AUSTIN — Prior to Saturday’s game in Austin, the Kansas Jayhawks scored 29 points over the last four games, including getting shutout twice. They had not scored more than 25 points against the Longhorns this century, and had only scored that many away from home just once this season.
Kansas had more yards, first downs, and passing touchdowns than the Longhorns, but Texas was able to trudge forward to a 42-27 victory thanks to a hot start in the first quarter. Outside of those four scores, which included a pick-six from senior Antwuan Davis, Texas limped to the finish line to complete its fifth victory of the season.
“Winning college football games is difficult especially with where we’re at as a program,” head coach Tom Herman said after the game. “We knew that there was going to be adversity throughout the game and that it wasn’t going to be easy. I thought we lulled a little bit here and there, but for the most part, responded.”
That lull ended up being the last 45 minutes of the game when Texas managed two scores, one of which came off of a mistake by Kansas that resulted in a very short field.
It looked like the Longhorns were off to another fast start through after recovering Kansas’ onside kick attempt to open the game. Junior John Burt jumped on the ball, and when the offense went out on the field, sophomore Shane Buechele completed a deep strike to senior Lorenzo Joe for 49 yards and the score, part of Joe’s five reception, 98-yard evening.
“We’ve been running that play all year,” Joe said. “Y’all have seen it before. It’s been either underthrown, overthrown or pass interference. Shane threw a great ball and it landed in my hands and we scored. It was a big score for us at the beginning of the game.”
Texas scored soon after thanks to a little help from the Jayhawks. Facing third and long from their own two, Kansas had quarterback Stanley Carter drop back to pass. His pass was picked off by Davis, who took it in for the score. Davis later added another interception and a fumble recovery as part of his career day.
“It’s a great feeling to be out there with this defense, with this team,” Davis said. “These guys, they fly around and I just wanted to be a part of one of those guys. I don’t want to be a missing piece. I want to be a part of this puzzle.”
Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando were almost without Davis’ this season, as Herman explained after the game.
“This is a guy that needed to pass an ungodly amount of hours in the spring and summer to graduate, and he needed to graduate to be eligible to play this season,” Herman said. “(Safeties coach/special teams coordinator) Craig Naivar dove into his life and prodded him and taught him and mentored him to where he did, and he graduated and is playing really good.
“This is a guy that has thrived in his role on special teams, done an excellent job there, and then when P.J. (Locke) goes down, he’s filled in very, very well for P.J.”
Kansas would score on the ensuing drive after two 15-yard penalties on Texas and well-executed quick passing. A wide receiver screen to the left side ended with Steven Sims diving across the goal line for the Jayhawks’ first score.
Texas responded with a ground attack led by freshmen Daniel Young (20 carries, 67 yards) and Toneil Carter (3 carries, 34 yards). Young received four rushes that put Texas on the Kansas 23. Carter came in to give young a break, received the next carry, and brought it in 23 yards for the score to make it 21-7.
Another interception by senior Jason Hall, one of three for the Longhorns, gave Texas another short field. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger trotted in, and found fellow freshman tight end Cade Brewer for an eight yard score.
After that point, Kansas scored the next 10 points to cut the Longhorn lead to 11 entering halftime. Herman experimented with a new kicker in senior Mitchell Becker, but his lone 44-yard attempt failed, and Texas was forced to go for it on fourth and medium from the fringe of normal field goal range for the rest of the evening.
“The plan moving forward is what it is,” Herman said about his kickers. “We go back to the drawing board. We coach him. We try to correct mistakes the best we can, and we go compete in the week of practice, and if the situation dictates itself, we’ll jog him out again and see if we haven’t corrected ourselves.”
The Longhorns added seven points before halftime when they were faced with just 22 yards between themselves and the goal line. Texas drove the ball to the one, and sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey ran the ball in from the wildcat to give Texas a 35-17 lead at the half.
The third quarter was woeful football for both teams. Kansas added three points on a 49 yard drive, but aside from those 3:44, neither team crafted a drive longer than 45 yards while starting from inside the minus-40 each drive.
The fourth was not much of an improvement in game quality, but it did have several pivotal plays. After Buechele threw an interception with around 12 minutes left in the game, Kansas had an opportunity to cut the deficit to one possession. They were forced to go for it on fourth down, and a stop by junior Malik Jefferson helped stop the momentum the Jayhawks had been building, part of his seven tackle day that included 1.5 TFLs.
Texas would take the ensuing drive 68 yards, capped off by a one yard rush by junior Chris Warren. The Jayhawks added one more score, but after failing to retrieve another onside kick, Herman sent in the backups to empty out the clock.
“I thought it was a tale of two halves for both sides of the ball,” Herman said. “I’ve got to watch the film to figure out why. We were a bit inconsistent on defense in the first half, obviously made some big plays with a pick six, and then a pick there at the end of the half.”
The defense did improve, giving up just 10 points in the second half and making up for the offensive struggles. Junior DeShon Elliott continued to prove he is deserving of being considered for the Thorpe Award with seven tackles, two TFLs and a forced fumble.
“We’re just balling, having fun, playing for each other,” Elliott said. “It starts up front. D-line pressures the quarterback, of course the ball is going to get thrown. His pick-six, quarterback felt the pressure, threw it, and we took it to the house.”
Even though his team struggled against a Kansas team whose last FBS victory came last year against Texas, Herman was not bothered that the win did not come as easy as he would have preferred.
“There’s no lack of confidence, or there’s no issue with perception,” Herman said. “Winning for us right now is going to be hard, and that’s okay. That’s okay as long as we win.”
Texas now has to travel to Morgantown to take on the 7-3 West Virginia Mountaineers. If they don’t succeed in West Virginia, the Longhorns’ last opportunity to win six games will be against Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving.
“We’re down the home stretch here and we’ve got an opportunity to go on the road and win us our fifth conference game,” Herman said. “Win our fifth conference game and become bowl eligible, which is an improvement and something that these seniors truly deserve.”