If you’re looking for NCAA football’s Jekyll and Hyde team of 2015, look no further than the Texas Longhorns.
The team started the season by getting blown out by a then 11th ranked Notre Dame then lost two straight close games to Cal and Oklahoma State. Another blow out loss to TCU on the road led to many to believe Charlie Strong’s days as head coach were numbered.
But just before Strong’s hypothetical goose was cooked, an upset victory over the then ranked 10th Oklahoma Sooners had everyone thinking maybe Texas had righted the ship. The Longhorns followed that victory up with an easy win over Kansas State.
Now Texas is back where it started. After being shutout by Iowa State, the first time since 1961 an unranked opponent has done such a thing to a Longhorn team, Charlie Strong’s team now faces the Kansas Jayhawks, a team that could very well spell a quick end to the Charlie Strong era with a victory in Austin.
This Texas Longhorns team, statistically speaking, isn’t very impressive. In one of the most dangerous passing leagues in the nation, the Texas passing attack isn’t intimidating at all. In fact, the Jayhawks are averaging more passing yards per game (230 yards per game for KU vs 134 yards for Texas) and have more passing touchdowns on the year despite losing three starting quarterbacks and starting a number of inexperienced and unproven wide receivers. Starting quarterback Jerrod Heard is only averaging 104 passing yards per game.
Where Heard, and the entire Longhorns offense, struggles in the passing game they make up for in the rushing game. The Longhorns run multiple backs, but QB Heard is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 62.8 yards rushing per game and leads the Longhorns in rushing yards and touchdowns. Behind him is starting running back Johnathan Gray who has 3 touchdowns on 411 yards rushing this year. The two have helped lead the way to Texas’ 195.4 yards rushing per game.
Even with nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, the Jayhawks are ranked ahead of the Longhorns in the Big 12 in total offense giving the Jayhawks a rare advantage going into Saturday’s game.
Defensively the Longhorns aren’t much better. They’ve been allowing 435 yards per game, but only 248 of those yards have come through the air, good for 5th best in the pass heavy Big 12. Opponents are averaging 30 points per game and have thrown for 19 touchdowns while rushing for 11 more. The Longhorns defense has failed to keep a single opponent under 20 points so far this season and have let five opponents score more than 30 points.
5 Players To Know
No. 13: QB Jerrod Heard (6’2, 195, R-Fr.)
Though the Jayhawks defense won’t have to worry about Heard’s arm too much, they will have to be wary of his mobility. Heard has more rushing attempts than starting RB Johnathan Gray and is leading the team in yards rushing. When he does decide to throw he is fairly accurate, completing 60% of his 111 attempts. His few attempts allow him to keep turnovers to a minimum as he’s only thrown 3 interceptions so far this season.
No. 32: RB Johnathan Gray (5’10, 211, Sr.)
If it’s not Heard’s name being called for the run, it’ll be Johnathan Gray’s. Gray is the starting running back and is averaging 4 yards per carry so far this season. He only has 3 rushing touchdowns on the year, but he’s very capable of shedding would be tacklers and breaking out for big gains. The Kansas defense has not been very good at stopping the run game, letting opponents average 247 yards on the ground per game, so it’ll be very important to step up this week and stop a Longhorn’s team that relies on the run.
No. 14: S Dylan Haines (6’1, 193, Jr.)
Haines is the do everything man on the Texas defense. The All-Big 12 honorable mention defensive back leads the team in interceptions with 3 on the year while also collecting a sack, 3 pass breakups, and 32 total tackles. He’s a disruptive force that likes get in the way of opposing offenses in any way that he can. Kansas QB Ryan Willis will have to make sure to protect his passes if he wishes to avoid adding to Haines’ stats.
No. 19: LB Peter Jinkens (6’0, 230, Sr.)
Peter Jinkens is making the most of his first opportunity to start for the Longhorns defense. The senior out of Dallas Texas has played in every game his four years at Texas, but this is his first year as a starter. To make up for lost time he is leading the team in total tackles with 61, while adding 4 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss.
No. 4: ATH Daje Johnson (5’9, 184, Sr.)
If Haines is the defensive do-it-all man, then Daje Johnson is the offesnive do-it-all man. Johnson is averaging 106 all-purpose yards per game, making his name on both the receiving end and the special teams end. While the Longhorns don’t throw the ball often, it’s usually thrown to Johnson when they do. He leads the team in yards receiving, receptions, and yards receiving per game. He has failed to score an offensive touchdown thus far though. He does, however, have a punt return for a touchdown and is averaging 23 yards per kick return.
Wave The Wheat If…
Kansas wins, or at least comes within 3 points. Sounds simple enough, right? If there were ever a time for KU to catch Texas off guard, now is the time. This is the most a Longhorn team has struggled in a long time and after being blanked by Iowa State, fans can’t be too enthusiastic about the team. Even the Texas Rangers are unhappy with the team and head coach Charlie Strong.
KU doesn’t often get favorable match ups on Saturdays, but this is quite possibly the best they’ve matched up with a team since South Dakota State came into town. Texas is still Texas and will always be dangerous on tradition alone. But if Ryan Willis and the Jayhawks perform like they did against Texas Tech, a rare road win isn’t out of the question whatsoever.
Plough The Field If…
Kansas gets blown out. It’s one thing to get blown out by the top offenses in the country, it’s another to get blown out by a team averaging 134 passing yards per game. Losing by a big margin to a spiraling Texas team would put a huge dent in all the progress that Coach Beaty and company has made with this team. While Kansas certainly has nothing to lose with this game, it would still leave a bad taste in the mouth of Jayhawk fans if Kansas doesn’t put enough points on the board to remain competitive.
If Kansas was ever to win a game, on the road, against a Big 12 opponent named the Texas Longhorns, this would be the year to do it. Until the Jayhawks pick up that win on the road it’s hard to pick them as the winner, but I think KU has a real shot at avoiding a winless record against a team that at times looks worse on the field than they do.