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Kicking the Tires: Texas Longhorns

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The Big 12’s Death Star arrives in Manhattan on Saturday. Both K-State and Texas desperately need a win.

Kansas State v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

K-State had little realistic hope of getting a win in Norman last week, but somehow the loss felt worse than it probably was. Oklahoma shredded K-State’s defense early, built a comfortable lead, and then toyed with the Wildcats after starting quarterback Jesse Ertz left the game with an arm injury.

Ertz’s status for Saturday’s game in Manhattan against the Texas Longhorns is the key to success for K-State. Whether we like it or not, K-State’s offensive success hinges on successful quarterback play. And while he hasn’t been great this year, Ertz’s performances give some reason to hope that more repetitions will yield better games.

Texas also enters this contest at 3-3, coming off a win over Iowa State. The Longhorns have also notched wins over Notre Dame and UTEP this season, but dropped contests with Cal and both Okie schools.

This game is the second of K-State’s three pivotal home contests. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats shut down Texas Tech in the second half to pull out a win in the first one, and Oklahoma State comes to Manhattan in November for the third installment. Regardless, the winner of this contest will retain an outside shot at something better than mere bowl eligibility. The loser will probably have to scrape to get six wins.

Player to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jesse Ertz, 59-119-2, 756 yards, 6.4 yards/attempt, 5 TDs, 126.0 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 64 carries, 321 yards, 5.0 yards/attempt, 2 TDs, 53.5 yards/game

Receiving: Dominique Heath, 19 receptions, 271 yards, 14.3 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 45.2 yards/reception

Texas

Passing: Shane Buechele, 123-193-5, 1,500 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 13 TDs, 250 yards/game

Rushing: D’Onta Foreman, 117 carries, 731 yards, 6.2 yards/carry, 8 TDs, 146.2 yards/game

Receiving: Jerrod Heard, 17 receptions, 220 yards, 12.9 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 36.7 yards/game

Go ahead and circle, underline, highlight and bold Foreman’s numbers above. It’s the key to this game. K-State must slow down Foreman without getting burned by play-action for long scores.

If you listened to the podcast this week, you heard Ian Boyd theorize that the quarters coverage K-State often employs may be particularly vulnerable to this tactic. Whether it’s the scheme itself or what, K-State struggles against teams with credible rushing threats that look to create big plays of play-action. Given that Sterlin Gilbert originates from the Briles offense, this should be cause for great concern.

I’m over extensive discussion of K-State’s offense. If Ertz plays, then there’s a chance the Wildcats do enough to win.

Advanced Stats

I’m going to try bullet points this week to limit my excessive wordiness.

Pros

  • Texas gives up a lot of big plays. Not that this is K-State’s strength, but a busted coverage and a well-timed throw could happen. Could.
  • Texas also isn’t very good at keeping teams off schedule on defense. K-State is above average.
  • K-State is good at finishing drives, though this may be a lingering effect of matches with FAU and Missouri State. Texas is below average here.
  • K-State should find some success at keeping the ball moving on the ground. So, uh, maybe run the damn ball a bit? We’ll return to this.
  • Texas’ offense isn’t very good on passing downs. Get them off schedule.

Cons

  • Texas is excellent on standard downs. They may very well keep K-State off schedule a lot.
  • Get ready for it: Texas will throw the ball successfully. Unless less tangible things like Buechele’s inexperience and crowd noise play a big role.

Neutral and Miscellania

  • Texas rush offense against K-State’s rush defense shapes up as a critical battle. The component ratings here are very similar.
  • The matchup of K-State’s pass offense against Texas’ pass defense is almost comical. K-State’s average rank in Passing S&P, Passing Success Rate, and Passing IsoPPP is 109.3. Texas is at 107.7.
  • Texas is somehow atrocious on Passing Downs, plays where the defense supposedly has the advantage. This may give K-State a chance to convert even when behind the sticks. Or it may be a result of having played Oklahoma, Okie State and Cal.
  • K-State’s defensive ratings are plummeting, down to 52nd nationally in S&P this week. Maybe that’s a result of playing three top-15 offenses the last three weeks. We’ll see.

Conclusion

This game fills me with dread. It’s a game K-State has to win, and one where you feel like the matchup favors the purple. But Texas rates higher by S&P and, comparing their record to others sharing territory in S&P, have probably been a bit unlucky.

Meanwhile, K-State is a team on the precipice. Getting a win Saturday is a step back from the ledge. But Ertz is questionable, the defense is struggling, and Texas looked a lot better last week.

Blind optimism compels me to pick the home team.

Wildcats 28, Longhorns 27