Kansas State was hoping to turn their season around when No. 18 Texas came to Manhattan, but instead the Longhorns would leave there with a victory for the first time in sixteen years. In the end, one team was just able to make a few more plays than the other.
This game was really was a tale of two halves. Texas looked fairly dominant in the first half, managing to be effective both running and throwing the ball. A punt return setup Texas’ first touchdown, and then Sam Ehlinger threw it up to tall wideout Collin Johnson in the end zone for the Longhorns’ second touchdown.
It would be their only other touchdown in the game, however. The Texas defense seemed to settle in as the first half wore on, and came up with a safety to make it 16-0. The Longhorns then took advantage of the good field position from the ensuing short kick and put themselves in position for a Cameron Dicker field goal.
The Kansas State defense would buckle down in the second half, however, and not allow another point. With Skylar Thompson as the quarterback instead of first half starter Alex Delton, the offense also came alive. Thompson found mismatches throughout the Texas defense and managed to move the ball downfield.
In the end, it was too little too late. Kansas State scored with about 9:55 left in the fourth quarter, but Texas would possess the ball for almost seven minutes thereafter to get the win. Below, we provide four major takeaways from the game.
TEXAS WON THE BATTLE OF SPECIAL TEAMS
It was interesting to watch a game in which both coaches valued special teams on Saturday. Of the two squads, Texas had the better day in that department.
The Longhorns were able to grab the lead on Saturday because of the punt return of D’Shawn Jamison, who brought it back 90 yards for the first score of the game:
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 29, 2018
Jamison also had two kick returns that average 18.5 yards a piece, also not a bad day of work.
Though Texas missed one kick, Cameron Dicker hit the 28-yarder that gave Texas a three score lead. That would end up being the second half margin that the Wildcats couldn’t overcome.
Of course, it shouldn’t go without being said that the Wildcats were somewhat handicapped by the fact that their starting kicker was out with an injury. Not having Blake Lynch probably forced Bill Snyder to try and convert fourth downs instead of taking a shot at a couple of field goals. In a game that was decided by five points, that could have made a difference.
THE TEXAS OFFENSE ISN’T GREAT, BUT IT’S IMPROVING
Texas has not been spectacular on offense during the current four-game winning streak, but part of their improvement has been on the offensive side of the ball. In their second year under Tom Herman, the Longhorns look better at just about every position.
The biggest difference-make for this offense, though, is quarterback Sam Ehlinger. After starting the season off with four turnovers, Ehlinger has yet to lose the football in three straight contests (There was, notably, a moment in the first half when Ehlinger lost the ball because he was hit from behind, but he fell on the ball to prevent the turnover).
Ehlinger’s other contributions to the offense don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. He’s shown through five games that he has the arm strength and accuracy to get the ball to the receivers downfield, but his ability to run also helps keep the offense on-schedule.
And the skill positions have been consistent. Texas’ trio of wide receivers – Collin Johnson, Lil’Jordan Humphrey, and Devin Duvernay – are starting to make plays and fight for yardage in critical moments. Running back Keontay Ingram, though only a true freshman, is a special player. In time, he could become the most dangerous weapon on the offensive side of the ball for Texas.
CAN THE WILDCATS FIX THEIR OFFENSIVE ISSUES?
It was easy to tell the Bill Snyder had stressed running the ball all throughout the week of practice leading up to this game. Kansas State came out running the ball, taking to the ground on 11 of their first 14 plays from scrimmage. The Wildcats were able to move the ball that way, with Delton playing classic quarterback power football.
This offense has clear limitations with Delton in at quarterback, though. Texas played close to the line of scrimmage with Delton as the signal caller, and frequently dared Delton to beat them with his arm. He completed only three passes on the day, and the Longhorns were able to keep the Wildcats scoreless through two quarters because of Kansas State’s struggles throwing the ball in the first half.
The offense seemed energized with Thompson at the helm. He started the second half, and the offense went 82 yards for a score and featured a mix of both run and pass. When Alex Barnes ran in the Wildcats’ second touchdown, it looked as though Kansas State might be able to come back from the 19-point deficit:
K-State is clawing their way back folks. pic.twitter.com/URCWn7VUpl
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 29, 2018
As good as the Wildcats were with Thompson in the game, the young quarterback still had moments where he struggled to connect with receivers. Notably, there were multiple drops by Kansas State receivers throughout the day as well. Were a couple of those throws turned into completions, the Wildcats could have won this game.
IT’S HARD TO TELL WHO THE LEADERS ARE FOR THE WILDCATS
Right now, it really feels as though Kansas State is a team in search of themselves. This might be the best overall performance that the Wildcats have had in 2018, but that’s still cause for concern. There are some good players in those purple jerseys, but it’s difficult to identify who the leaders are on this team.
That might have a lot to do with having a two-quarterback system. The idea that “if you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one” really seems to apply in this situation.
Though Delton and Thompson aren’t that different in terms of style, the identity of the offense changes depending on who’s taking snaps. With Delton, the Wildcats run to set up easier throws. With Thompson, there’s more of an attempt to set up the run by airing out the ball. Running back Alex Barnes really seemed to thrive with Delton in the game, where wideout Dalton Schoen almost single-handedly brought his team back with Thompson in the game.
It’s hard for any team to be successful if they don’t know how they are going to do that. Right now, it feels like Kansas State doesn’t know how they’re going to win games on offense.
It’s also difficult to identify leaders on this Kansas State defense as well, though. The Wildcats’ second half shutout was a big reason why they were in position to win this game late. Players like defensive lineman Trey Dishon, defensive back Duke Shelley and linebacker Justin Hughes made some good defensive plays. At the end of the day, though, no one was able to get a turnover or stop that would put the Wildcats ahead.