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Texas Longhorns Football

Story of the Season – Chapter 7

Photo: Scott Wachter - USA TODAY Sports

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Cameron Dicker nailed a 33-yard field goal as time expired and the Texas Longhorns avoided a frenetic upset bid from the Kansas Jayhawks, winning 50-48. With the win, the ‘Horns remain tied for 2nd place in the Big 12, but their position feels tenuous after Saturday night.

Rather than discuss the specific issues within the game against Kansas, this column will follow form and examine the Longhorns’ performance as it fits within the context of the entire season. While any conference win is valuable, the victory against Kansas followed some alarming trends for Texas.

Putting aside graphs that show disconcerting tendencies, the Kansas game was particularly odd in its disparate variability throughout the game. The Horns started the game with a tenacious first quarter where they quickly established a 14-0 lead before turning about-face and watching the Jayhawks score 17 unanswered points.

Then in the second half, Texas scored 10 consecutive points, taking the lead, and presumably control of the contest. Instead of securing the win, the Longhorns had another Jekyll-Hyde moment and see-sawed their way through the rest of the game.

Against what most fans figured to be an over-matched Kansas squad, twice Texas appeared to be in position to dominate the game. Reality shows that in the first half of the season the only contest the Longhorns comfortably led from start to finish was their effort against Rice. Saturday night against KU ended up more like the Oklahoma State game, where Texas controlled the 85% of the game but found themselves in jeopardy of losing.

And it’s important to recognize that, like the game against the Cowboys, the Longhorns found a way to win. While putting the game in perspective, it’s also noteworthy that Texas improved to 5-2 on the season, and five wins was a season total that seemed elusive as recently as 2016.

When taking those recent years, a young roster, and two costly turnovers into consideration, fans should be excited that Texas won. Couple those things with an injury bug that has stalked the team since August, and a two point win is reason for celebration. While being permissive, don’t forget the injury bug counted coup on yet another player Saturday night.

The truth is that injuries, youth, and turnovers marginalize an atrocious defensive performance that jeopardized the game. For a second consecutive week, the Longhorn defense lacked the ability to produce stops when needed.

As for the trends mentioned above, the one proving most problematic for Texas is the inability to generate a pass rush. Without the threat of contact, Jayhawk quarterback Carter Stanley stood in the pocket and shredded the Texas secondary.

Texas defensive backs are tasked with covering receivers for too long due to the front’s inability to hurry the passer. When the DB’s adequately covered pass catchers downfield, Stanley had ample room to romp for 74 yards on the ground.

A nonexistent pass rush was evident in games against, LSU and Oklahoma as well as Louisiana Tech to a lesser degree. The Horns masked insufficient defense with turnovers in their game against West Virginia when they allowed 463 yards of total offense, but created four turnovers.

Over the last three games, the Longhorns gave up an average of 514 yards of total offense. Two of those games were against teams at the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

Over the last three games, the Longhorns gave up an average of 514 yards of total offense. Two of those games were against teams at the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

In line with the troubling trends, Texas fans should also be alarmed that the Longhorns’ three conference wins are against teams at the bottom of the league’s standings. Each of UT’s five remaining games are against teams that rank among the top half of the conference. Which is to say, the quality of offense Texas faces should only improve from this point forward.

After the game, Tom Herman said, “These guys know who they are. We are not oblivious to our deficiencies.”

If that’s true, then the Longhorns need to ask themselves why Kansas was fearless on Saturday night and no one on the Texas roster played with a similar level of abandon. Even after offensive touchdowns there isn’t much elation on the Texas sideline. Why is the team so tight – are individuals trying to compensate for personnel losses? Is the team playing not to lose instead of to win? Is there a rift between young and old players recruited by different coaching staffs?

At an elementary level, none of those questions matter because waking up on Sunday after a win is vastly superior to the alternative. Tom Herman and the players were good enough to sleep peacefully Saturday night, knowing that they could attack the week with the intention of improving.

 

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Each week Matt Cotcher will continue to build “The Story of the Season” as it unfolds.

Preface

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

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