AUSTIN, Texas — Perhaps the Texas defense became weary hearing about all its shortcomings to start the season, because on Saturday night, the Longhorns were anything but mediocre.
The Longhorns recovered two fumbles — three overall — and squashed a pair of K-State threats inside the Texas 20-yard line, all in the final three minutes to seal a 31-21 victory at Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium.
Texas — gashed for 882 rushing yards the last two games — looked like a team with something to prove Saturday, clamping down on the Wildcats’ run game — including quarterback Daniel Sams — to win its first game against K-State in 10 years.
“Execution was not good, we got penalized, had the turnovers,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “You can’t beat good football teams turning the ball over and getting penalties. It’s that simple.”
Trailing 17-7 at halftime, the Wildcats went to the air almost exclusively in the second half, as quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett hooked up six times for 122 yards in the third and fourth quarters alone. It almost worked, as Lockett finished with 13 catches for a career-high 237 yards, which also set the school record for receiving yardage in a single-game.
Down 10 with less than five minutes to play, Waters found Lockett for a 52-yard pass to set up a first-and-10 at the Texas 11. But three plays later, Waters coughed the ball up on his way into the end zone.
The Wildcats had another chance when they forced a Texas punt and then benefited from three blocks in the back that weren’t flagged, allowing Tramaine Thompson to return the kick 40 yards to the Texas 11 with 1:26 remaining. Waters threw an incomplete pass on first down, followed by a false start called on Thompson. It only got worse, too, as Waters was then sacked on second and third down, fumbling the ball on the second one to essentially end the game.
“We made some mistakes down the line — I made one,” Thompson said. “We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to win.”
“We made a run there at the end, but we ran out of time,” K-State safety Ty Zimmerman said.
K-State was held to 390 yards of total offense — 275 passing and 115 rushing — as neither quarterback could really get the Wildcats’ offense going much of the night. Waters got the first shot for the fourth straight game, but was quickly replaced on the second series of the game in favor of the more run-inclined Sams.
Sams, perhaps looking for a sequel to the BYU quarterback’s 259-yard rushing performance against the Horns, darted out of the backfield for a 23-yard gain on his first carry. But he finished with 48 yards on the night — averaging just 3.6 yards per carry on his next seven touches.
Waters, meanwhile, was about as ineffective as Sams in the first half. The junior finished 19-of-30 passing for 275 yards, but unfortunately for K-State, the majority of his production came as the Wildcats were trying to get back into the game. Sacked four times, Waters scored the Wildcats’ final touchdown of the night — a 1-yard keeper with seven minutes to play to make it 31-21.
“They both deserve to play,” Snyder said of this two QBs. “They made a lot of mistakes at their position tonight. We didn’t coach this game very well. We need to do a better job utilizing them to their full capacity — but both are going to play.”
Everything the Longhorns’ defense did right, the Wildcats seemed to do wrong. Texas racked up 227 yards on the ground, led by Johnathan Gray’s 141 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. It was the most rushing yards K-State has surrendered all season.
The Longhorns were an equal-opportunity offense on this night, though, as Texas also ripped the Wildcats through the air for another 225 yards — including a long 63-yard touchdown pass from David Ash to Kendall Sanders to put the Horns up 10-0 in the first quarter. Ash finished 14-of-25 passing for 166 yards before leaving the game at halftime because of an apparent head injury. He was replaced by Case McCoy, who was 5-of-9 passing for 59 yards in the second half, as Texas relied more on Gray to keep the Wildcats at bay.
Texas — which had 452 yards of total offense — led 17-7 at halftime after Gray scored untouched on a 21-yard rush with 3:02 to play in the second quarter. Gray added a 15-yard touchdown with 9:29 to play in the third quarter to give the Horns a 24-7 lead.
“You give up big plays, you’re going to lose the ballgame,” Snyder said. “You turn the ball over, you’re going to lose the ballgame. You get penalized too much, you’re going to lose.
“We didn’t defend the run consistently and they didn’t do anything that we didn’t prepare for… We couldn’t contain the ball very well and that’s on us.”
K-State finally got on the scoreboard with 1:01 to play in the first half on a 15-yard touchdown run by running back John Hubert. The senior capped a four-play, 82-yard drive that was highlighted by a 47-yard bomb from Waters to Lockett.
The first time the Wildcats made it a 10-point game came on Hubert’s second touchdown of the night when they punched it in from 4 yards out with 13:22 to play in the game. Hubert, who also had a costly fumble on an option pitch during the Wildcats’ first possession of the second half, finished with 41 yards on 12 carries.
Malcolm Brown answered Hubert on the Longhorns’ next possession, finishing another long Texas drive with a 1-yard rush to extend the Texas lead to 31-14 with 9:11 remaining.
The Wildcats will try to get things fixed during a bye week before returning to action on Oct. 5 at Oklahoma State.
“It’s a tough one,” Zimmerman said. “The Lord has blessed us with a lot of wins the last couple of years. We really haven’t had this feeling a lot. You kind of forget what it feels like until it happens.”