After a month of consternation and constipation in the passing game, it was great to see Texas go up top on the first snap to John Burt for an 80+ yard TD and then go right back to the well and find a streaking Lorenzo Joe on the second drive. You aren't always going to have contested catches go as uncontested as they are against the average Jayhawk DB, but you tend to get a lot more good than bad when you can ID and attack single coverage. A touchdown, a field goal and a second TD set up by a Haines INT and it looked like the rout was on.
And then...we got a little more than 20 minutes of the most coyote ugly football of the Strong era.
Blowouts are the time to plug in the youngsters - and even some underperforming oldsters - to gain some experience, iron out some wrinkles and let the good times roll. The thing is, though, that you need to actually execute a good portion of said blowout before opening up the sub floodgates. Texas started the Wacky Wheel substitutions on O with five minutes left in the first - including a Hutchins-Flowers left side that shouldn't be seen outside of a five-score lead or an Ebola outbreak in the locker room - and the team seemed to get a message of, "Welp, this game's over - time to Cadillac it the rest of the way!"
The Cadillac quickly found the ditch, though, as the Iowa State Halloween Horror Show staggered out of its grave to eat the brains of the living. Outside of a short TD drive served up on a silver platter by a special teams botch, the Longhorns O looked helpless, hapless and hopeless with a combo of dreadful run blocking, a no-YAC back and a lost-in-the-woods passing game.
A new C-LG combo (I think it was Perk and Raulerson) yielded the same left A gap fiascos as a free Jayhawk lineman came through to dump Heard, whose dreadfully-advised attempt to throw the ball resulted in a fumble that threatened to make it a one-score game against one of D1's most dire programs. It was tough to choke down a halftime hotdog (I was regrettably sitting far, far from Torchy's) as nightmare scenarios looked frighteningly plausible.
Fortunately, after a forgettable first drive to kick off the third the offense well and truly woke up.
Things got rolling as D'Onta Foreman took the Longhorns' first well-blocked Outside Zone run of the night 93 yards to pay dirt in a family affair that was aided and abetted by a terrific block on the edge by Armanti. There wasn't a ton of contact on D'Onta, but there was some if you can manage the Herculean task of running through arm/hand/finger tackles, all manner of good things can happen.
From there, the floodgates opened. The next drive saw Marcus Johnson drop one shot at a sideline TD and get blatantly grabbed with no call on another, but the Longhorns still cashed in thanks to fiiiiiinally working in both simple slant routes (it's legal AND effective to throw routes inside the field numbers!) and credibly executed bubble screens (they work for Baylor! And TCU! And Duncanville High School!) to keep the chains moving.
Swoopes got into the act to kick off the fourth quarter with a...throw that traveled 40 yards in the air without major incident, and turned into a TD thanks to a great adjustment at the pylon by Armanti Foreman. He broke out some long-distance Tyroneasaurus Wrecks action on the next drive, housing a 40+ yard jaunt that was sprung by a terrific block from Swiss Army Everything-But-The-Actual-Knife senior Johnathan Gray. He netted a final Tyrone-on-the-spot score after scooping up a Kirk Johnson fumble to cap a drive that featured more delicious D'Onta goodness, a couple of Loch Ness Warrick sightings and a terrific sideline throw to Andrew "He Only Catches the Tough Ones" Beck.
It was ultimately just about what you should expect a young but not-untalented offense to drop on the hapless Jayhawks, with the overall showing feeling both better and worse than it actually was thanks to Texas' 20-minute trip to The Dead Zone.
This was another game where you ended up (reasonably) happy with the final score (if you were willing to shrug your shoulders at a garbage-time TD) but had your frustrations magnified by the ineptitude of the opponent and the out-of-nowhere tension that the actual win could be under threat in the second quarter. Oh, and the completely legitimate frustration of the Longhorns' continued Comedy Linebacking in the Read Option and screen games.
Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad - not by a ton when the opponent was taken into account, but it was still a workable back-in-the-saddle showing.
The night's biggest success came courtesy of the pass rush, which kept the KU quarterbacks under heavy heat for most of the night. Texas looked to log at least seven sacks (and perforce threw in a couple of their customary catch-and-release jobs to keep the total under ten), and even against an overmatched OL it was good to see contributions from Naashon, Poona, Cottrell, Jinkens, Boyette, Tank and Roberson alongside usual suspects like Ridgeway and Malik (who's going to have to change his jersey number to Dot Dash Dot if we telegraph his blitzes any more, but who still manages to generate pressure).
The outside/downfield coverage was largely solid, though Kris Boyd got cooked on one sideline route and Holton Hill got rescued from embarrassment by a drop or two. Some of last season's high-end coverage disguises finally made their way back into the mix, with a late Cover Three shift with Dylan Haines dropping down into the curl zone handed the senior a Pick Almost Six.
The coverage on screen passes and work against vanilla Read Option looks was...urgh, as the Adventures in Fundamental Linebacking Tour continued - particularly during the Longhorns' 20 Minutes of Hell stretch in the first half. Texas kept letting KU out of jail in long-yardage situations with a continued inability to sniff out screen throws or make tackles once they got on the scene - hopefully the last folks off the field tonight picked up Peter Jinkens' jock from the 15 yard line where he left it on the Jayhawks' first touchdown. Backfield misdirection of any kind also continues to bedevil Texas. It was nice to see Malik with one really nifty read, shed and stuff in the third quarter, but Holgo must be eager to throw every Read Option wrinkle in the book at Texas next week.
For all that, things looked fairly solid once Texas was able to bear down and bring the heat with a larger lead in the second half. This is still a defense that needs offensive succor in the form of sustained drives and force-them-to-throw game scripts, but if they can get heat from multiple sources it'll be a big boon as the weather turns colder.
Michael Dickson's punts continued to carry the raw sense of adventure usually associated with Crocodile Dundee traversing Times Square at night. His first side-foot job got rescued by 20 yards of roll, and his second quarter line drive caught a piece of Jayhawk to tee up Texas' third TD. Nick Rose played Felix to Dickson's Oscar, calmly drilling just about every kickoff out the back of the end zone and putting the ball through the uprights when called upon.
The return game has gone awhile without significant result, but Kris Boyd is going to take one a long way soon if he can get some credible blocking. It wouldn't be a Texas game without at least one instance of Panglossian optimism in taking a kick back from 4+ yards deep and reaching the 16 yard line, but I'm sure there's some coaching platitude about aggressive mistakes in there somewhere.
In honor of A&M's decision to throw up the Texas-TCU score at Kyle Field a full two weeks after the game had taken place, let's take a quick moment to enjoy the Ags' sixteen-point home field honk to a largely toothless Tiger squad. Having thrown his injured starter under the bus, Kevin Sumlin now gets to ride a metaphorical roller coaster with a true freshman QB who's barely tall enough to ride a real one. Tough to tell how much of the team will be entranced by Jake Hubenak's 32-yard showing in relief of Kyler Murray, but the prospect of a THIRD faction developing in the locker room would be enough to drive some coaches to drink.
The Bottom Line
Texas needed a big win in the worst way following last week's unlubricated corn insertion in Ames. While we spent a decent chunk of the first half pursuing a big win in literally the worst way, that at least set the stage for a bounce-back second half steamrolling for a squad that needs experience in overcoming even marginal adversity.
Next up is a road trip to the dreaded enviorns of...The Road, which has been Cormac McCarthy-bleak regardless of specific venue. While it may be laughable to think that ANY victory over a squad as limited as Kansas can serve a springboard to turning around those kind of fortunes...it's a start.