Thomas is one of the top all-purpose threats in the conference. He's second in rushing and has 120 receiving yards despite being shadowed wherever he goes. Oh, and then the former JUCO quarterback will line up as the signal caller in the Wildcat formation, where he isn't afraid to throw the ball. All those different looks make it tough to keep track of the 6-foot-2, 228-pound senior. But his primary strength is getting yardage after contact. He's strong and slippery enough to wind his way through tackles, and he's exceptional at pushing and falling forward for more positive yards. That means the onus will be on Acho, who is still recovering from an injury, and Robinson to wrap up and push backwards. Slow down Thomas, and you'll likely stop the Wildcats.
Harper is one of the tougher receiver matchups in the league on a play-by-play basis. He's 6-1 234 and has deceptive speed and quickness. If he can get his body between the defensive back and the quarterback, he's going to make the catch. That represents a difficult matchup for a Texas defensive back group playing without its best player in cornerback Aaron Williams, who is out with a concussion. K-State will run a lot of quick routes like bubble screens to get quarterback Carson Coffman on track, then use double moves to take shots down field. Thomas is a difficult guard for anybody, but Brown has struggled at times this year and will now be called on in a major way. Also be wary of slick slot receiver Tramaine Thompson, who will likely wind up against both Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips.
Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert vs. the Kansas State linebackers
The Wildcats have struggled with mobile quarterbacks this year, and while Gilbert isn't exactly Taylor Martinez, he has shown an ability to hurt defenses with his feet, rushing for 71 yards against Nebraska and 79 yards against Baylor. His running ability should open up the middle of the field a bit for receivers like John Chiles, who have favorable matchups. The Wildcat linebackers are assignment-sound players, but aren't necessarily the most athletic group on the football field. If Gilbert can get them isolated in run/pass option situations, it will be to Texas's benefit.
The Texas offensive line vs. the Kansas State defensive line
Kansas State is the worst rushing defense in the conference, and has allowed every opponent but one this season to average four yards per carry or more. That's good news for the Longhorns, who would like to establish the running game on the road. Texas's group will be without guard Michael Huey, who is out for the rest of the regular season. So it's time for true freshman Trey Hopkins to show his potential against a defensive tackle group that hasn't exactly been stellar against the run. Overall, the Wildcats allow nearly 229 rushing yards per game. If Texas hits 200, the Longhorns have to feel good about leaving Manhattan with a victory.
Kansas State special teams vs. the Texas special teams
This is the first time we've listed a whole unit as a matchup, but for good reason. The Wildcats are exceptional on special teams, particularly on kickoff returns, where William Powell is averaging 33.2 yards per run back. The Longhorns, on the other hand, have struggled on kickoff returns and pretty much everywhere, only occasionally getting great production from the punting game and only really showing consistency with their field goal units. That's a problem, as is the fact that whomever fields the punts against Kansas State, be it Kenny Vaccaro or Adrian Phillips, will be catching punts for the first time this year ,and doing it in a windy environment that isn't friendly for punt returners.
The Longhorns have shot themselves in the foot so many times this year that it has been difficult to keep track of the different ways. There have been huge penalties, devastating turnovers and dropped passes on third downs. The Wildcats, meanwhile, are exceptionally coached and are frustrating to play in that they seldom make mistakes of their own and often wait for another team's errors to pounce. Also, keep an eye on what happens in the red zone. The Longhorns have the worst touchdown-to-field goal ratio in the league once they enter the red zone, while the Wildcats have the league's best ratio.
This has been an impossible Texas team to gauge, one that upset Nebraska after it seemed like the Longhorns just weren't that good, and one that dropped games to UCLA and Iowa State after coming off seemingly momentum-changing wins. But the Longhorns right now are a desperate animal, and they've shown an ability to feed off the crowds on the road, defeating both Texas Tech in Lubbock and Nebraska in Lincoln. Those road wins give this team the road warrior experience needed to come out of Manhattan with a win.
Kansas State 14