#1 … ANGER, HUNGER, DESPERATION
Super Bowl winning coach Bill Parcells said, "The most desperate team usually wins."
Texas dominated then-Top 10 Oklahoma with a focus and desperation born out of humiliation, following a 50-7 loss at TCU. That loss had the college football world wondering if Charlie Strong was about to get fired.
Well, expect Kansas State to play with that same focus and desperation after being blown out by the Sooners 55-0 last weekend in Manhattan. The wipeout ended a 234-game scoring streak by the Wildcats dating to 1991 and caused coach Bill Snyder to write a letter to K-State faithful apologizing for the embarrassment.
So which team will be more desperate inside DKR Saturday at 11 am CT?
QB Jerrod Heard said this week the Longhorns are still angry and focused, because UT's a 2-4 team that has already let a couple victories get away.
“Every day I look at that 2-4 record, and it makes me mad,” Heard said. “We’re still a 2-4 team and still hungry. … We still have that anger, too, so it should be a good fight.”
#2 … DON’T LET BILL SNYDER GO BERNARD HOPKINS
Can Texas run the ball 58 times for 313 yards against Kansas State the way the Horns did against Oklahoma?
No one sells out to stop the run like K-State, which will put 8 and 9 defenders in the box, leaving the Wildcats in “zero coverage” (no safeties deep), playing nothing but man on the outside.
UT may not NEED to run it 58 times to get the win Saturday.
Let me explain.
The Longhorns absolutely have to come out and establish the run – most likely in the two-back set out of the shotgun with an offset TE/H-back and the speed sweep motion UT used so well vs OU.
Because Wildcats’ DC Tom Hayes will already be anticipating that - Texas will need to add wrinkles.
The Horns will probably add the handoff on the speed sweep – something they didn’t do vs OU (Marcus Johnson caught a flip on the speed sweep that counted as a 24-yard TD pass/reception).
Texas hasn’t shown much play-action pass out of the two-back set, something that can certainly be added vs KSU.
And offensive play caller Jay Norvell hasn’t dialed up many designed rollouts, sprint-outs or bootlegs, which give an elite, running QB like Jerrod Heard more run-pass options. And with the way UT’s receivers are blocking downfield (see Lorenzo Joe), those plays can be explosive.
If Texas establishes the run or at least the threat of play-action, there are plays to be had against K-State.
The Wildcats have the Big 12’s second-worst pass defense, giving up 298.2 ypg through the air. (Only Kansas is worse – 309.2 ypg.)
Norvell said the offense spent the bye week working on converting third downs, pass protection, route running and becoming more consistent in the pocket.
“Jerrod (Heard) really needs to improve in these last six games,” Norvell said. “We have a young quarterback, and we need to train him.”
The offense will have RT Kent Perkins and WR Daje Johnson back. The O-line needs to play with the fire it showed vs OU. Receivers need to catch the ball and block like Joe. And, as Heard said this week, guys need to play loose and relaxed.
No surprise, K-State once again leads the Big 12 in time of possession (32:38 pg) and fewest penalties (47.3 ypg).
Under Snyder, KSU has made a living by shortening games, taking away what opponents do best and frustrating them into mistakes. Snyder does it the same way legendary boxer Bernard Hopkins has been able to keep climbing in the ring for title shots at age 50 - getting opponents out of their game plan and fighting his fight instead.
The Texas offense, which is last in the B12 in time of possession (25:45 pg) needs to stick to its plan of run-first, play-action deep – no matter what.
If the Horns are suddenly passing it more than they throw it, KSU will be in full Bernard Hopkins mode.
And once K-State gets you off-script offensively (and defensively), you’re in the ring with Hopkins feeling like you're doing expert level Sudoku with time running out and taking punch after punch.
The frustration sets in, then the mistakes, then you're will disappears and you've lost.
#3 … DON’T GET TURNOVER MARGINALIZED
Based on everything I just told you, the importance of winning the turnover battle is premium against K-State – moreso than any other Big 12 opponent.
Because KSU holds the ball, forcing opponents to often try to do more than it should or get out of its personality, every lost turnover feels like oxygen being cut off.
And the Wildcats have dominated the turnover battle against Texas in winning six of their last seven meetings.
In those six KSU wins (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008), the Wildcats won the turnover battle in every one and were +14 combined.
In Texas’ only win in that stretch – a 31-21 win in 2013 – the Horns won the turnover battle 3-0.
#4 … STAY ON THE FIELD … GET OFF THE FIELD
In other words, win on third down offensively … and … defensively.
On offense, Texas is dead last in the Big 12 in third-down conversions (35.3 percent).
To provide some perspective, the Big 12 leaders are – TCU (55.8 percent) … Texas Tech (52.8) … and … Baylor (50.7).
Jerrod Heard converted the biggest third-down of the season on the final drive of the OU game, running for 14 yards on third-and-10. That helped allow Texas to run out the clock in a one-possession game. Huge.
But the Horns don’t want games coming down to having to convert a third-and-10 every week to eek out a victory.
On defense, Texas is dead last in the Big 12 in getting off the field on third down. Opponents are converting on third down 49.4 percent of the time.
Top defenses want that number right at 33 percent.
WVU (28.2 percent), Oklahoma State (32 percent) and TCU (33 percent) are all meeting that standard in the Big 12.
The Texas D did its best job on third down against OU, limiting the Sooners to 3 of 12 conversions (25 percent).
To start the season, UT’s D was timid, almost scared of giving up the play on third down. And it showed.
As the young players on defense mature and their confidence increases, you’ll see them learn to love third down – the money down. We may already be seeing it based on the OU game.
#5 … PUNCH BACK!
Texas needs to move past being the team that HAS to have something good happen early, so its collective psyche doesn’t come apart like a wet Kleenex.
If there’s a fumble of a wet ball early on Saturday or – heaven forbid – yet another special teams snafu, the Longhorns need to be at a point now confidence-wise where they can shake it off.
No one punishes your mistakes like K-State with their suck-the-life-out-of-you QB running game and all-out efforts on defense to stop the run.
If Texas falls behind early 10-0 or even 14-0, don’t think, “Here we go again.”
Bow up. Know you have the better talent. Stay together. Increase your intensity and focus without rushing. And maintain your edge. If you get punched, punch back harder – and never stop punching.
Even Bernard Hopkins has been knocked down.