Texas head coach Tom Herman presumably spent the last week's open date trying to fix what ails his squad. Once considered a top contender for the Big 12 crown, UT (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) has lost two of its last three games and nearly dropped the third to the lowly Kansas Jayhawks. A loss to K-State probably extinguishes any hopes of a potential rematch in the Big 12 title game with the Oklahoma Sooners.
On the other hand, it appears as though the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2) are peaking under head coach Chris Klieman in his first season in Manhattan. They made a surprising appearance at No. 16 in the first edition of the College Football Playoff rankings this week, and winning out could put them in the conference championship game.
Here's what to watch when Kansas State and Texas square off on Saturday afternoon.
Kansas State at Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 9 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas -7
When Texas Has the Ball
The Texas offense has been humming this season, but the Longhorns stumbled in their last game against TCU. The Horned Frogs picked off Sam Ehlinger four times, killing any real hope of UT winning. It was out of character for a quarterback who threw five interceptions in all of 2018. Another turnover-fest this week from the Longhorns will put them in a tough spot versus the Wildcats.
UT may prefer to keep the ball on the ground anyway. Kansas State is allowing 5.3 yards per rushing attempt, more than any other team in the Big 12. That sets up for a big game from running backs Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson, as well as Ehlinger.
If K-State has to shift the focus of its safeties to help stop the run, it will make it nearly impossible to cover UT's dynamic receiving corps, especially Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
No player in the Big 12 has done more to raise his profile in the last two weeks than KSU QB Skylar Thompson. In an upset win over Oklahoma, Thompson completed 18 of his 28 passes for 213 yards, adding four touchdowns on the ground. He followed that up against Kansas with 17 carries for 127 yards and three scores.
Thompson is benefiting from playing behind a veteran group of offensive linemen who appeared to be gelling as the season hits its home stretch. The Wildcats base their passing game off the play-action facilitated by their running game, so it's vital that the OL create some holes early for running backs James Gilbert and Jordon Brown.
Injuries have ravaged an already thin Texas defense this year. With players such as safety Caden Sterns and cornerback Jalen Green working their way back up to speed, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has to hope that getting contributors back in the lineup will rectify the problems of a unit that has been torched repeatedly this season. If KSU's middling passing game lights up the UT secondary, it will signal the chances of fixing the defense this season are slim.
An off week can do wonders for helping an ailing college football team get back on track. We'll find out on Saturday if Herman was able to use it to his advantage with his team, which is in danger of becoming one of the biggest disappointments of 2019.
Playing with that kind of desperation should produce a sharp effort from Ehlinger and his teammates on offense, who will want to make up for their dismal day versus TCU. Kansas State's defense has improved over the course of the team's three-game winning streak, but it will struggle to contain one of the most proficient offenses in the country.
If Thompson can continue playing above his head, it will put the Wildcats in position to score yet another major upset. The bet here, though, is that reinforcements and time to regroup on defense will give the Longhorns the upper hand over K-State.
Prediction: Texas 30, Kansas State 20
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.