Not much has changed from last year in the Longhorns’ first six games.
Texas still struggles on the road. The defense still gives up too many big plays. And head coach Charlie Strong’s future still remains uncertain.
Burnt orange faithful are yet to learn much about the 2016 Longhorns, who enter this weekend’s matchup against Kansas State at 3–3. The team won games it was supposed to win against UTEP and Iowa State and defeated a Notre Dame team that now stands as one of college football’s top disappointments at 2–5.
But Longhorn fans should have an idea about the program’s long-term future very soon as Texas’ final six games include a variety of difficult matchups.
After heading to Kansas State, the Longhorns still have dates at home with No. 9 Baylor and No. 12 West Virginia, both of whom are undefeated. The team also hosts a formidable TCU team and travels to Lubbock to take on an explosive Texas Tech offense.
While it’s unclear how many wins Strong needs to keep his job, winning four games to finish above .500 for the first time since 2013 would be a good start.
“The schedule is set up for us,” Strong said. “We’ve got three tough opponents coming in here at home and we’ve just got to go on the road. That’s why we haven’t played good. We’ve got to win on the road.”
Texas has flashed dominance on both sides of the ball. The Longhorns have scored 30 or more in five of their six games this season, and the defense enters this week off its best performance of the season with just six points allowed against Iowa State.
But now the team must play with consistency. The Longhorns’ downfall this season has been their inability to click on both sides of the ball at the same time.
When Texas’ offense is scoring in bunches, its defense gives up even more. When the defense clamps down, the offense sputters.
“If we’re playing good on the defensive side of the ball and special teams, then we’ve got to do our part on the offensive side of the ball,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “Be consistent, start fast, be able to come out and then complete games. Those are where our focus is, and that’s where our development needs to go.”
The Longhorns can set the tone for the rest of their season with a win against Kansas State. The Wildcats aren’t the flashiest team at 3–3, but they still present a massive challenge for Texas.
Kansas State is 6–2 against the Longhorns in their last eight meetings. The team is also undefeated at home this season, but is yet to win a road game.
The Wildcats boast the top defense on the Longhorns’ schedule, ranking first in the Big 12 in rush defense — Texas thrives on running the ball — and third in scoring defense.
“They’re a great, well-taught team, and they’re going to play really hard and they’re going to force us to make mistakes,” sophomore tackle Connor Williams said. “So we just have to be on top of our game and out-physical them.”
The next six game should be a defining moment in Strong’s tenure. If Texas falters, the program will look very different next year. If the Longhorns turn it around, Strong is likely here to stay.
And with the pressure on, Strong knows it’s time his team performs.