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Kicking the Tires: Texas Longhorns

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K-State is still looking for a win against a Power 5 school. This week’s opportunity comes at home against Texas.

NCAA Football: Southern California at Texas Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

66-16

You’ve probably already seen that this week. It’s the combined score of K-State’s two games this season against Power 5 opponents, Mississippi State and West Virginia.

By itself, the 66 isn’t that big a deal. The average CFB team scores a little less than 33 points per game. Nobody expected K-State’s defense would be much better than an average unit this year.

But 16 is unfathomably bad. There isn’t a single team averaging only eight points per game this year. Last-place UTEP, coached by Dana Dimel, is averaging 13.5 points per game.

As we saw this week, there’s massive upheaval between the head coach and the offensive coordinators. Bill Snyder unilaterally yanked Skylar Thompson for Alex Delton last weekend in Morgantown, and apparently Delton will start this week against Texas. Schematically, that may make better sense against teams like WVU and Texas who use a 3-3-5 defense that has basically been inscrutable for K-State over the years. But it’s exasperating both quarterbacks and the offensive coaches, at the very least.

If K-State can’t get back on track this weekend in Manhattan, then things are about to get exponentially worse.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Skylar Thompson, 39-66-1, 59.1%, 505 yards, 7.7 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 126.3 yards/game

Rushing: Alex Barnes, 63 carries, 277 yards, 4.4 yards/carry, 1 TD, 69.3 yards/game

Receiving: Isaiah Zuber, 24 receptions, 356 yards, 14.8 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 89.0 yards/game

Texas

Passing: Sam Ehlinger, 79-131-2, 60.3%, 978 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 8 TDs, 244.5 yards/game

Rushing: Tre Watson, 63 carries, 256 yards, 4.1 yards/carry, 1 TD, 64.0 yards/game

Receiving: Lil’Jordan Humphrey, 21 receptions, 352 yards, 16.8 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 88.0 yards/game

Texas hasn’t exactly been an offensive powerhouse itself this year, but “perfectly average” works way better than “bottom 25.” No surprise here, but the Longhorns have athletes all over the field, including a trio of big wide receivers in Humphrey, Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay. As usual, K-State’s secondary will face a significant size disadvantage.

The Longhorns have been decently efficient on the ground with almost zero explosiveness. Keep an eye on who starts at running back. Watson has the most carries, but Keontay Ingram has been by far the better back, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. As we all know, quarterback Sam Ehlinger is effective in the run game, too, averaging 4.3 yards per carry after adjusting for sacks.

Defensively, Texas is fast and aggressive. Linebacker Gary Johnson is coming into his own this year, with 6.0 tackles for loss and a sack this year. Freshman safety Caden Sterns is a star in the making, with three interceptions already.

Advanced Stats

[CHARTS WILL BE ADDED LATER WHEN MY COMPUTER COOPERATES]

Texas isn’t exactly great at anything on offense. But they’re also not terrible at anything except generating explosive plays in the run game, which isn’t the biggest liability ever. K-State’s run defense languishes in the bottom quartile nationally in every rushing metric, so the Horns may not even need to throw it much.

But if they do, they’ll have the size advantage mentioned above. And while K-State’s defensive passing stats looked pretty good after the non-conference season, that was as much due to the quarterback competition faced as anything. Ehlinger is no Will Grier, but he won’t need to be. A steady run game paired with an opportunistic passing game is probably enough for Texas on Saturday.

K-State’s offense is below average by every advanced metric both running and passing. As mentioned above, Texas is an aggressive defense that will make big plays but also occasionally give them up (75th rushing IsoPPP and 119th passing IsoPPP). By starting Delton, K-State is banking on using Delton’s running ability to place stress on the Texas defense and create the opportunity for big plays in the running and passing games. They will be required, because K-State is unlikely to execute well enough to sustain drives consistently. And even if they do, the Wildcats are 114th nationally at finishing their drives.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to see this one remaining all that close. Vegas favors Texas on the road by nine, and S&P+ projects them to cover that margin comfortably. K-State will most likely need some combination of a big turnover that flips the field, or a defensive or special-teams score to have a chance at winning.

Longhorns 38, Wildcats 23