Few teams in the country are more desperate for a win right now than Texas, and next up is a 2-1 Kansas State team that has had its number in the past three years. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as the Longhorns open their Big 12 slate.
Ash is back: Hear that? It’s a loud sigh of relief from Mack Brown. Texas’ starting quarterback hasn’t practiced much this week, but evidently the coaching staff saw enough to declare he’ll get the start. What does he bring to the table? For one, the Longhorns should have a much easier time throwing the ball downfield to burners such as Kendall Sanders and Mike Davis (if he’s available). Getting that advantage back is key. Less than two weeks have passed since Ash’s concussion, so it’s imperative that his offensive line keeps him clean on Saturday.
Going all four: Brown pointed out this week that Texas has taken KSU to the fourth quarter in each of their past two matchups. They haven’t finished. These 2013 Wildcats aren’t exactly world-beaters. North Dakota State laid out the blueprint in the season opener: A physical offense that can sustain long drives and run the ball well can wear out KSU. The Longhorns can’t tighten up and make a late mistake or they’ll watch this one slip away.
Running wild: Kansas State’s game plan should be nice and simple this week: Texas has given up 926 rushing yards through three games. To put that in perspective: The Longhorns’ 2009 defense allowed 1,013 rushing yards the entire season. The Wildcats would be wise to ride John Hubert and Daniel Sams and make Texas prove that defense has improved. If defensive coordinator Greg Robinson can’t make effective adjustments, it’s going to be a long night.
No time for turnovers: Texas’ offense has turned the ball over one time in the past two weeks. Usually that’s a recipe for success, but turnovers didn’t end up being a factor in the BYU and Ole Miss losses. They sure haven’t helped in Texas’ recent history against the Wildcats, who have forced 16 turnovers in their past five meetings. Give the ball away a few times and KSU can put this game away swiftly.
Point of pride: With only three games having been played, it feels strange to call this a “saving the season” kind of game. Yeah, there’s a lot of time left. But after being a national laughingstock for two weeks, after all the ridicule and bad feelings, at what point does it boil over and become anger? When will these Longhorns take ownership of this season and make turning the year around a matter of pride? If Brown’s players can’t get up for this game, who knows.