Jayhawks will try to give Longhorns another run for their money
AUSTIN, Texas — For the Texas Longhorns, nothing stings like losing to Oklahoma. And last Saturday carried with it the double whammy that the No. 15 Longhorns likely have no shot at the College Football Playoff.
Winning the program's first Big 12 title since 2009 is still possible.
Texas players said this week it's time to focus on that goal. The next step to getting there is Saturday night against Kansas (2-4, 0-3), which got off to a good start but has lost three in a row under new coach Les Miles.
Texas (4-2, 2-1) remains a favorite to get to the league championship game, where they could face Oklahoma again. Last season, Texas beat the Sooners in the regular season before Oklahoma won the rematch to win the league title.
"I just want to make sure we are there," senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay said this week. "Whoever we play, it doesn't matter."
Kansas doesn't win a lot, but the Jayhawks have been no pushover for the Longhorns in recent years. A loss to Kansas in 2016 cost former coach Charlie Strong his job, and the Longhorns barely escaped Lawrence with a 24-17 win last year, when the Jayhawks scored all their points in the fourth quarter.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger insisted there would be no hangover of lingering disappointment from the loss to Oklahoma.
"That emotion doesn't help us win the next week," Ehlinger said, "so why would I carry that on?"
Kansas brings one big weapon and an element of surprise. Running back Pooka Williams is one of the toughest rushers in the Big 12. And the Texas defense must deal with the unknown of facing new Kansas offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon, who was promoted by Miles last week after Les Koenning was fired.
Dearmon spent last season as head coach at NAIA program Bethel University and was on the Kansas staff as a senior offensive analyst. He'll take over a unit that ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring and near the bottom nationally in most offensive categories.
"He's just got a really fresh approach." Miles said. "I felt like there needed to be a change. ... I think it's going to work out very well."
Texas surrendered a school-record nine sacks last week as the offensive line and running backs struggled to protect Ehlinger from linebacker stunts and blitzes. Other teams will likely try to copy the Sooners' game plan. Kansas linebacker Azur Kamara is the Jayhawks' sacks leader with 3.5.
Williams is undersized at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, but is a tough runner. He ran for 137 yards against Oklahoma two weeks ago. Texas has allowed 100-yard rushers twice this season. Two Oklahoma players went over 100 against the Longhorns last week.
CLEANING UP SPECIAL TEAMS
Special teams have been a special kind of problem for the Longhorns. Two fumbled punts nearly gave away the Oklahoma State game, and the problems continued against Oklahoma with botched returns on punts and kickoffs. Duvernay dropped a fair catch on a kickoff and later stopped a kick from rolling out of bounds. Both set up Texas with bad field position.
"I was just trying to help out," Duvernay said.
Texas coach Tom Herman, stunned by the high number of missed tackles against Oklahoma, promised the Longhorns would do more hitting in practice this week. That's risky considering he dialed back contact in practice because of the injuries that keep piling up in his secondary. And add safety Chris Brown to the list of players missing from the Big 12's worst pass defense. He's out with a fractured forearm.
"Some guys always want to go for the kill shots and the big hits," Texas safety Brandon Jones said. "I think all of us need to focus on making sure we run through guys and get people on the ground."
Freshman tailback Roschon Johnson has yet to get a start, but he's getting starter playing time and is outplaying sophomore Keaontay Ingram and is now the team's leading rusher. Johnson had 118 total yards on 12 touches last week, while Ingram ran twice for nine yards. But Johnson has struggled in pass protection, missing blocks on more than one sack. Herman wouldn't commit to naming a starter before the game.