Longhorns look to punch their ticket to the Big 12 Championship Game with a win over the Jayhawks
All Texas needs to do on Friday is defeat Kansas and the Longhorns are in the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) is in this position following last week's impressive 24-10 victory over Iowa State coupled with its previous victories over both Oklahoma and West Virginia. With those two teams playing against each other in Morgantown on Friday night, that game could turn into an elimination contest if the Longhorns take care of business in Lawrence.
The Jayhawks (3-8, 1-7) are coming off of a 55-40 loss to the Sooners. It's been a struggle once again for Kansas, but a season-ending home victory would send lame-duck head coach David Beaty out in style — and ruin the Horns' conference title hopes in the process.
Texas at Kansas
Kickoff: Friday Nov. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas -15
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas QB Sam Ehlinger
One of the most underrated storylines of the 2018 college football season has been the emergence of Ehlinger. The Texas quarterback has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,624 yards and 20 touchdowns while throwing just two interceptions — both of which occurred all the way back in the season-opening loss to Maryland. Ehlinger has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 10 of his 11 starts this season (including three against West Virginia and a career-high four vs. Texas Tech) and has three 300-yard passing performances this year. A true dual threat, Ehlinger leads the team with 10 rushing touchdowns and ranks third with 375 yards on the ground.
Perhaps most importantly, Ehlinger has brought stability to what has been arguably been the biggest trouble spot for the program since Colt McCoy left Austin. Unfortunately, the sophomore suffered a shoulder injury in the win over Iowa State that put his starting streak in doubt. If Ehlinger isn’t healthy enough to play, the Longhorns will call on Shane Buechele, the former starter who looked more than capable last week during a 10-for-10 passing performance in which he threw for 89 yards and a TD against the Cyclones. Plus, whichever signal-caller runs the Texas offense will have two super-talented wideouts at his disposal in Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, both of whom rank among the top 10 in the Big 12 in receiving.
2. Kansas RB Pooka Williams
Williams has been the clear offensive MVP for the Jayhawks this season, and the true freshman is coming off his best game. Last week against Oklahoma, Williams plied up 252 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries. The breakout performance pushed Williams’ season totals to 1,022 yards and six TDs on the ground. He ranks second in the Big 12 with 102.2 rushing yards per game and is third at 7.05 yards per carry.
It’s important to note Williams hasn’t posted huge numbers against quality defenses. He averaged 61.5 rushing yards per game in losses to Iowa State and West Virginia, which rank first and second in the conference in run defense, respectively — just ahead of Texas. The Longhorns have allowed 136.5 rushing yards per game and just 3.92 yards per carry (fourth).
Nevertheless, Williams is an explosive playmaker, and the Jayhawks have attempted to get him the football in the passing game as well. Overall, the Louisiana native has 32 receptions for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and he has recorded multiple catches in seven straight games. Last month, Williams caught seven passes for 102 yards and two scores in the victory over TCU.
3. A new era of Kansas football
Williams has been a standout, and he is the type of blue-chip talent KU hoped head coach David Beaty would bring in consistently when hiring him as head coach in 2015. Unfortunately, the occasional recruiting victories Beaty and his staff have put together over the years haven’t translated to enough on-field victories. Shortly after the Jayhawks lost to Iowa State on Nov. 3, athletic director Jeff Long announced Beaty would not be back for 2019. Less than three weeks later, Long hired former LSU head coach Les Miles to lead the program.
Friday isn’t just a send-off for Beaty, who has posted a 6-41 record at Kansas: It’s also Senior Day for several productive Jayhawks. Miles can build around Williams and defensive backs Hasan Defense (who has three of KU’s Big 12-leading 14 interceptions), Mike Lee and Bryce Torneden, but he’ll be forced to replace a host of productive players. Tackling machine Joe Dineen Jr., quarterback Peyton Bender, defensive lineman Daniel Wise and leading receivers Steven Sims and Jeremiah Booker, among more than a dozen other players, will be suiting up as a Jayhawk for the final time.
Texas is highly motivated with a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game at stake. The Longhorns have some cause for concern given quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s health (he is currently questionable to play), but the offense is stacked with playmakers and should be just fine with Shane Buechele at the controls. More importantly, the defense matches up well against Kansas running back Pooka Williams the rest of the Jayhawks' offense. An upset victory on Senior Day would be a nice parting gift for KU head coach David Beaty, but it’s difficult to imagine this era of Kansas football ending by knocking Texas out of the conference title game.
Prediction: Texas 34, Kansas 21
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.