I love this photo. I really do. In the forefront, K-State’s players are celebrating a Big 12 Championship. In the back, the scoreboard is framed by the goalposts. Clock is at zero, and the Wildcats have a very visible 18-point victory to hang their hats on. If Bill Snyder hopes to emerge from Austin with (yet another) victory over the suddenly hapless Longhorns, the only stat to watch is how well K-State defends against third-down conversion attempts.
Texas has been embarrassed the past two weeks, with defeats of 40-21 at the hands of BYU and 44-23 by #25 Ole Miss. However, the Longhorns have been getting the yards, just failing to put up points. They had 445 yards against the Cougars, but went 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts and 5-for-17 on 3rd downs. Against Mississippi, they had 320 yards but once again failed to convert, going 1-3 on fourth downs and 4-15 on thirds.
Jaxon Shipley and the rest of the Texas receivers are waiting for an update on starting quarterback David Ash – he sat out against Ole Miss after being injured in the BYU game. No matter who starts, K-State cornerback Dorrian Roberts will be tested early and often as Roberts has been exploited all year (on the other side, Kip Daily was a stud last week with two interceptions). Expect Texas to notch some passing yards on first down. It’s going to happen. The question is, does the defense step up when that first down pass falls incomplete and the second down screen pass goes for seven yards, setting up a third-and-three situation?
Defensive tackles Chaquil Reed and Travis Britz could be the keys this game hinges on. Reed came out of the UMass game with an injury, but returned later and should be ready to play on Saturday. Britz has been good this year. The two must occupy the offensive line and and keep linebackers Blake Slaughter, Tre Walker, and Jon Truman open to make plays. Also on the line, defensive end Ryan Mueller has been as good as advertised as a pass rusher, but must step up against the run and be effective in gap control – he still has a habit of taking the easy route inside and allowing runners to bounce out.
This is a different Texas offense than you’re used to. They’re attempting to spread the field. Offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has overseen a restructuring, attempting to follow the spread schemes being implemented across the nation. The Longhorns are prepared to pass the ball around and spread the field. They’re no longer focusing on beating people up. Their bread and butter is no longer bullying defensive into four yards runs up the gut. Is that the reason Texas has been so miserable in its attempts? Maybe it’s simply true that this team gives up when things aren’t going well, and is too demoralized when facing third-and-ten to succeed. I haven’t watched Texas play yet, so I’m not sure. What I am certain of is that the outcome of this game hinges on whether K-State can do what it couldn’t against North Dakota State – get stops on third down. Otherwise, Mack Brown is gonna look to run up the score while his legacy hangs in the balance, and it won’t be pretty.