Key Matchups: vs. Kansas State

Dalton Phillips

Quarterback Advantage: Kansas State 

Shane Buechele can’t seem to stay healthy. Ever since Week Two, the quarterback position has been up in the air for Texas, and this week is no exception. The sophomore injured his ankle after lighting up the Iowa State defense for 171 yards and a touchdown last Thursday and is set to receive platelet-rich plasma injections in the days leading up to Saturday’s kickoff. If he’s not ready or if the mobility is a concern, it’ll be freshman Sam Ehlinger under center once again. 

Kansas State has no such questions. Jesse Ertz is a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback who has given Texas fits in years past. Just four games into the season, the senior has already collected more than 700 passing yards with another 300 yards on the ground. Texas cannot allow Saturday to turn into a shootout, as Ertz is far more polished than either Longhorn quarterback option. Stopping Ertz will require another immaculate performance from the much-improved orange and
white defense. 

Running Back Advantage: Texas

Junior Chris Warren III and sophomore Kyle Porter finally saw some touches against Iowa State, combining for 33 trips on the ground in the 17-7 win. Unfortunately, the uptick in carries didn’t translate to increased production, as the two averaged just 2.8 and 2.3 yards per carry, respectively. Regardless, Texas has been utilizing its run game more consistently, and if Buechele starts Saturday with a tender ankle, expect fewer scrambles and more hand-offs. 

Kansas State’s leading thrower is also its leading rusher. Ertz commands the majority of the team’s ground yards with his explosive playmaking, leaving little room for neither sophomore running back Alex Barnes nor backup Alex Delton. The two have made the most of their few touches, however, as both averaged over six yards per carry in the team’s win over Baylor last Saturday.

Wide Receiver Advantage: Texas

The Texas offense is beginning to find its rhythm, averaging 34.5 points per game for its highest totals since 2012. While several of those touchdowns came on the defensive end, the improved wide receiver corps has also had a major hand in the success. Led by the 393 yards of sophomore wide receiver Colin Johnson, the team boasts a number of deep threats which have helped hide the lackluster run game. 

Kansas State practically only throws to one target. Isaiah Zuber has 17 catches through four games — almost three times more than the team’s second-leading receiver. The sophomore will certainly find himself as the focus of the lethal Texas secondary, which may force Ertz to take shots where he otherwise wouldn’t.

Defense Advantage: Texas

DeShon Elliott is doing it all for Texas this season. The junior defensive back already has four interceptions — tied for first in the NCAA — to go along with a sack and a touchdown. Texas’ defense has emerged as the best part of the team, giving up just 21.3 points per contest against a number of high-octane opponents. Alongside a much-improved pass rush, the Longhorns are able to carry games at the defensive end for the first time in years. 

The orange and white offensive line is going to have its work cut out for it against senior defensive tackle Will Geary and this Kansas State defensive line. Geary has already posted three sacks on the season, part of a defense which has given up an average of just 15 points through four contests. For Texas to win at home, protecting the quarterback is the name of the game.