Games against Texas have made up a disproportionate amount of the very few highlights Kansas football has had during the dark years. The signature win of the David Beaty era came in Lawrence against the Longhorns in 2016, as Kansas pulled off a 24-21 victory. Despite KU’s tendency to get blown out by Big 12 competition during this era, Kansas has continued to play the Longhorns tough, losing a 50-48 battle in 2019, winning by just a touchdown in 2018, and if you want to go all the way back to the Charlie Weis era (obviously you don’t), Texas had to come from behind in the 4th quarter in 2012 to edge out KU 21-17. Then, of course, last year happened. The Jayhawks, just 1-8 without a road win in conference play in roughly a century (give or take), came into Austin and won an overtime thriller, 57-56. That was the game where Lance Leipold’s Jayhawks started playing competitive football, and now a year later, they haven’t stopped.
But this year it’s safe to say that Texas won’t be overlooking Kansas. The college football world mocked Texas for years after that 2016 loss, and since KU was still looked at as an awful program, the mocking was immediately reignited with last year’s loss. Texas will likely come out ready for revenge. That said, Kansas is now in a position where they can hold their own with Big 12 opponents, and a motivated Texas team no longer spells certain doom for the Jayhawks.
Texas is beloved by most analytical models, ranking 8th(!) nationally in ESPN’s sp+ system, with the 23rd ranked offense, roughly equal to KU’s, and the 17th ranked defense, which is far, far better than KU’s. Still, they sit at 6-4, 4-3 in conference play, so they certainly aren’t an unbeatable juggernaut. Consistency has been an issue for this team, a team that came within a single point of vaunted Alabama in the 2nd week of the season, only to lose in Lubbock two weeks later. They crushed Oklahoma by a series record 49-0 score, and they went on the road to beat a red hot Kansas State team 34-27. But they also lost to Oklahoma State just before their wheels fell off, and now they’re coming off a bizarre 17-10 home loss to TCU, a game in which two great offenses failed to ever get it going.
The point here is that Texas should not be underestimated by simply looking at their record. This is a talented team capable of playing great football. They just also have a bad habit of looking very mediocre at times. Part of this is an issue with quarterback Quinn Ewes, who last week against the Horned Frogs put up a miserable stat line, completing 17 of 39 attempts for just 171 yards with no TDs and one interception. He threw three picks in the loss to OSU as well. Still, he’s had good games too and can’t be counted on to play like the liability he has been in those games. For the year he averages 7.1 yards per pass attempt, with 13 TDs and 6 picks. He’s a freshman though, and if the Kansas defense can make him play like one, it will greatly increase the Jayhawks’ chances of pulling off the upset.
Of course, the Texas offense won’t just revolve around Ewers. The Longhorns have arguably the best running back in the country in Bijan Robinson, who’s put up 1,158 yards this year, averaging 5.7 per carry and scoring 12 touchdowns. Robinson has a dominant combination of speed and size, capable of dragging defenders with him, weighing in at 220 pounds, with the speed to break away for a home run play when he finds a crease. The Longhorns also have three receivers with over 500 yards this year, in 6’1 sophomore Xavier Worthy, 6’1 junior Jordan Whittington, and 6’4, 240 pound tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, a bruising tight end with the speed to effectively split out wide. Defensively, they have four members of their front seven with 7.5 tackles for loss or more, plus nickelback Jahdae Barron who leads the team with 9. This is a squad that can get into the backfield and make life difficult for quarterbacks, so whoever is taking the snaps this week will need to be ready to run, at least here and there.
As of now, Texas is a 9 point road favorite over Kansas. Yes, that feels a bit high since these teams have the same season record, and the game is in Lawrence, but Texas’ overall level of play this year has simply been higher than KU’s. Lance Leipold continues to be vague about the status of Jalon Daniels, but it does seem like there’s an actual chance Daniels will play. But it’s also possible he’ll still be out, and possible that they may only use him in certain packages while continuing to lean on Jason Bean for the most part. That said, both quarterbacks have led the team to strong offensive performances, and while I’d rather have a healthy Daniels running things than Bean, it seems unlikely that Daniels is back to 100%, and Jason Bean, though he makes frustrating mistakes, has elite speed and can make huge throws in big situations. I’m not sure QB is the biggest factor in this game. Pressuring Quinn Ewers is likely to be just as important. If Ewers is playing poorly, Kansas can load the box a bit more to try and neutralize Robinson. If Texas is firing on all cylinders offensively, Kansas has very little chance of keeping up. KU’s defense, though improved over the course of the year, simply isn’t very good, and if Texas plays up to their potential, the Longhorn’s defense is stout enough to keep the Jayhawks from keeping up on the scoreboard.
This is the reason I have to pick Texas this week. There’s only one truly weak unit involved in this week’s game, and it’s the Kansas defense. Texas won’t allow the Jayhawks to run up and down the field on them, though KU should still find the endzone multiple times, but I just can’t say the same about Kansas on the defensive side of the ball. I see another game where KU is trying to keep up with a team that scores at will for periods of time, and I think they’ll ultimately fall too far behind, regardless of who plays at QB.
Texas 48, Kansas 34