The game appeared to set up perfectly for Kansas State. It turned out to be a mismatch.
The Texas Longhorns, fresh off two humiliating losses that left coach Mack Brown hearing criticism from all angles, thoroughly outplayed the Wildcats and ended a five-game losing streak in the series with a 31-21 victory in front of 95,248 on Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
They conquered their former nemesis for the first time since 2003 with a balanced offensive attack and a surprising defensive effort.
Behind running back Johnathan Gray, who ran for 141 yards and two touchdowns, the Longhorns never struggled for points.
Texas’ defense, which was gashed by BYU and Mississippi for more than 800 rushing yards the last two weeks, looked aggressive and held K-State to 390 yards. Outside of junior receiver Tyler Lockett, who caught 13 passes for a school-record 237 yards, K-State didn’t have much.
“They (the Longhorns) have the capacity to be a very, very fine football team,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Everyone wants to write them off. We aren’t a great football team, I understand that. But (Texas) can play the game. They coached better and executed better than we did. It’s just that simple.”
For K-State, the loss leaves several questions.
The three most pertinent come on defense, the offensive line and quarterback. K-State’s defense was unable to stop Texas when it mattered most and struggled to get off the field on third and fourth downs. Texas ran for 227 yards and looked like the more physical team.
Some of that may be due to new Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson having an extra week to work with his players, but Snyder wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
“They didn’t do anything that we didn’t try to prepare for,” Snyder said. “We got bunched up up front and they knocked us off the ball we just didn’t contain the ball very well.”
The offensive line also looked overmatched, with Texas defenders continually breaking past the line of scrimmage for sacks and hurries.
Quarterbacks Daniel Sams and Jake Waters struggled to find a rhythm until Waters took over full time late in the second quarter. But the switch oddly came after Sams had rushed well, with 48 yards in eight carries.
By that point the Wildcats trailed 17-0 with 3:02 remaining before halftime.
Texas kept K-State off balance early with a mixture of runs and long passes. Late in the first quarter the Longhorns found a rhythm behind Gray and Malcolm Brown and then went deep. David Ash hooked up with Kendall Sanders for a 63-yard touchdown as Sanders beat K-State cornerback Dorrian Roberts badly on the play. Texas clearly did its homework; Roberts struggled last week against Massachusetts.
The Longhorns seemed to frustrate the Wildcats most on their third scoring drive. Texas decided to go for it on fourth and 2 just across midfield. A stop would have given K-State much-needed field position and momentum, but Ash hit Jaxon Shipley across the middle for a 10-yard gain.
“You give up big plays, you’re going to lose ballgames,” Snyder said. “You turn the ball over you’re going to lose ballgames. You get penalized too much you are going to lose ballgames. This isn’t rocket science.”
The Wildcats needed to answer before halftime, and Waters delivered by leading them on a quick scoring drive. He hit Lockett for two long gains and then handed the ball off to John Hubert, who scored on a 15-yard run with 1:01 remaining in the half.
K-State was driving at the beginning of the second half, trailing 17-7, and that’s when the Wildcats’ coaches called an option run on second-and-long. The play was setting up nicely, and Waters pitched the ball to Hubert. But he couldn’t handle the ball, and lost it when it bounced off his knee. Texas, now playing without Ash, recovered the fumble and quickly regained momentum after a successful fake punt.
The Wildcats’ defense, which had struggled all night against the Longhorns’ balanced attack, gave up a 15-yard touchdown run to Gray. Just like that, Texas was up 24-7 and firmly in control with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter.
K-State rallied within two scores and had two chances to score in the red zone late, but came up short on back-to-back fumbles by Waters.
With the loss, K-State, 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big 12, goes into its bye week before heading off to an important game at Oklahoma State. Texas, 2-2 and 1-0, appears back on track.
It’s not the way K-State players envisioned things playing out.
“It’s so frustrating to come out here and play the way we did,” senior receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “We had all the pieces in place to make this a win. For that not to happen is devastating.”