The Wildcats, who haven't lost to the Longhorns since 2003, used a trio of short drives to overcome a massive yardage disadvantage. Two of those drives went for 37 yards or fewer, and were created by David Ash interceptions.
"We had our chances to win, and I guess that's why it's called football," said senior center David Snow, after the loss on Senior Night. "You're not guaranteed to win."
The Longhorns appeared to want to establish Ash early on, with the Texas quarterback completing passes of six and three yards on the game's first two plays. When running back Malcolm Brown — back from injury — barreled ahead for a first down, it appeared to be business as usual. But Ash completed just five-of-14 passes for 32 yards the rest of the way, and was eventually replaced by Case McCoy.
But before he was replaced, he threw passes that led to 10 Wildcat points. The first of those came in the first quarter, when his throw was tipped and intercepted by Kansas State linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, who returned the ball to the Texas 16. The Wildcats took seven plays and a fourth down conversion to move the ball just 13 yards, and when the defense held, Anthony Cantele booted a 20-yard field goal.
Justin Tucker tied the score about 12 minutes later, when the Longhorns were able to use special teams to create their own short field. Tucker's punt was downed by Mykkele Thompson at the Kansas State one. After three downs yielded just three yards, Quandre Diggs returned Ryan Doerr's punt to the Kansas State 38. Texas failed to get a first-down, and Tucker, rewarded for his original punt, kicked a 48-yarder.
But while special teams created those three points for the Longhorns, they helped the Wildcats find the end zone shortly before halftime. When the Wildcats muffed a Tucker punt, and the Longhorns recovered the loose ball, it appeared to give Texas the ball inside the Wildcat 40. Instead, Texas was flagged for kick-catch interference, a call that incensed the Longhorn crowd so badly that they were still booing it quarters later.
It almost didn't matter, but Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein hit Sheldon Smith on a 24-yard pass along the sideline, negating a third-and-14 for the Wildcats. On Kansas State's next third down, Klein rifled a perfect throw to the back shoulder of receiver Chris Harper for a 16-yard touchdown and a 10-3 lead just nine seconds before halftime.
"They know what they are doing," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "And whenever you are out of position for one play, they are going to exploit it."
Ash's second pick happened on the Longhorns' first drive of the second half, when, throwing off his back foot, he appeared to be trying to throw the ball away. Instead, he hit safety Ty Zimmerman, who returned it 23 yards to the Texas 37.
After a pass interference call gave the Wildcats new life on a third-down pass play, Kansas State again found its way to third down, this time from the Texas three. Klein accounted for his second touchdown of the game, plowing in over left tackle for a 17-3 advantage.
"Tremendous," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of the two interceptions. "They made a big difference."
That meant that Ash was replaced in the third quarter for the second consecutive week, though this time, McCoy supplied some positive energy. Taking the very next drive, McCoy converted a third-and-five on a 10-yard pass to Mike Davis, then rolled out and lobbed to tight end Blaine Irby for a 36-yard score.
On the next drive, which carried into the fourth quarter, McCoy led Texas into Wildcat territory, only to see Brown lose a yard on a rush over right tackle on third-and-four. The Longhorns punted. The next time Texas had the ball, McCoy brought the Longhorns even further, leading a nine-play, 78-yard drive that stalled when McCoy just missed tight end D.J. Grant for a touchdown from the nine. Tucker kicked his second field goal, this one from 26.
McCoy wound up with two more chances. But the first drive was killed when he was sacked for a five-yard loss on fourth down by Adam Davis. And the second drive, which had an unbelievable scoring chance when receiver Mike Davis beat cornerback Nigel Malone deep, also ended without a score. McCoy missed Davis on a second down play, then threw incomplete on a fourth-and-10 from the 50 as time expired.
"I thought when (McCoy) came in, he provided the spark that we needed," said Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "On offense, it's always one or two things here and there. Those guys were scratching and clawing at the end."
For the second consecutive week, that wasn't quite enough. Texas saw the return of its two injured backs in Brown and Joe Bergeron, who carried the ball 20 times for 73 yards between them. But the leading rusher on both sides was Cody Johnson, who used a 55-yard burst out of the Wild formation to finish with 61 on four carries.
Ash finished 7-of-16 for 39 yards and two interceptions. McCoy only completed one more pass at 8-for-16, but he threw for 80 yards and a touchdown while not turning the ball over. And as a team, the Longhorns out-gained the Wildcats 310 yards to 121.
That was made possible by a swarming Manny Diaz defense that held the vaunted Kansas State rushing attack to 38 yards on 39 carries. Klein, who nonetheless accounted for two touchdowns, was sacked five times and finished with 87 total yards, including four rushing yards on 26 carries.
"I thought they were terrific," Diaz said of his defense. "We feel like they have been getting better week-in, week-out."
That would seem to be indisputable. But the Longhorns weren't able to capitalize, thanks to those three big plays, and more specifically, the three short scoring drives they created.
"Give Kansas State credit," Brown said. "They didn't make any mistakes. And we didn't force any of theirs. Our defense played great. Our offense was sporadic. But we had a chance."
The loss likely sealed the Cotton Bowl for the Wildcats (9-2, 6-2 Big 12), who have an outside shot at a BCS berth. The Longhorns (6-4, 3-4), who entered knowing that they could find a spot in Dallas by winning out, were likely catapulted down a few bowl notches. Texas now has a short week to prepare for Texas A&M, in College Station, on Thanksgiving night.
KANSAS STATE — Anthony Cantele 20 FG, 7:10 1Q
TEXAS — Justin Tucker 48 FG, 10:12 2Q
KANSAS STATE — Chris Harper 16 pass from Collin Klein (Cantele kick), 0:09 2Q
KANSAS STATE — Klein 3 run (Cantele kick), 6:59 3Q
TEXAS — Blaine Irby 36 pass from Case McCoy (Tucker kick), 3:43 3Q
TEXAS — Tucker 26 FG, 4:27 4Q