Texas Football: 3 major concerns for the Longhorns vs. Kansas State

Maalik Murphy, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Maalik Murphy, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports /
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Avery Johnson. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Avery Johnson. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports /

Kansas State’s multi-phased ground attack

Kansas State’s offense relies on the ground game to set the tone and move the chains. The Wildcats boast the second-best rushing offense in the Big 12 this season (averaging 226.0 rushing yards per game) and the second-best in yards per carry (5.4).

The two-quarterback system of senior Will Howard and true freshman Avery Johnson has added another element of explosiveness and versatility to the Kansas State ground game. Opponents now have to worry about the threat that standout running backs DJ Giddens and Treshaun Ward pose, along with two dual-threat quarterbacks in Howard and Johnson.

Offensive coordinator Collin Klein and the Wildcats love to run RPOs and designed quarterback run plays to move the chains and keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing. Howard can beat opponents through the air and with his legs with smart decision-making of when to tuck the ball and run it.

Johnson, meanwhile, is a very green quarterback as a talented true freshman who is getting worked into the offense in the last few weeks in Big 12 play. His breakout game came in Week 7 when he rushed for a whopping five touchdowns in Kansas State’s double-digit win on the road in Lubbock against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Johnson was extremely productive on the ground for Kansas State in the first two games, where he received significant reps on offense this season (against Texas Tech and TCU). He rushed for over 150 yards while averaging around 5.5 yards per carry in those two games.

You won’t find a more elusive and explosive true freshman quarterback when running the football this season than Johnson at Kansas State. Texas must be ready for the threat he poses running the football, especially since the play calls are pretty simple when the Wildcats do have him passing the ball.

I haven’t mentioned much about the running back duo of Giddens and Ward yet. But this is one of the best one-two punches at running back in a deep year at the position in the Big 12. Giddens and Ward have combined to rush for over 1,000 yards this season with 13 total touchdowns and nearly six yards per carry.

Giddens is the primary back in Kansas State’s offense. He’s a big 6-foot-1 and 200-pound back who can run over opposing linebackers and defensive backs who aren’t prepared to bring down a runner as big as he is in the open field.

Ward is a shiftier 5-foot-10 and 190-pound back who is a former Florida State transfer. He can make defenders miss in the open field with his elusiveness and quickness. But Ward is also easier to bring down than Giddens once a defender gets a wrap or a good hit on him.

Giddens and Ward are not only a threat on the ground, but they can also do damage leaking out of the backfield in the receiving game. Kansas State likes to run a lot of underneath concepts with its many tight ends, fullbacks, and running backs. Giddens and Ward are reliable targets that Johnson and Howard often look to check the ball down to in the flats this season.

Giddens is Kansas State’s third-leading receiver, with nearly 240 receiving yards and one touchdown. Ward has also contributed in the receiving game this season with 13 catches for over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

I do trust Texas’ stout defensive front to hold its own against Kansas State’s multi-phased ground game this weekend. But it’s always a challenge when Texas faces a dual-threat quarterback as experienced and proven as Howard. Add the true freshman Johnson to the equation, and that’s another difficult element of this Kansas State offense for Pete Kwiatkowski and the Longhorns to prepare for in practice this week.