Texas Football: 4 reasons why Longhorns can dominate Kansas State

T'Vondre Sweat, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
T'Vondre Sweat, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /
3 of 4
Ryan Watts, Texas football
Ryan Watts, Texas football /

Kansas State’s receivers will struggle to get separation from Texas’ defensive backs in coverage

Texas should have the edge regarding speed and skill in the passing game and on defense compared to Kansas State’s skill guys on each side of the ball. Kansas State is an offense that heavily relies on the ground attack to move the chains. It is also more advantageous for Kansas State to be a run-heavy offense when it is finding so much success of late behind the two-QB system that features two dual-threats.

Senior Will Howard is the more experienced of Kansas State’s two QBs in the rotation in the last few games. Howard is a smart runner who knows how to move the chains on key downs and how to get the ball out when the pocket is collapsing. But he’s had some uncharacteristically spotty decision-making that’s resulted in multiple interceptions this season when opposing defenses force him to pass from the pocket. Howard has seven interceptions this season, the most since his true freshman campaign in 2019.

Three of Howard’s picks came in Kansas State’s loss to Oklahoma State, where the Pokes and DC Bryan Nardo forced him to pick them apart from the pocket with an effective contain strategy from the edge rushers.

True freshman speedster Avery Johnson is the other QB in the rotation for the Wildcats this fall. Johnson was a highly-rated recruit in the 2023 class that OC Collin Klein and the Wildcats are working into the offense early on this fall in Big 12 play.

Johnson is far from fully developed as a passer from the pocket. Klein keeps his reads simple and often calls designed QB runs when he’s in the game or RPOs.

With two quarterbacks that haven’t shown much consistency in the passing game this season, you would think Kansas State would rely on the ground game against Texas. And that assumption might be right.

The strength of Texas’ defense is possibly the best starting defensive tackle duo in the Power Five: redshirt senior T’Vondre Sweat and junior Byron Murphy II. It would be a difficult endeavor for Kansas State to run the ball on 60 percent of its plays on offense as it has during its three-game winning streak.

Texas has the top-ranked rushing defense in the Big 12 this season (allowing just 98 yards on the ground per game). Kansas State will likely be forced to make plays in the passing game if it wants to upset the Longhorns this weekend.

But Kansas State doesn’t have that many weapons to utilize to beat Texas through the air. Outside of Kansas State’s leader in receiving yards and receptions, senior slot receiver Phillip Brooks, and tight end/fullback Ben Sinnott, Kansas State lacks proven weapons in the passing game.

Kansas State’s third-leading receiver (outside of the running backs), senior boundary wideout Jadon Jackson, has just 191 receiving yards and two scores this season.

To make matters worse for Kansas State, the Texas secondary had time to heal up and get key players back in the fold in the last couple of weeks. Sophomore cornerback Terrance Brooks and redshirt junior Ryan Watts were back together in live-game action against BYU for the first time since the first half of the Kansas game in Week 5.

They held BYU to under 200 passing yards, no passing touchdowns, and two interceptions in the win over the Cougars at home last weekend.

The only way teams have consistently been able to attack Texas through the air this season is over the top with the deep ball. Texas got exploited (especially the safeties) early in Big 12 play and against Alabama with the deep ball passing game. Houston also effectively attacked Texas in the second half two weeks ago over the top.

Moreover, Kansas State has yet to show the ability to consistently hit deep shots this season. Kansas State ranks third from the bottom in the Big 12 this season against Power Five opponents in deep passing yards (194). The Wildcats also have just one deep ball touchdown against P5 defenses this season, the fewest of any Big 12 team.

Kansas State’s issues hitting the deep shot this fall are a combination of two things. First, neither Howard nor Johnson has shown the timeliness or the precision necessary to complete multiple deep passes in a game this season.

Second, the Wildcats don’t have any proven deep threats in the receiving corps outside of Brooks. That leaves opposing defenses with the option to shade Brooks and leave the rest of the Kansas State wideouts in man coverage without worrying too much about giving up big plays.

The lack of proven weapons for the Wildcats at the skill positions and the inconsistency at quarterback creates a situation where Kansas State’s shortcomings play well into the strengths of the Texas defense.