The late game on Saturday in the Big 12 will feature two teams looking to make right after some early season losses. Returning to the Lone Star State after a gritty road win, the Texas Longhorns host the Kansas State Wildcats in a game where both teams could use a W to start 2-0 in conference play.
The Wildcats have the advantage in this series overall, but haven’t won in Austin since 2011. One team will leave Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium Saturday night with championship hopes still alive. The other will be at .500 in a conference with few, if any, patsies in it.
DATE & TIME: SAT, OCT 7 at 6:00 PM CT
WHERE: Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium (Austin, TX)
FORECAST: Mid-80s, Partly Cloudy
STREAM: Fox Sports Go
BETTING LINE: UT -3.5
KANSAS STATE (3-1, 1-0)
After losing to non-conference foe Vanderbilt in non-conference play, the Wildcats started off 1-0 last week against Baylor and could start to build some momentum in conference play with a road win here.
On offense, Kansas State is a tough, more than capable running team. Though none of the running backs have stood out for Kansas State, the team is averaging 229 yards per game powered by quarterback Jesse Ertz and a committee of backs.
Ertz is a prototypical Bill Snyder quarterback. He’s a big athlete with vision and deceptive speed that few other players at the position possess. Those talents are put to use on designed lead and draw plays that keep the offense moving for the Wildcats.
The Kansas State pass offense, which statistically ranks last in the Big 12, has been less successful.
Drops have plagued the Wildcats in their two outings against Power 5 teams thus far this season. Last week against Baylor, Kansas State wide receivers managed to catch only seven Jesse Ertz passes and multiple drops helped to account for the ten incompletions on the stat sheet.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas State has played a fundamentally sound style of team defense. Averaging 308.5 yards per game, the Wildcats find themselves first in total defense in the Big 12.
The ability of the Kansas State defense to cover opposing wide receivers has been a major factor in those results: through four games, quarterbacks across the line of scrimmage have thrown more picks than touchdowns.
Indeed, their ability to get the ball from the other team more than they give it away has been an undeniable talent for the Wildcats. Kansas State is second in the Big 12 in turnover margin, averaging two takeaways per game.
On special teams, pay attention to Byron Pringle returning punts. Last week Pringle had a big return that gave the Wildcats great field position. In a game where there will more than likely be some punts, such returns could be a big factor.
TEXAS (2-2, 1-0)
Having suffered two disappointing losses in non-conference play to Maryland and USC, the Texas Longhorns are looking to continue to improve in conference play.
After having played a high quality of defense on the road, they return to Austin still searching for answers offensively. That inconsistency could partly be explained by Texas having played two different signal callers in four games.
An early season injury to experienced starter Shane Buechele forced true freshman Sam Ehlinger into action for two games. A healthy Buechele led the Longhorns to 17 points in their victory last week against Iowa State, but Ehlinger’s heroics in two games have some fans calling for the younger player to takeover.
Although Buechele is the more accurate passer of the two, the bigger Ehlinger’s ability to tuck the ball and run offers the possibility of big plays being made off-script.
Arguably, it could also help spark a running game that needs help. Despite finding some success early and late against Iowa State last week, Texas averaged a meager 2.7 yards per carry on 52 rushing attempts. Running back Chris Warren III has received the majority of carries this season, but multiple backs will probably see playing time on Saturday.
The position group with the most depth, the wide receivers, has ironically suffered the fewest injuries on offense. Collin Johnson, a 6’6” wideout with surprising body control, has the most NFL potential. Last week when ISU decided to drop eight into coverage, however, Buechele struggled to find the big pass catcher.
The defense is the undoubted strength of this Texas team. The last three games has featured a group of defenders who can stop the run and prefer to bring pressure in longer down and distance situations.
After his squad gave up 51 points to Maryland in the first week of play, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has found a way to get the group back on track. Giving up only 96.5 yards per game, Texas fields the second best rush defense in the Big 12.
That defense, which has snagged seven interceptions through four games, will undoubtedly need to step up this week to keep the Longhorns in a close game.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR KSU
Catch The Ball – Simply put, drops by Kansas State wideouts have killed offensive momentum for the Wildcats. If they hope to get their offense going in this game and possibly play for bigger things in the Big 12, the receivers wearing purple and gray need to be money when the ball hits them in the hands.
Find Creative Ways To Score – Texas struggled with a lot of the read option running and misdirection Maryland employed in their first week and they’ll be prepared for Kansas State to try that out as well. What they might not be prepared for, however, is a timely trick play or two (or three) that will ask them to be especially disciplined.
Prevent Big Plays – Last week against Baylor, the KSU defense gave up a few big plays, but was nails in the redzone. Don’t let the Longhorns pickup points on a handful of athletic plays. Even if Texas finds a way to get yards in between the 20s, make them earn those yards and see if you can’t get them to settle for three points instead of six.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR UT
Avoid Turnovers – Hanging onto the ball has not been something that Texas has exactly excelled at through four games, but Bill Snyder teams feed off of turnovers. Ball security will absolutely be crucial for this team if the offense continues to struggle. Don’t put your defense in difficult situations where they have to make up for miscues.
Make A Big Play On Special Teams – Kickoff and Punt Return have been liability for the Longhorns early this season and Saturday looks to be a game where points will be at a premium. If Texas can get themselves good field position or even a non-offensive touchdown through the third phase of the game, that might end up being the difference in this contest.
Stop The Run – Making the Wildcat offense one-dimensional would be an undoubted plus for the Horns. Even though Jesse Ertz is a capable passer, keeping him from breaking big runs – either by design or on the fly – will prevent Texas from being able to get the Wildcats to less manageable down and distance situations.
These two teams seem to be so similar, that it’s hard to have much confidence in predicting this one either way. Although both of these teams have played some good football, it doesn’t feel like either one of them has played their best football.
A third of the way through the regular season, I am going to say that it feels like Kansas State is in a better position to improve in the ways they need to improve to get this win. The winner of this game will win a close one by three points or maybe even less. I don’t consider it much of an “upset,” but I will go ahead and predict that Kansas State wins this game by a point. Look for either a big turnover or a big special teams play to be the deciding factor late.