Texas Football: 3 big overreactions after Longhorns survive K-State

Steve Sarkisian, Texas football
Steve Sarkisian, Texas football /
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Jaylan Ford, Texas football
Jaylan Ford, Texas football /

In the last two weeks, No. 7 Texas football took care of business against two conference foes with winning records while starting a freshman at quarterback. Texas convincingly defeated the BYU Cougars and head coach Kalani Sitake at home at DKR in Austin on Oct. 28, 35-6.

Then, head coach Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns hung on to beat the No. 23 Kansas State Wildcats and head coach Chris Klieman in a 33-30 overtime thriller on Nov. 4. Redshirt freshman quarterback Maalik Murphy led the Longhorns to these two wins over BYU and Kansas State in his first two career starts.

Steve Sarkisian and No. 7 Texas football luckily escape No. 23 Kansas State in a 33-30 win in overtime

Murphy had his ups and downs in these two starts, especially after the first quarter against Kansas State last weekend, but all that matters is Texas ended up on the right side of the win column.

Texas was very fortunate to escape Week 10 with a win over Kansas State. In what might be the Longhorns’ most difficult game on the November slate, Sark’s squad held up when it mattered in overtime to stop the Wildcats on a fourth-down play near the goal line.

Here are three big overreactions after the Longhorns’ overtime upset scare against Kansas State in Week 10.

Texas is the worst in the Big 12 at playing zone coverage

This is a doozy to start off with for this week’s overreactions. But the Longhorns have struggled mightily playing zone coverage against many Big 12 opponents they’ve faced this season.

Multiple Texas opponents in Big 12 play have found success in spreading the Longhorns’ defense out and beating them with underneath crossers and some explosive plays targeting the safeties. That was the case last weekend when Kansas State abandoned its lagging ground game (that was shut down completely by the Texas defense all four quarters) for a more pass-happy offensive scheme.

When Kansas State spread Texas out in the second half and passed the ball often, the Longhorns didn’t have many answers in pass coverage. Kansas State got its best playmakers away from Texas’ best cover guy, senior nickelback Jahdae Barron, to get more favorable matchups on the boundary.

In the second half, senior quarterback Will Howard and the Wildcats methodically picked apart Texas’ defense through the air to the tune of 230 passing yards on 18-of-26 passing, with three touchdowns.

Howard read Texas’ coverages well and spread the ball around to three of his top receivers (namely senior slot Phillip Brooks) and tight end Ben Sinnott.

Pete Kwiatkowski didn’t have a response for the Kansas State passing attack until the final play of the game when Texas stifled the Wildcat offense near the goal line on fourth down to win in overtime.

It is becoming a recurring issue that teams can effectively adjust on offense by spreading out the Texas defense and attacking them through the air. Houston did that in Texas’ narrow escape of the Cougars on the road in Week 8, 31-24.

And while this was not the cause of the Longhorns’ ultimately falling short on defense in the Red River Rivalry game on Oct. 7, the Oklahoma Sooners and Dillon Gabriel could exploit the Texas safeties and coverage with some underneath stuff in the passing game.

The common theme between the Kansas State and Houston games is that PK didn’t have the answers to those offenses spreading out Texas and finding one-on-one matchups to exploit in the passing game.

PK is trying to get pressure on the quarterbacks in these situations with corner blitzes from guys like Barron and redshirt junior corner Ryan Watts while leaving the likes of true freshman linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. and senior linebacker Jaylan Ford in occasional mismatches in coverage.

The issue for the Longhorns isn’t necessarily that all these DBs and linebackers don’t know where to be in zone coverage. Texas is getting picked apart with more specific adjustments by smart Big 12 coaches in the passing game. And PK didn’t have an answer to quickly counter those adjustments from opposing offensive coordinators/head coaches.

It also doesn’t help that Texas had a short rotation at safety due to injuries in Big 12 play, as they were missing seniors Jalen Catalon and Kitan Crawford against Kansas State. Fellow senior safety Jerrin Thompson is also having a rough season in pass coverage, as he was targeted for another touchdown throw last weekend against the Wildcats.