This was just what Mack Brown needed.
With his starting quarterback out of the game due to a head injury and the pressure on to beat Kansas State for the first time since 2003, his Longhorns (2-2) came through with a much-improved defensive effort and a solid running game to defeat the Wildcats, 31-21.
“The defense played much better. We’re 1-0 in the Big 12 and moving forward,” Brown said afterward.
The previous two games saw the Texas defense allow a combined 822 yards on the ground, but the Wildcats (2-2) were held to just 124 yards on Saturday night. The Longhorns ran for a combined 256 yards and averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in those games, but they rushed for 226 yards and 5.3 yards per carry against K-State.
In other words, Texas seems to have fixed what had been ailing it the most. At least for now.
The game certainly didn’t end up like Texas thought it would. Up 17-7, the Longhorns looked like they might roll, but they lost starting quarterback David Ash to a head injury at half time. Case McCoy came on in relief of Ash and Texas decided to play things close to the vest. McCoy attempted just nine passes so the Longhorns fed the ball to sophomore running back Johnathan Gray, who rumbled for a career-high 141 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
Texas held a 31-14 lead with nine minutes to play, but Kansas State came storming back. A Jake Waters one-yard touchdown dive put the Wildcats to within 10 with seven minutes to go. Then Waters again drove K-State inside the Texas seven-yard line, this time with two minutes left. However, Waters fumbled the ball away on a keeper and the Longhorns recovered. K-State penetrated as deep as the Texas 11-yard line in the closing moments thanks to a 40-yard punt return by Tramaine Thompson, but Waters fumbled again to seal the game for Texas.
It wasn’t a particularly pretty win, but it snaps a five-game losing streak by Texas to K-State and keeps the Longhorns alive in their quest for a Big 12 title. Plus, it gives Brown a brief reprieve from the torrent of criticism coming his way.
The bright side for Kansas State was the play of Waters. The junior college transfer had his best game of the season, completing 19 of 30 passes for 275 yards, while also rushing for 26 yards and a score. If he can cut down on his turnovers, he has a chance to develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. It doesn’t get any easier for the Wildcats defense, which must face Oklahoma State and Baylor in its next two outings.