- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
Five storylines for Texas as it goes on the road at Kansas:
1. Wrapping up
Texas gave up 50 points and 607 yards to Baylor and was better on defense. No, really. The Longhorns only missed 6 tackles against Baylor. That's an improvement after missing 16 against Oklahoma and averaging 11.7 missed tackles per game thought the first six games.
The numbers might get better against Kansas. Although the Jayhawks do have the elusive James Sims at running back, they do not spread the field like Texas’ last four opponents have. That should allow Texas to have more one-on-one coverage on the outside without deep safety help over the top.
That means Texas can inch those safeties up closer to the box in order to close down some of the gaps that have been exposed on the Longhorns' defense. Plus, Texas should have the overall team speed advantage to close any of those gaps that do open up.
"Everybody knows what exactly they're going to do -- they're going to run it," Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "So we've got to get it fixed. Everything has got to click."
A week after Vaccaro and Alex Okafor called the defense out and in the process caused some splintering, the players on defense, at least according to the coach on that side of the ball, have come together.
"The best thing is that we stuck together," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. "We asked the defense to play hard for each other and to be more aggressive."
Texas did that at times against Baylor. The Bears, with one of the most prolific offenses in the country, were held to 12 points -- a touchdown and 2field goals -- through two quarters. That allowed Texas' offense to grab a lead it would not give up.
"What we showed in that time frame is we can do some good things now it comes down to fixing the inconsistencies," Diaz said.
And that is where Kansas comes into play. The Jayhawks are a team that should allow Texas to have its most consistent defensive performance since New Mexico. Kansas is one-dimensional on offense and has a hard time taking care of the ball -- it is 117th nationally in turnover ratio. What that means is Texas' defenders should be able to make plays without running through all the analytics of that play while they are making it. That type of freedom from thinking should free up Texas' athletes. And that, in turn, should allow those athletes to gain more confidence, which not so coincidentally breeds confidence in those around them. In other words, more togetherness.
3. Getting outside
Texas co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin admitted his offense had become somewhat predictable before the Baylor game. So the second-year assistant changed things up by inserting Daje Johnson at the start and getting outside the tackles on more runs. The move paid off with Johnson going for 84 yards and a touchdown on the first run from scrimmage. The idea was to get more speed and get that speed into space.
But really, though Harsin has not run consistently to the outside, the move to get outside those tackles has been paying off all year. Johnson and running back Malcolm Brown have averaged more than 11 yards per carry on runs designed to go outside the tackles. As a team Texas has averaged 98.3 yards per game on the 11.9 runs per game it has outside the tackles. Teas has run inside the tackles an average of 24.2 times per game and averaged 101.3 yards.
The numbers for yards per rush are even more staggering, with Texas getting 8.3 yards per rush outside the tackles and 4.1 inside the tackles. Not surprisingly, there have been 8 rushes for 20 yards or more outside the tackles and 2 inside the tackles.
Headed into the Kansas game, Harsin said Texas would be working to get more speed on the field at all times in order to stretch the opponent's defense.
4. Getting healthy
Mack Brown is no longer concerned about who is hurt.
"We need to quit talking about Jordan and planning on him," the Texas coach said of Jordan Hicks, his top linebacker. "If he plays, fine. Every week I’ve been thinking he was coming back and he hasn’t. So we need to move on from that."
Moving on from Hicks and his hip injury is not an issue this week. Kendall Thompson and Steve Edmond played their best games against Baylor. So the coaches have more faith in that linebacker spot. Demarco Cobbs still is unsure of where to go at all times, but against a team like Kansas his speed should help him overcome so mistakes.
Plus Texas was able to work freshman Peter Jinkens into the Baylor game and should be in apposition to get him even more playing time against Kansas. If Jinkens proves to be valuable and Thompson as well as Edmond continue their maturation, Texas may not need to worry so much about Hicks’ health as it move through the final third of the season.
5. Slow start
There is no escaping the memory of how the last 11 a.m. start went for Texas. And that was a game where the Longhorns should have been more than slightly enthused prior to the kick. Instead they were still hitting snooze.
Now Texas has to go on the road and play a team that has not beaten a BCS-AQ team in the last 17 games at 11 a.m.
"I don't know if 11:00 in the morning was the reason [for the loss to Oklahoma]," said Texas quarterback David Ash. "But if it was, we're going to have to try to wake ourselves up and get ready to go."
That hasn’t been an easy task for teams against Kansas at Kansas. Oklahoma State and TCU both struggled in the first half of games against Kansas before putting the Jayhawks away. Even on the road, Kansas hung with Kansas State for a half before folding.
Some of that can be attributed to the Jayhawks’ ability to start fast. But much of it also has to do with the fact that KU does not have the depth to keep players fresh throughout a game and eventually is worn down by the opponent.