The Jayhawks offense and Longhorn defense created the perfect storm — Kansas came into Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium as the second worst total offense in the Big 12 with Texas brining the conference’s worst defense on the other side of the ball.
Together they dismantled the 21-point spread that favored the Longhorns and made way for the 50-48 shootout that narrowly crowned Texas the winner. The game showed a couple of things, like Kansas’ quarterback and running back capabilities. But it also proved Texas’ need for serious improvement on both sides of the snap in order to even be in contention for the Big 12 championship.
“We’re happy that we found a way to win,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I know there’s other teams in the country, even teams in the top 25, top 10 that didn’t. And that’s a whole lot worse feeling than the feeling that we have now. We’re going to celebrate the win and, obviously, come ready to improve the things that we are deficient at right now and enhance the things that we do well and make sure that we’re doing more and more of them.”
The game started out bright for the Longhorns when they took a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Although a field goal helped put Kansas on the board by the end of the first, it was Texas’ inability to convert two fourth downs that led to two touchdown drives for the Jayhawks.
The first came after a third and 18 that put Texas two yards away from a first down, but wide receiver Jake Smith’s run was a yard short and left Kansas to start their drive on the 50-yard line. Three minutes later, Kansas was on the board with 10 points. On Texas’ next drive, another fourth and two stood between the Longhorns and a first down. History repeated itself, and Kansas’ drive resulted in a 17-14 Jayhawks lead.
The fourth quarter also saw two red zone turnovers that gave Kansas 14 points — one was an interception from Kansas linebacker Najee Stevens-McKenzie and another was a fumble by Jake Smith.
“We have a lot of things we need to clean up,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “But at the end of the day, a win’s a win.”
Recurring defensive issues also stood in Texas’ way, such as their inability to stop Kansas running back Pooka Williams’ 190 rushing yards and two touchdowns. They also struggled in bringing down quarterback Carter Stanley, who rushed for 65 yards and was only sacked once. This exposed Texas’ greatest weakness: their run defense. Kansas out-rushed the No. 15 team in the country 259 yards to 239.
Sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai recognizes their run defense is in need of serious improvement, but will continue to do their job.
“If we were put on the field to go stop them from scoring that’s what we do, (it) doesn’t matter where the ball is put or if the offense fumbles or you got dealt a bad hand,” Ossai said. “(The offense) can obviously do their job pretty well so we’re just happy. We need to learn how to stop the run and keep the score on the other side lower.”
Despite their weaknesses in stopping the run, the defense still made great plays. In the second quarter, Ossai blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt that kept the game at 17-14 Kansas. Following Ehlinger’s interception in the fourth quarter that resulted in a Kansas touchdown, senior defensive end Malcolm Roach blocked the kick and sophomore defensive back D’Shawn Jamison returned it for a defensive point after touchdown. Longhorns kept the lead 33-30.
Herman recognizes the team’s defense still has a lot of work to do, but was proud of their grit.
“To win a football game when you’re playing with such youth and inexperience on defense, and basically if you count the two 4th downs, lose the turnover battle 4-0, you know, proud of the resiliency, proud of the fight,” Herman said.
In the end, Texas was victorious, but it was anything but pretty. Players and coaches know work is needed on both sides of the ball, but for Ossai, a win is still a win.
“You know wins can be ugly sometimes, and they can be tough, and they’re dogfights in football games, but … I’m proud of the guys on defense for doing what they could, you know, proud of the offense for holding us,” Ossai said. Proud of everybody for doing their job and keeping us in this one and chalking this up for a win.”
Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was originally published.