter.com/rE9fC8rgtc— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) December 5, 2020
Trailing 45-24 early in the third, Kansas State didn’t lie down, and the recipe for success was a similar one. Following a quick first down, Vaughn bursted around the edge and up the sideline for 31 yards into Texas territory, paving the way for Howard to find a wide-open Knowles on the very next play for a 29-yard touchdown strike.
And once again, we have a two-score game at 45-31 at only the 9:13 mark in the third quarter.
Not to be outdone by Deuce, though, Robinson wasted no time picking up where he left off. After a quick five-yard carry on first down, Robinson sliced through the K-State defense for another 27 yards, and two plays later, he flashed again, hauling in a dump-off pass from Ehlinger and freezing the KSU defender in place to turn a near no gain into an 11-yard first down. A quick 17-yard catch and run by Moore later and the Longhorns were into the red zone at the KSU 15-yard line, from which Whittington finished the job, turning a reverse into his first career touchdown to push the lead back to 21, 52-31.
The very next play, Vaughn again made his presence felt on the kickoff, turning a 40-yard return into 55 yards after a touchdown-saving horse collar tackle by Dicker. This time, though, three plays produced only one yard and a punt back to Texas.
Johnson headlined the ground game this time around, turning three quick carries into 32 yards. After being forced into a 3rd and 4, Jake Smith tallied 30-plus yards of his own with a 33-yard catch and run, setting up 15-yard touchdown in which Ehlinger lateraled to right end Cade Brewer, who tip-toed the sideline and on through K-State’s defense for the score.
And thus, with Texas owning a 59-31 cushion towards the tail end of the third quarter, the landslide finally began — only made worse by the first interception by linebacker David Gbenda and Ehlinger finding wide-open tight end Malcolm Epps for a 32-yard touchdown on the next play.
Just like that, following back-and-forth action that helped K-State stay alive, two touchdowns in less than two minutes extended the Longhorns lead to 66-31 and for all intents and purposes, ensured a Texas win before the fourth quarter was underway.
One what amounted to a meaningless drive, K-State couldn’t answer, turning the ball over on downs in Texas territory, despite some help on the drive by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Ta’Quon Graham.
Up convincingly in the fourth, Texas made the switch at quarterback, with redshirt sophomore Casey Thompson seeing some action. Nevertheless, the drive didn’t feature a pass, as Johnson joined Robinson with 100-plus yards after back-to-back bursts of 16 yards and 43 yards brought his total to 139 yards before two carries from Thompson brought Dicker out for a 21-yard field goal.
Notably, this drive saw Robinson and Johnson become Texas’ first pair of 100-yard rushers in a single game since D’Onta Foreman ad Chris Warren did so against Oklahoma State in 2016. Furthermore, Texas’ seven rushing touchdowns were the most of the Tom Herman era.
In addition to his three receptions for 51 yards, Robinson’s afternoon finished with 172 yards and three touchdowns on only nine carries, while Johnson produced another 139 yards and three scores with his 14 carries. On an afternoon when Ehlinger surprisingly wasn’t the headliner, he pieced together an efficient performance, completing 20-of-27 attempts for 274 yards and two touchdowns.
All told, a Texas offense that has been inconsistent throughout much of the season produced 608 yards, including 334 on the ground, and 69 points to guide Texas to 6-3 overall and 5-3 in Big 12 action. Next up, the Horns will close the 2020 regular season on the road against the Kansas Jayhawks.