After arguably the most tumultuous week of Texas Longhorn football’s past decade, embattled head coach Mack Brown needed a tourniquet to choke the bleeding.
Amid a wave of injuries, mass local unrest with the team’s egregious 1-2 start, and the midweek revelation that a UT regent angled to overthrow Brown for Alabama’s Nick Saban in January, it seemed preordained that Texas would exacerbate their ills with yet another setback against a quality opponent. Instead, they snapped two embarrassing streaks.
While Kansas State is locked into what many have deemed a rebuilding year after significant off-season departures – notably QB Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown, 2012’s Big 12 offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively – the Wildcats remained the Big 12’s only program to hold a winning record against UT since the conference’s inception.
Perhaps two of Kansas State's three most sinister attributes entering play on Saturday night at DKR were the machinations of head coach Bill Snyder and Mack Brown’s 2-7 record against Kansas State in his 16 years on campus.
The third, and most tangible, threat was the tandem of mobile Wildcat quarterback Daniel Sams and senior tailback John Hubert. The Texas defense, as we’ve been reminded ad nauseum, absorbed successive ground thrashings from BYU and Ole Miss in recent weeks, surrendering a blood-curdling two-game total of 822 rushing yards in the process.
Offensively, the return of starting quarterback David Ash from a concussion sustained in the fourth quarter at BYU gave Texas a crucial lift in the first half, and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite atoned for withholding touches from sophomore tailback Jonathan Gray in the second-half against Ole Miss by routinely feeding him the rock.
Ash bucked Texas’ trend of falling behind early with a 63-yard bomb to speedy wideout Kendall Sanders – cast into the fore because of ankle injuries to starter Mike Davis and freshman Daje Johnson. The Longhorns clicked on both sides of the ball in the first half, with the offense carving out a workmanlike 17-0 lead and Robinson’s reformulated defense allowing zero points and only 91 yards on Kansas State's first four drives.
KSU’s scheme to exploit Texas’ heretofore pitiful run defense with Sams taking the majority of the snaps gradually crumbled as the Longhorns alternately placed one or more extra men in the box to bottle the run. Sams had little success finding daylight through swarms of burnt orange jerseys; his 48 yards on eight carries prompted his shelving and the reinsertion of starter Jake Waters to try and establish an aerial attack.
The otherwise sound first half of Texas football dimmed in the waning minutes before halftime. Kansas State breezed 82 yards upfield on two sizable heaves from Waters to Wildcat junior Tyler Lockett, tightening the score at 17-7 before Ash came wincing off the field after a stalled drive to end the half.
Senior backup Case McCoy entered once again in replacement and avoided turnovers on his nine second-half drop backs, piggybacking the offense on the shoulders of Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. Gray wound up leading the team in rushing for the third straight game, finishing with 141 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns in his most impactful game as a Longhorn.
Up 24-7 at the end of the third quarter, the Longhorns continued to swarm the Wildcat running game. The lion’s share of the 21 points Texas ultimately allowed came through Lockett’s 237 receiving yards. And though the secondary wasn’t able to stifle the Waters-to-Lockett connection, the Horns were the beneficiaries of a merciful Waters “butt-fumble” (a ball dislodged from a QB’s hand after making contact with an offensive lineman’s caboose) deep in the UT red zone that curtailed a late fourth-quarter rally. Had the abortive quarterback sneak been successful, the Wildcats would’ve been an onside kick recovery away from having a chance to steal a victory UT desperately needed.
In all likelihood, a few people temporarily slipped the noose as a result of Saturday’s result. The Longhorns offense made plays, and their pass rush lassoed four sacks after netting only two in three games. The 31-21 win marked Texas’ first victory over Kansas State in a decade.
The last head coach to preside over a 1-3 start at UT ultimately got replaced by Darrell Royal the following year. Mack Brown says he’s committed to coach for the duration of his contract, which runs through 2020. If he makes it to then, this win – albeit one against a weakened, unranked Kansas State team – might ultimately represent the moment he escaped from the burning building.
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