With 24 seconds to play, Adrian Martinez fumbled, and the Texas Longhorns withstood a ferocious second-half comeback attempt by the Kansas State Wildcats in a 34-27 win at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Texas (6-3, 4-2) surged out to a 31-10 halftime lead, but the Wildcats (6-3, 4-2) held the Longhorns to three second half points while surging back to get within a touchdown. However penalties and, for the first time this season, turnovers by Martinez were too much to overcome for K-State, which lost their sixth straight game to Texas and fall into a three-way tie with Texas and Baylor in second place.
K-State won the toss and deferred. The first two plays were great, but Texas convered on 3rd-and-10 then Julius Brents got called for targeting, which was upheld. Four plays later, Bijan Robinson scored on a 36-yard run and for the first time since losing to TCU the Wildcats trailed in a football game.
Deuce Vaughn responded. Except for an 8-yard pass to Sammy Wheeler and a 5-yard run by Adrian Martinez, Vaughn accounted for every yard of the ensuing drive, gaining 24 yards on the ground and catching a 28-yard touchdown pass to even the game.
Texas marched downfield again, with Roschon Johnson scoring on a 9-yard run, but Deuce went back to work. K-State wasn’t able to find the end zone, but Ty Zentner split the uprights from 22 to at least avoid coming up empty.
The defense had no answer, as Texas was back inside the red zone within six plays. They tightened up and forced a 3rd-and-6 from the 13, but Quinn Ewers hit Xavier Worthy on a fade and the Longhorns led 21-10.
A big sack on Martinez forced K-State to punt. The defense stood up and forced a fourth down, but Johnson popped loose down the sideline and the stadium groaned... until it erupted when Ekow Boye-Doe slapped the ball out of Johnson’s arms, giving K-State the ball at their own 10. Martinez missed a wide-open Kade Warner on first down, but two plays later he hooked up with Malik Knowles for 62 yards. The Cats came up empty, though, as on 4th-and-2 Martinez found Phillip Brooks in the end zone, but Brooks was unable to hang on.
Texas showed they weren’t the only team capable of a huge gain on third down when Robinson converted a 3rd-and-3 for a 68 yard run. But that was the only play of the drive the defense failed on, and Texas had to settle for a 28-yard Bert Auburn field goal and a 24-10 lead.
Martinez then threw his first interception of the year, staring down Knowles and having the route jumped by Jaylen Ford. With 13 seconds left in the half, Ewers dropped another fade to Worthy from three yards out and the hole got deeper at 31-10.
The offense did little coming out of the break, but a 61-yard punt by Zentner pinned Texas at their own 4. A few plays later, Josh Hayes forced another Johnson fumble, giving K-State the ball at the 24. Vaughn ran the ball down to the Texas 3, but a holding call plus a personal foul, both on Hayden Gillum, pushed K-State back to the Texas 49 and a 1st-and-35.
No problem. Martinez hit Vaughn for 21, Giddens ran for 9, and Martinez scored from four yards out to get the Cats back within two scores at 31-17. Texas was finally forced to punt, but an uncalled face mask on a Vaughn run which set up 3rd-and-3 was followed by two straight false starts and K-State had to punt.
But the defense again forced a punt, and Martinez immediately hit Ben Sinnott for 20. He then hit Knowles for 25, but Knowles fumbled; Sinnott was on the scene and recovered. After the third quarter ended, Martinez found Kade Warner for a 25-yard touchdown pass and suddenly it was a one-score game again at 31-24.
Then the officials gave Texas half the yards they needed to get into the red zone, resulting in a 29-yard field goal by Auburn. K-State drove into the red zone, then wasted three minutes trying to run the ball and had to settle for a 28-yarder from Zentner to make it 34-27.
K-State forced a three-and-out, with Kobe Savage absolutely exploding Robinson on third down, and took over at their own 19 with 2:43 to go. Martinez completed first down passes to Sinnott and Warner to get to midfield, then another first down completion on fourth down to Vaughn.
And then disaster struck, as Martinez fumbled, Texas recovered, and that was the ballgame.
Martinez was 24-36 for 329 yards with two touchdowns, an interception, and two fumbles (one lost) while running for 66 yards. Knowles led the team in receiving yards with 93 on three catches; Vaughn led the team in receptions with seven for 86 yards and a touchdown. Warner added five catches for 52 and a score, Sinnott was 3-44 and Brooks was 3-37.
Vaughn also ran for 73 yards on 19 carries, giving him 159 yards of total offense. DJ Giddens added 14 yards on two touches.
Ewers was 18-31 for 197 yards and two touchdowns for Texas, while Robinson almost hit his career high with 209 yards on 30 carries. K-State outgained Texas 468-466; the Cats had 329 passing and 139 on the ground, while Texas reversed that with 269 rushing and 197 passing.
Both teams turned the ball over twice. K-State was penalized nine times for 85 yards, while Texas was unfairly persecuted by the Big 12 for leaving the conference by eating seven flags for 49 yards. The Cats won time of possession 32:33-27:27.
What We Learned
1) Martinez let ‘er rip, but there’s still one tiny problem.
One thing that stood out in this game is that Martinez still has major issues throwing deep. When even Brock Huard is calling you out for throwing a punt, there’s an issue. 9AM was getting the job done, mostly, but deep balls which are arching lobs are a major turnover risk. Yes, he threw for 329; a ton of that was yards after the catch.
JT and I both agree: it’s very likely he’s still got a shoulder problem.
This was one reason why people were calling for Will Howard, because he’s got a cannon. That’s not invalid — but it’s important to remember that both he and the staff really want to preserve his redshirt if at all possible. It was the plan and intention coming into the season, and while tossing it away chasing a conference title might be valid, it would only be so if the team actually won it. Otherwise, you’ve wasted another year of Howard’s eligibility to go play in the Alamo Bowl or worse.
2) You can’t fault the defense for Bijan Robinson.
Look, the dude is good. Really good. He’s going to make millions wearing the shield.
And despite that, 1/3 of his rushing yardage game on one play. At halftime, Joe Klanderman made great adjustments and limited him from that point forward; Texas only had 63 rushing yards after the break.
3) Ben Sinnott is really good, y’all.
Sinnott isn’t a focal part of the offense, but of late he just seems to make big play after big play. Tonight, he caught a pass and then hurdled a defender to get an extra two body lengths of yardage. He caught huge passes during the comeback attempt, and then there was that fumble recovery.
He’s going to be a big part of whatever success we see in 2023, that’s for sure.
4) The playcalling was, again, problematic.
I don’t know whether this is a Martinez vs Howard thing, because Collin Klein’s offense was a masterwork the last two games under Howard. And between the twenties, it was pretty effective tonight, too.
I also can’t fault Klein for the failed attempt to score on fourth down in the first half, because Brooks was open and just didn’t catch the ball. Likewise, I don’t blame him for the interception Martinez threw at the end of the half, because that one was all on Adrian.
But there was simply too much effort expended on running the ball in the red zone, especially on downs when play action would have been massive. The waste of three minutes on the final scoring drive is inexcusable as well. K-State needed to score quickly there to save time for a potential game-winning drive later, rather than puttering around and not getting anywhere.
5) They didn’t lay down.
One thing has been true of K-State teams for, well, a long time: a big deficit was game over. Tonight, that was not the case at all. Down 31-10, one might have been forgiven for packing it in and watching the World Series.
But the defense bucked up. The offense actually got to work. The Wildcats WON A THIRD QUARTER.
Can’t be mad about that, at least.
Players of the Game
We’re giving it to Sinnott on offense tonight, because he played some straight up manball. On defense, the second-half lockdown was a total team effort, but Kobe Savage probably made the biggest contributions to that, including his brutal tackle for loss on Robinson which ended one Longhorn drive.
And we’re going to give out a special teams nod this week, because Zentner was awesome. He had punts of 59 and 61 yards, one of which pinned the Longhorns at their own four, and he was 2/2 on field goals and perfect on PATs.
A must-win game in Waco next Saturday, as a loss would really clog up the race to see who’s going to play TCU in Arlington. K-State will remain in control of its own destiny if TCU beats Texas next week, but that’s only true if they beat Baylor.