The No. 18 Texas Longhorns travel to Kansas State Saturday with one thing on their minds: change. That idea sounds pretty good to Kansas State right now as well.
The Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) lost their first game, 34-29, at Maryland before winning their next three games, all at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The two most recent victories both came against teams ranked at the time — No. 22 Southern California and No. 17 TCU.
However, the road has not been kind to the Longhorns, especially in this series. The home team has won each of the last six games between Texas and K-State, and Texas has not won in Manhattan since 2002. Texas won 40-34 last season in Austin.
“Our program hasn’t won in Manhattan, Kansas, since (freshman defensive back) Caden Sterns was 2 years old,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “We don’t take that very lightly. And in our only road contest this year we obviously did not play very well. So we’re preparing our tails off.”
Texas is balanced on offense. The Longhorns are averaging 163.8 yards per game on the ground, led by four runners with between 31.8 and 64.0 yards per game. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger is completing just over 60 percent of his passes for 244.5 yards per game. He’s thrown eight touchdowns and been intercepted just twice.
“(He) certainly has a long way to go,” Herman said. “We were very critical; he was of himself and we were as coaches. It’s a lot easier to be critical when you win. But there hasn’t been a perfect game played yet. But I do think he’s progressing.”
Texas is 8-10 all-time vs. Kansas State, including 5-9 in Big 12 play, and Herman is not looking past the Wildcats.
“They’re not going to spot us seven points in Manhattan because we beat TCU,” he said. “Can we take the lessons that we’ve learned, both from a football standpoint and a psychological standpoint from the last couple of weeks? Certainly.
“But what happened against TCU, what happened against USC, for that matter what happened against Maryland, is inconsequential to how we play and how Kansas State plays against us in Manhattan.”
The change K-State is looking for would be in offensive and defensive efficiency, and this would be a good weekend to start.
The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) scored 15 fourth-quarter points to defeat FCS opponent South Dakota 27-24 in their opener. They have been outscored 66-16 by their two ranked opponents — Mississippi State (31-10) and West Virginia (35-6).
Their only good game was a 41-17 home victory over Texas-San Antonio.
K-State has struggled on offense and defense, in the passing game and running game. They have been outgained on the ground, 712 to 624, or 178 yards per game for their opponents to 156 for the Wildcats.
Through the air they’ve been outgained 231 to 191 yards per game. The 231 yards per game allowed is significantly better than they allowed last year (309.1 yards per game). But the two-quarterback system on offense has not worked.
Skylar Thompson, the throwing quarterback, is completing 59.1 percent of his throws, but he is averaging only 126.2 yards per game. He’s thrown four touchdowns and one interception. He’s also averaging 44 yards per game on the ground. Alex Delton, who is more of a runner, is completing 48.4 percent of his passes for 64.8 yards per game. He’s averaging 29 yards per game on the ground.
“As I went back and studied the (West Virginia) film a great deal, they (played) about the same,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “Both of them, I thought, did some very good things and both of them had some issues we have to work through, deal with, become better at.”
One of the biggest concerns for K-State is the offensive line. A veteran unit with all five starters returning, the Wildcats have allowed 15 sacks in four games. Meanwhile, the defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks just three times.
If something doesn’t change soon, the Wildcats are in danger of not being bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.
“Right now, I feel pretty good,” Snyder said of his current state of mind, “and tomorrow will kind of depend on today.
“It is not a team yet with an identity. I am looking for improvement in all aspects of the game. The consistency is not there for sure. We need to improve to the point where we are consistently improving.”