Well if it isn’t the Texas Longhorns on the way out the Big 12 door. I’d say I’m going to miss the oil barons from Austin and their constant drama, but that would be a lie. While I dislike Texas on a cellular level, they do have a decent football team this season. I went ahead and took a look at the offense and defense, so you’ll know what to expect tomorrow.
If it’s up to Kansas State, this game will be a referendum on the Texas quarterback. They’ll be happy to let redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy decide their fate.
Instead of the experienced Quinn Ewers, Joe Klanderman gets to sink his teeth into redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy making his second career start. Murphy is a big dude. He’s 6’5” and a solid 240 pounds with a howitzer for an arm. Physically he has all the tools NFL teams look for. He can stand in the pocket, look over the top of the offensive line and deliver the ball down field with velocity and accuracy. Against BYU he completed 16 of 25 passes for 170 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. He was serviceable, and at times flashed NFL level talent but looks extremely raw in some aspects of his game.
Kansas State needs to pressure this quarterback because he will throw it to the wrong team if he’s hurried. BYU forced him into throwing one of the worst interceptions I’ve seen this season with a little pressure off the edge. It looked like Murphy intentionally threw it to BYU’s safety sitting in the flat on purpose. There were a few other risky throws when he was forced off his spot.
He does not move well.
When you think of Maalik Murphy think young Ben Roethlisberger not Will Howard. He only runs when all options, including digging and climbing have been exhausted. On the season he has 1 carry for -18 yards, and that came last week. I like this matchup for Kansas State. Not only does Murphy lack mobility, but he lacks experience. That’s what showed up most on the BYU film. When he was able to sit back and use his incredible arm talent to dissect the BYU defense, he was great. When he was pressured or forced off his first read, things broke down.
The fact that he struggles when the game speeds up isn’t surprising. He didn’t win the starting quarterback job at Junipero Serra High School in Inglewood, California until his junior season, and that happened to be the 2020 Covid season. Texas offered him a scholarship before he started a game because of the physical skill set he showcased at camps, but his actual on-field time as a starting high school quarterback was limited. He was able to play a 6 game spring season his junior season before competing in his first complete season as a starter as a senior. He came on strong as a senior, throwing for 2,954 yards, 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but that’s his only year of high school production. He redshirted last season.
Folks, Murphy simply hasn’t played much actual football. He was great in camps and in 7 on 7 in high school, but he only has one full season of high school ball and 1 game as the starting quarterback of Texas under his belt. Look for Kanas State to throw the kitchen sink at him in terms of coverage reads and blitzes. Joe Klanderman has to move him off his spot. If he’s allowed to stand in the pocket and deliver deep balls, Kansas State is in trouble. He’s not going to under throw anyone, and the Longhorns have a couple guys that can go up and get it in traffic. If K-State’s defense gets him on the move, he’s going to throw a pick. He gets wild and tries to make plays instead of taking what he can get and moving on to the next play. The K-State safeties must be ready to make a play, because when he misses, the ball tends to float. The defense needs to contribute at least one game changing play tomorrow, and a pick 6 off a floating Maalik Murphy pass isn’t out of the question.
If it’s up to Texas, this game will be a referendum on Kansas State’s defensive line and linebackers.
Minus Ewers, the focus of the Longhorn attack shifts from the air to the ground. Like Kansas State, the best unit on the entire Texas team is the offensive line. Sark made recruiting linemen a priority and now his team is loaded with monsters. Two former five star recruits, left tackle Kelvin Banks Jr. and right guard DJ Campbell, lead the way for an explosive rushing attack featuring former 4* running back Jonathon Brooks. On the season, Brooks has 923 yards and 7 touchdowns on 144 carries. He averages 6.4 yards a carry and has 22 receptions for 212 yards and a touchdown.
Kansas was excited to try out Texas earlier this year and got stomped by Brooks and company. He ran for 218 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. The Jayhawks were never in the game because they couldn’t stop the Longhorns from running the ball. Any time Texas wanted to take control of the game, Quinn Ewers turned around and handed the ball to Brooks. That’s an easy way to play football. Kansas State can’t allow Murphy to hand the ball off all game or Texas will dominate time of possession and keep Kansas State from using their beef to wear down Texas. They’ve got to find a way to get Texas off schedule and in obvious passing downs so they can get after the young quarterback. This would be the perfect game for Khalid Duke to make a statement to NFL GMs.
Against BYU, Sark dialed up 35 runs and 25 passes, expect him to shoot for a similar ration on Saturday. Texas wants to run the ball and then use their quarterbacks rocket launcher to burn Kansas State over the top once the safeties get interested in the run game. I expect the Wildcats to sell out against the run and make Murphy prove he can beat them throwing the ball. Stopping Brooks from dominating the game is the first priority, everything else builds off of that.
If the Wildcat defense forces this into a passing game, Texas doesn’t lack weapons. If the defense sells out to stop the run, the K-State corners are going to have to hold on for dear life against Texas star receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell. Worthy leads the ‘Horns in receptions with 44 and yards with 572 but Mitchell thrives in the red zone, pulling down a team leading 7 touchdown passes. Last week, in Murphy’s debut at quarterback, Mitchell came through with 3 receptions for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In addition to a great wide receiver duo, Texas also boasts one of the best tight ends in the nation. Ja’Tavion Sanders is an athletic 6’4”, 260 and has the ability to put big numbers. He has cooled off of late after starting the year on fire, putting up 114 yards on 5 receptions against Alabama and 110 yards on 5 receptions against Baylor. After a slow 3 weeks against Kansas, Oklahoma, and Houston, he bounced back with 4 receptions for 37 yards against BYU. Look for Murphy to try and find Sanders between the hash marks as a safety valve when things start breaking down around him.
Texas is solid, but not spectacular on defense. They’re currently ranked 27th in the nation in total defense (328 YPG) and 15th in scoring defense (16 PPG). They’re not overly aggressive with their front 7, coming in 45th in team sacks (2.38 SPG), 19th in team tackles for loss (6.9 TFLPG).
This is going to come down to a battle between the Texas front 7 (or 8) and the Kansas State beef with the Wildcats' four headed monster toting the ball. Texas is currently 14th in the nation run defense, giving up a paltry, 97.9 yards a game. The Wildcats need to double that on Saturday, and in order their desired results they have to figure out what to do with 6’4”, 340 pound defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat. Unless the ‘Cats borrow a forklift, they’re not moving Sweat without a double team. Texas never lacks for talent on the defensive line and can throw waves of 4 and 5 star recruits at your offense. This is going to be a brutal battle in the trenches, and whichever team wins the battle should win the game.
Behind the Longhorn defensive line sits a pair of quality linebackers in leading tackler Jaylan Ford (57 tackles) and 5* linebacker from the 2023 class, Anthony Hill Jr. When Texas shifts to their 3 man front, the linebackers become the star of the show. Kansas State occasionally struggles running the ball against 3 man fronts because the big guys have a hard time blocking linebackers shooting through gaps and disrupting the timing of their intricate run game based around outnumbering the defense at the point of attack with backside pullers. This is a tough match-up Kansas State has to win. Cooper Beebe came back for a spot in the ring of honor, and a ring of honor performance could be required from the big man.
The Kansas State brain trust has some tough choices to make. Kansas State has to run the ball to win, but it could be mighty tempting to test out a suspect Texas secondary. The Longhorns are 69th in the nation in total pass defensive giving up 230 yards a game. Will Howard’s been hot recently, and is going to have to make a few throws to win this game. Texas’s run defense is too tough, and they’re too deep, to stampede them off the field like the ‘Cats have done to their last couple opponents. Howard is going to have to pick up some first downs with his arm to keep drives alive and the defense off the field in this one.
That brings me to Avery Johnson. Man, what a spot for a true freshman. I’m not sure how the coaching staff will deploy him, but I don’t think the moment is too big for the freshman. At the same time, this is a big spot for a young player, and Will Howard has extensive big game experience. In a contest that could come down to one key play, how much do you trust the freshman?
Answer....you don’t change what resurrected your season. I’m not sure this is a big game if Avery didn’t enter the lineup and give the offense a shot of confidence. I expect to see him on Saturday.
Kansas State needs to control this game with their offense. If the Wildcats can figure out a way to run the ball, they’ve got a great shot at pulling the upset.
Texas needs to protect their young quarterback with their run game. If they can establish the run, it’s going to be tough for the ‘Cats to be on the field long enough to wear on the Longhorn defense.
The most chaotic option is both teams selling out to stop the run and this game becoming a dual between Will Howard/Avery Johnson vs Maalik Murphy.
After a disappointing start to the season, the Wildcats can turn this thing all the way around with a victory over Texas. If Chris Kleiman can conjure up a win on Saturday night, K-State jumps back into pole position in the race for a spot in the Big 12 Championship game. That’s not something I thought I would be typing after the Oklahoma State loss.