It wasn't supposed to be so close. With 6:37 remaining in the third quarter, Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps stepped up to the line with his Jayhawks trailing by just a score at 14-6. Kansas had scored six straight, and the Jayhawks had the ball past midfield, looking to cut further into that advantage.
And then, for the second time in three weeks, Longhorn senior defensive tackle Chris Whaley executed a huge momentum swing. Heaps tried to dance away from pressure, but was sacked and stripped by defensive end Cedric Reed. Whaley scooped the ball up and showcased his former running back skill set, running it back for a 40-yard score and essentially ending any thoughts the Jayhawks had of an upset.
"It was great. Cedric Reed and Jackson Jeffcoat got up to the quarterback and one of them made the ball get loose, and I was fortunate to be around it so the ball popped up into my hands," Whaley said. "I just saw the way the guys rallied around and how everybody walked up with a lot of momentum."
Whaley's touchdown return not only made the score 21-6 and gave the Longhorns breathing room, but it started a 21-0 run that put the game away until the Jayhawks added a touchdown late with the game put away.
"Next time he gets a long touchdown, I'm going to strip him and take the ball away from him. I'm tired of him scoring touchdowns," joked junior cornerback Quandre Diggs. "No, but on a serious note, we love it. He's one of the guys that gets the energy going for us; he's our vocal leader on defense."
Up to that point, the game had played out in a similar fashion to last year's contest, which saw the Longhorns have to come from behind late to sneak out a win in Lawrence. Texas repeatedly ran the ball into the teeth of the Jayhawk defense, and more often than not, the Longhorns were beaten back. At the same time, the Jayhawks struggled to move the ball, with the defense holding Kansas without a touchdown until late in the game.
It appeared that Kansas might get the first score of the contest. Case McCoy threw an interception to Kansas safety Isaiah Johnson on his second attempt of the game, and Jayhawk running back James Sims went to work, catching screen passes for 15 and 21 yards, then breaking a 15-yard run within Kansas's first four plays. But the Jayhawks have struggled with mistakes all year, and a false start penalty and a missed connection on third down left Kansas kicker Matthew Wyman with a 31-yard field goal attempt, which he shanked wide right.
Texas then built a 14-0 lead on two of running back Malcolm Brown's four touchdown runs and appeared to be in control before the Jayhawks struck just before half. Facing a third-and-14 from the 47, Heaps threw a pass up for wide receiver Rodriguez Coleman, who pulled in a 43-yard catch to the Texas four with four seconds left in the half. One spike later and Ron Doherty, in for Wyman, kicked a 21-yarder as time expired in the half.
Coleman also helped set up the Jayhawks' next score. Heaps connected with Coleman on a 42-yard post route, then receiver Christian Matthews drew a pass interference call on the next play. The Kansas drive sputtered at the 10, but Doherty hit a 27-yard field goal to cut it to a one-score game.
That set up Whaley's big play later in the quarter. After the not-so-fat-guy touchdown, the Texas defense earned a quick three-and-out. Then it was the Longhorns' turn for a big pass play. On a third-and-3 from the 50, McCoy hit Marcus Johnson for 31 yards and a first down to the 19. Six plays later, Brown rushed over left guard for his third score.
Brown added his fourth, and final, touchdown in the fourth quarter, breaking for a 24-yard run to start the drive and a 30-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-1 to close out the Longhorns' scoring. Brown rushed for 119 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries, meaning that he's scored six touchdowns in the past two weeks.
"We want to run tough every week, and I think that offensive line did a great job and made it a whole lot easier on me," Brown said. "I know we just wanted to grind those yards out, and that is what we came out and did.
"Yeah, I guess so, I do," Brown added about whether he's looking for contact when he runs. "That's the type of runner I want to be, and these coaches, they want guys that are tough, like the contact, and are not backing away from it. That is something I have taken pride in this past year being a short-yardage guy and a goal-line guy. So I guess I was seeking it a little bit."
Texas finished the game with 221 rushing yards on 44 carries, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and the Longhorns once again went over 400 yards in total offense, gaining 418 yards as a team to 306 yards for the Jayhawks.
Kansas (2-6, 0-5 in Big 12 play) added a touchdown on its next drive, but the damage was done — Texas took a tight game at 14-6 and turned it into a romp that allowed the Longhorns to get a drive for freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who rushed for an 18-yard gain among his two carries.
"It was a great game. It's a 'W,'" Coach Brown said. "We've won five straight. We're 5-0 in the league. We're leading the league. The objective was to get a 'W.' When you can win and have a lot of things to fix, I think it's wonderful. [It was] better than last year's Kansas game, too."
The game marked the first time the Longhorns played at home in more than a month … the last time Texas played at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was the 'Horns victory over Kansas State in late September. That win broke up a two-game losing streak and left Texas 1-0 in Big 12 play.
Now Texas (6-2) is bowl eligible, winners of five straight to start the conference season. The Longhorns head back on the road this next week to take on West Virginia before returning home for a key stretch against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
TEXAS — Malcolm Brown 2 run (Anthony Fera kick), 14:19 2Q
TEXAS — Brown 3 run (Fera kick), 2:31 2Q
Kansas — Ron Doherty 21 FG, 0:00 2Q
Kansas — Doherty 27 FG, 12:48 3Q
TEXAS — Chris Whaley 40 fumble return (Fera kick), 6:25 3Q
TEXAS — Brown 1 run (Fera kick), 0:45 3Q
TEXAS — Brown 30 run (Fera kick), 9:07 4Q
Kansas — Montell Cozart 20 run (Doherty kick), 3:39 4Q