On a national level, the one thing Kansas football was known for during the dark years, aside from losing games, was being a thorn in the Texas Longhorns' side. Back in 2012, Charlie Weis' Jayhawks led Texas 17-14 before the Longhorns scored with 12 seconds left to avoid what would have been a disastrous loss. In 2016, David Beaty's KU squad slammed the door on the Charlie Strong era by finishing the job in overtime and taking down the Longhorns 27-24, a game that would be referenced frequently for years to come by anyone who enjoys taunting the Longhorns (i.e. everyone). Texas would beat Kansas by a single score the next two years, and in 2019, the Longhorns only scraped by via a last second field goal. I don't think I have to remind Kansas fans of what happened in 2021. There were a few blowout losses in the last decade too, including last year, but generally speaking, Kansas on the schedule has repeatedly resulted in a lot of nervous Longhorns.
But what about this year? Kansas football is in generally good spirits, ranked 24th after a 4-0 start. The Longhorns have a 4-0 start, coupled with a lot of excitement as well. As good as KU’s season has been so far, Texas pulled off what seemed to be the impossible by winning a true road game at Alabama, handing Nick Saban the only double digit home defeat of his Alabama career. They’re heading into this game with a dominant 38-6 road win over Baylor and a #3 ranking in the AP Poll, and it truly looks like maybe...Texas is back?
The analytics seem to suggest that they could be. Bill Connelly of ESPN’s SP+ ratings put Texas 7th in the country (Kansas is 40th), boasting the 11th ranked offense and 6th ranked defense in the country. The Longhorns’ run game hasn’t been quite as dominant as it was last year when 1st round draft pick Bijan Robinson was running the ball for over 6 yards per carry, but they’ve put up over 600 yards on the ground, led by another talented back in Jonathon Brooks, who’s run for 379 yards at 5.8 yards per try. Rushes by anyone other than Brooks haven’t fared quite as well though, with the team average at just 4.4 yards per carry. For the second straight week, the Jayhawks don’t need to worry themselves about the opposing quarterback taking off and beating them with his legs, with Quinn Ewers sitting at 34 non sack-adjusted rushing yards through 4 games.
With that said, Kansas will need to worry about Ewers’ arm. The sophomore has completed 64.3% of his 112 pass attempts, racking up 1033 yards at 9.2 per attempt. He’s thrown for 9 TDs without a single pick. Last week Kansas watched a BYU passing attack that had been mediocre so far this year gash them through short and medium depth passes, as Kedon Slovis went 30-51, throwing for 357 yards (7 y/a) and 2 TDs. If not for a pair of picks, the Cougars’ passing attack could have led to a different outcome in their first Big 12 game. Texas won’t need to nickel-and-dime the Kansas defense the way BYU did, as all four Longhorns to catch 10 or more passes this year have averaged over 12 yards per catch. Their leading receiver, TE Ja’Tavion Sanders, has 12 catches for a whopping 268 yards (22.3 per catch) with a TD. Junior receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonal Mitchell have combined for 31 receptions and 432 yards with 6 TDs. KU’s biggest defensive strength is likely their secondary, but they’ll still have their hands full trying to control the Longhorns’ air attack, while still having to worry about a consistent Texas run game.
Defensively, Texas has been elite in the trenches. It’s rare to watch a team overpower a Bama offensive line, but that’s exactly what the ‘Horns did in Tuscaloosa on their way to victory earlier this month. KU has a much improved offensive line from years past, but it can’t expect to take the ball right at the Longhorns’ front seven. OC Andy Kotelnicki will likely try to keep the Texas defense on their toes with a lot of pre-snap motion and unorthodox looks, because trying to overpower this team at the line of scrimmage just isn’t a winning proposition. 300 pound lineman Byron Murphy II and 360(!) pound T’Vondre Sweat tie for the team lead with 3.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore edge rusher Ethan Burke has racked up 3, as has LB Jaylan Ford. The team already has 13 sacks this year, led again by Murphy with 2.5 and Burke with 2. These guys will give KU’s blockers everything they can handle and then some, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Kotelnicki, generally a creative playcaller, doesn’t try and throw everything he can think of at the Longhorns to get them wondering what’s coming. If Kansas allows Texas to get comfortable defensively and just bear down, moving the ball may be tough to do.
I’m thrilled with the Jayhawks’ play so far after having tempered expectations coming into the season about expecting a repeat of last year’s bowl game appearance. With that said, sometimes you just run into a program that’s in a different place from yours. It doesn’t happen to Kansas as much as it used to these days, but this game is a big mismatch. The line opened at Texas -17, and currently sits at 16.5. The Jayhawks’ defense has improved, but seeing BYU move the ball easily through the air last week is a concern going up against a bigger, faster Texas passing game with a better o-line and better QB. Kansas has been solid against the run this year, and I can even see the Texas offense starting slowly if they just try to overpower the Jayhawks on the ground, but eventually the Longhorns are likely to reel off some big plays. The Kansas offense will likely have to pass more than they have been to start the year (159 rushes to 103 pass attempts), and the run game, again, will likely have to involve hiding the ball and trying to confuse the defense, rather than hoping to dominate the Texas front line. If Kansas can force a few turnovers without giving the ball away on the other end, they may have a shot. But outside of some breaks going the Jayhawks’ way, it’s tough to see how they beat a team with so much firepower on both sides of the ball.
Texas 42, Kansas 24