A month ago, Saturday’s dust-up between No. 16 Kansas State and Texas looked like a ho-hummer, with the Wildcats struggling on offense and the Longhorns riding the play of a Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback into the top 10 — and along with it national prominence.
But that was before October and the gauntlet that’s the Big 12 Conference.
Over the past five weeks, Kansas State has found its stride and heads to Austin on a three-game win streak that includes an impressive victory over then-No. 5 Oklahoma on Oct. 26. The Longhorns went 1-2 in that stretch and come into the key contest on the heels of a road loss to TCU that same Saturday in which quarterback Sam Ehlinger uncorked a career-high four interceptions.
The Longhorns (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) were nowhere to be found when the inaugural College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday. But Texas hits the final third of the regular season with plenty still to battle for and its goal of playing for the Big 12 championship still on the table, if just barely, but at a real crossroads.
Beat the surging Wildcats, and folks will think the Longhorns have righted the ship. Lose to Kansas State and the Longhorns are all but eliminated from the chance to play for the Big 12 title in Arlington on Dec. 7, especially in advance of tough road games against Iowa State and Baylor.
If there’s a time for Texas coach Tom Herman to pull something out of his proverbial hat to get his team back on track, it’s now — right now. He said Monday that the Longhorns were focused on getting back on track after their loss at TCU and an open week to refresh their batteries.
“There is no confidence shaken whatsoever,” Herman told reporters about his squad. “These guys all realize what they can be. They realize there’s a lot of reasons why they haven’t been that. We just continue to chop away at giving them the tools necessary to achieve at the level we think they can.”
There has been no looking past the powerful Wildcats, who not only continue to improve but turned heads nationwide two weeks ago when they dismantled Oklahoma.
Kansas State (6-2, 3-2) beat rival Kansas 38-10 last week on the road. Thanks to their three-game win streak, the Wildcats are already bowl-eligible under first-year coach Chris Klieman.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Klieman said about reaching six wins. “We have a lot of games left, and we’re not going to worry about the results. We’re just going to attack this week with Texas. We’re going to have another tough game on the road.”
The Wildcats have 25 rushing touchdowns — including 11 over the past two weeks — after tallying only 20 rushing scores a year ago.
The Kansas State defense enters the week among the best in the nation in many statistical categories, as well, including third-down defense (second; 24.7 percent), first downs allowed (12th; 128), passing yards allowed (18th; 186.3), scoring defense (26th; 20.4) and pass efficiency defense (28th; 117.5).
The Wildcats have given up just four passing touchdowns through eight games this season, which is tied for the fewest nationally this season with Ohio State, Kentucky and Penn State.
Texas is 9-10 all-time against the Wildcats. The Longhorns defeated Kansas State, 19-14, last year in Manhattan. Kansas State is one of only two Big 12 schools with a winning record against Texas, but the Longhorns hold a 7-3 advantage on games played in Austin.
–Field Level Media