Texas utilizes wildcat formation to beat Wildcats, end regular season on high note

Matthew Boncosky, Sports Reporter

It’s been a long 55 days, and it took until the final game of the regular season, but Texas football is back in the win column.

The Longhorns broke a historic six-game losing streak, their longest since 1956, on Friday, beating the Kansas State Wildcats 22-17 on senior day at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

When the Longhorns walked off the field in Fort Worth on Oct. 2, having just taken down former TCU head coach and notable thorn in Texas’ side Gary Patterson, spirits ran high. Texas was 4-1 on the young season and was set to head to Dallas for a high-stakes Red River Showdown with Oklahoma.

While it might be easy to blow off the next 55 days as an expedited fall from grace, let’s be real. The Longhorns then went on to suffer one of the most painful and drawn-out demises that one could imagine.

But in the end, Texas will go out with a win, and for the time being, the possibility of earning a bowl game bid remains alive if the Longhorns are one of the few five-win teams needed to fill in somewhere.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian opened up the playbook more than he had all fall in the regular season finale. Facing six straight losses and a plethora of injuries, desperation bred innovation on Sarkisian’s part.

The day saw healthy doses of the wildcat formation against the same team that pioneered the formation throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Junior running back Roschon Johnson, a former quarterback, filled in as the de facto backup quarterback tasked solely with running the football. His 31 carries and 179 yards, most of which came out of the wildcat formation, led the Longhorns’ ground attack.

“Roschon Johnson was a warrior today,” Sarkisian said. “Clearly there were a few different wrinkles, wildcat and different things, going on to try to offset some of the situation that we were in.”

With redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card out with an ankle injury and junior quarterback Casey Thompson still dealing with a thumb injury, switching things up with Johnson taking direct snaps meant less reliance on the quarterback position to produce. Thompson has thrown six interceptions in his last six games and has said that his thumb injury, which is on his throwing hand, still affects him.

As a result, Sarkisian turned to Johnson early and often. The Longhorns established the wildcat on their opening drive of the game with Johnson taking six carries for 44 yards capped off with a 9-yard touchdown run to open the game’s scoring.

As the game got hairy in the fourth quarter with Texas nursing a 19-17 lead, Texas’ defense came up with a much-needed fourth down stop in Wildcat territory. On the next play, Johnson burst through for a 20-yard carry to set the Longhorns up in prime position to extend their lead.

Ultimately the drive stalled, but senior kicker Cameron Dicker made a 22-yard field goal to both extend the lead and become Texas’ all-time leader in made field goals. The kicker’s 60th career field goal gave the Longhorns a 22-17 lead.

After being held in check for most of the second half, the Wildcats’ offense found some life as it marched down the field behind shifty running back Deuce Vaughn. But Texas’ defense held strong again, this time stuffing a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-1 to get the ball back with 4:03 remaining.

Needing to prove that the Longhorns could finish a game in the fourth quarter again, Sarkisian called Johnson’s name once more and the junior put the game on ice with a pair of first down runs of 17 and 24 yards each. All that was left to do was run out the remainder of the clock. Kansas State came up with a stop, but the Wildcats had just 33 seconds to drive 75 yards and that did not prove to be enough time.

“The only way (Johnson) knows how to demand more of others is to give more of himself,” Sarkisian said. “And mind you, the guy’s not 100%. He’s still dealing with the toe issue that’s been going on and he was an emergency player two weeks ago. … I’d be hard-pressed to think there wasn’t any guy in that locker that doesn’t respect No. 2.”

The students and fans that made the trip down to DKR were gifted a win on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and the Longhorns will for the moment end the season on a high note. Games tomorrow will determine whether Texas will be needed to fill in a bowl slot as a five-win team.

“We needed to snap that losing streak, you know, it was heavy,” Sarkisian said. “It was a lot on everybody in the organization from the top down. … We’ll see what the opportunities are, (but) there’s nothing like playing another game.”