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Texas secured a fourth place or higher finish in the Big 12 this season with a 69-31 victory in Manhattan.
The stakes for this game weren’t really high other than playing for the pride and tradition of the University and respect for the game. There was enough pride from the remaining Longhorns to absolutely wipe out the even more depleted Wildcats.
Kansas State has been going steadily downhill this season, starting with the loss of Skylar Thompson weeks ago and further exacerbated by COVID losses that lead to constant lineup shuffling and the very freshman-like play of quarterback Will Howard in his place. Early in the game they had starting middle linebacker Elijah Sullivan lined up at strong safety to fill out their lineup and after getting a face full of Bijan Robinson early in the game he was done for the day.
If this was the last game for the 2020 Longhorns it was a nice sendoff but too little, too late. Fans could only ask, “where has this been?”
Quick thought No. 1: Kansas State wasn’t up for this
K-State quarterback Will Howard threw two bad interceptions where he didn’t see Longhorn freshmen Jerrin Thompson or David Gbenda lurking in the throwing lanes, both of which were returned and lead to quick touchdowns for the Longhorns. He also fumbled a power-option mesh to running back Deuce Vaughn that Texas recovered on the K-State side of the field.
Some long D’Shawn Jamison kick returns also made for short fields, including a one-yard touchdown drive, and while Texas piled up 608 yards of total offense, it would have been even more were it not for the short fields. Beyond those errors, Kansas State also surrendered a 75-yard touchdown run to Bijan Robinson on the second play of Texas’ first drive after the half.
The Wildcat defense was totally worn down and unable to fight the good fight against Texas on this day, which combined with the errors on offense and special teams, kept this game from ever getting as interesting as Texas games tend to become in the Tom Herman era.
All that said, the Wildcat power-option game gave Texas serious problems on defense.
Will Howard had 18 carries for 79 yards, at 4.4 ypc executing a variety of option keepers and quarterback trap runs.
Chris Vaughn’s son Deuce had 10 carries for 125 yards at 12.5 ypc and two touchdowns along with 4 catches for another 45 yards. Texas’ defenders will have their eyes open on the difficulty of handling his quickness next season.
Fellow Texan Malik Knowles had his best game of the year with 6 catches for 95 yards and two scores. This would have been his breakout season had Skylar Thompson not been lost to injury but he should be back for the 2021 campaign.
Those three will be a nice foundation for future Kansas State teams whenever Will Howard has better overall field awareness and pre-snap reads and the defense isn’t a depleted sieve. All of their offensive line starters from this game will also return, this won’t be the last word from Kansas State in the Big 12.
Quick thought No. 2: Where was this earlier in the year?
Texas really let the K-State defense have it in this game. Granted the Wildcats were starting yet another different lineup and have been running on fumes for much of the year amid injuries and COVID losses, but Texas’ effort and personnel deployment in this game was much sharper.
Establishing Bijan Robinson as the No. 1 running back was basically a matter of time, but the gap in ability between Bijan and almost everyone else to even play running back for Texas this decade is sizable. He has fluidity and burst at 220 pounds that would make for a good 185-pound back. Texas was finally able to get their stretch blocking scheme going for Bijan, mostly due to insertion of Jake Majors at center.
At 6-foot-3, 295 pounds with natural quickness and a knack for reaching defenders, Majors was the outside zone center Texas has needed all season and routinely reached the Wildcat defensive tackles. With that established, Texas was able to execute the play properly with multiple potential creases across the front for Bijan to threaten, thus the potential for either off tackle darts to the sideline or lethal cutbacks against the grain.
On top of the improved blocking on this base running scheme, Texas also ran a fair number more RPOs, particularly backside glance and hitch routes to punish the Wildcats when they tried to bring safeties down. Tom Herman’s refusal to run RPOs regularly when not facing Kansas State has certainly been baffling in recent seasons.
Texas’ offense was also mixing in misdirection, reverses, counter plays designed to protect their main concepts, and a full gamut of useful schemes.
Quick thought No. 3: Texas had some younger players flash
Jake Majors is clearly the future of the center position. He actually provided an upgrade over Kerstetter who shone early as a tackle and is better on the perimeter at this level where his height works for him rather than against him. In both the run game and on the various screens Texas mixed in, Majors was regularly reaching defenders and finishing blocks down the field.
When Andrej Karic got in the game for the second half he was also routinely caving in the left side and finishing blocks. Texas has a pair of athletic run blockers in these two Bijan Robinson will surely be happy to see on the field more often in the future. Certainly we’ll all wonder what might have happened had Texas kept together the league’s best offensive tackle tandem and taken some chances with freshman Majors at center from the beginning of the year.
Jerrin Thompson had a great start to the game, picking off Will Howard as the backside poach safety on a tight end crossing route and then almost closing and picking off another. He plays decisively and covers ground effectively on the back end. He also had some good tackles in space albeit with his own share of moments in which he was made to look silly by Deuce Vaughn. David Gbenda got nice depth on his interception and brings the level of athleticism you need to play linebacker in this league.
Then there’s always Bijan Robinson who completely dominated the Wildcats. Nine carries for 172 yards at 19.1 ypc with three touchdowns isn’t just indicative of a beat down defense but a special athlete. Robinson added three catches for 51 yards as well, he’s a special talent and the offseason priority for Texas will be maximizing the run game and constraints around him with a young, talented offensive line and quarterback room.
Quick thought No. 4: It’s a cruel world for Derek Kerstetter
It was thought Derek Kerstetter might opt out because of an ankle injury he was battling, but instead the senior decided to grit it out and help Texas better protect his longtime friend and teammate Sam Ehlinger. Texas then moved him out to his old position at right tackle to make room for Jake Majors, and he got his foot caught underneath him and consequently injured his ankle so badly they had to take him to the hospital.
There’s a million ways to look at this with regards to who should or shouldn’t opt out. One thing is certain, Kerstetter appeared to be trying to do right by his teammates and paid a massive price.
Without yet knowing specifics for the injury it certainly seems questionable whether he’ll hear his name called in the 2021 draft now. He’ll have more tough decisions to make now and a rehab to undergo. It’s possible he could return to Texas for another year pending the diagnosis and what the recovery will look like. Obviously Longhorn nation hopes for the best for Derek Kerstetter and hope that whether his next step in football is returning to Texas, landing on an NFL roster, or moving on from playing, it’ll go well and find a sure path.
Quick thought No. 5: And now we wait
Texas fans are left asking a lot of questions after this game. Where was this all year? What does this mean for Tom Herman? Was Urban Meyer watching when Bijan housed that run from 75 out?
This game isn’t going to make a difference for Tom Herman. His fate and the season were truly sealed when they came up short at home against Iowa State, or perhaps when they came up short at home against TCU, or when Sam Ehlinger was photographed singing the Eyes of Texas without any teammates after dragging the team to overtime against Oklahoma.
The real questions regard when and how Texas will move to initiate the offseason. While next year’s team will be young, this offseason is going to be crucial and Texas will want the right leadership in charge. There’s a lot of talent in the 2021 and 2022 classes that would love a reason to come to Texas and a very talented roster assembled by Tom Herman if clumsily deployed.
This next week could be one of the most carefully watched and discussed in Texas football history.
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Athletics