This weekend’s matchup between the No. 24 Texas Longhorns and No. 13 Kansas State Wildcats will go a long way toward sorting out the Big 12 title race.
If Texas (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) wins, it will gain a valuable tiebreaker over Kansas State (6-2, 4-1). A Wildcats' victory would solidify their hold on second place in the conference standings and put them one step closer to the Big 12 title game.
Here’s what to watch in Manhattan on Saturday evening.
No. 24 Texas at No. 13 Kansas State
When Texas Has the Ball
Quinn Ewers, Texas' hyped freshman quarterback, crumbled when last we saw him. In his first road start at Oklahoma State, Ewers completed only 19 of his 49 passes. The Cowboys also picked off three of his throws in a 41-34 comeback win over the Longhorns.
The task doesn’t get any easier for Ewers and the rest of the UT offense this weekend. Kansas State ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, giving up just 17.1 points per game. Notably, the Wildcats excel at defending the skies with a passer rating of 116.3, the best mark in the conference. A pass rush that has produced the most sacks in the league, 23 through eight games, plays a key role in their success in stopping teams through the air.
Will Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian turn to his ground game to hit the Wildcats in their weaker spot? UT has one of the best running back combos in the nation in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson. The duo is averaging a collective 160 rushing yards per game this year.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Once again, intrigue surrounds the quarterback position for the Wildcats this week. Backup Will Howard stepped in for injured starter Adrian Martinez in the last game against Oklahoma State, and the K-State offense exploded for 48 points and almost 500 total yards. Even if Martinez is available, head coach Chris Klieman may decide to ride Howard’s hot hand for at least another week.
Howard went 21-of-37 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions last week. The Texas secondary will face a stiff test from a diverse set of Wildcat receivers, including big-bodied Malik Knowles and speedster Phillip Brooks. Not to mention, running back Deuce Vaughn can cause as much trouble for defenses catching the ball as running it.
The Longhorns need their defensive front to at least hold its own against what might be the best offensive line in the Big 12. The Wildcats will attempt to wear down the Longhorns with their physical running game, hoping to maul the visitors into submission in the second half. Forcing KSU to throw seems like a better option for the Texas defense in that respect.
How much could the Texas coaching staff clean up during the Longhorns' bye week?
That question looms large over this game. Kansas State punishes opponents' mistakes, and the Longhorns tend to make a lot of them. In addition to the three turnovers versus Oklahoma State, UT committed 14 penalties for 119 yards. Those types of miscues will hurt in what is expected to be a tight game in a raucous road environment.
The off week likely came at just the right time for Texas, though. The Horns seemed to be running on fumes in their last outing after playing eight games in a row. The Wildcats will probably see a reinvigorated team on the other sideline Saturday night. Also, don’t think Sarkisian didn’t spend the open date drawing up new wrinkles for the Texas offense.
K-State has a knack for forcing opponents to play the kind of game it wants. If the Wildcats can hold possession of the ball for long stretches, they can limit UT’s possessions. However, unless Ewers implodes again, the Longhorns should make enough out of those possessions to get a needed victory
Prediction: Texas 28, Kansas State 24
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— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is the founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
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