In approaching Saturday’s game at Kansas State, Texas coach Charlie Strong tells his players to approach a road contest this way:
“Play like you’re behind when the game starts,” he said Monday during his news conference.
That shouldn’t be a difficult concept for the Longhorns to grasp. Since 2014 under Strong, UT has lost four of its last five Big 12 road games. Manhattan has been particularly cruel to Texas; the Longhorns haven’t won at Kansas State since 2002 – or since most of the roster was learning ABC’s and simple math. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele was four when UT last won at K-State.
The Wildcats (3-3, 1-2) are coming off a humbling 38-17 loss at Oklahoma and another Big 12 loss would end any hope of a share of the Big 12 title. Texas has the same record but is uber-confident; young players are like that.
“To make history here means a lot to me, I really want to win there,” sophomore defensive end/linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “We’ve got to learn how to win and we have to speak things into existence. We expect to win.
“On defense, we’re savages when we want to be, want to out-physical every team we play, we’re gonna him ‘em in the mouth every play.”
Texas ended a three-game losing streak with an air-freshening 27-6 victory over Iowa State last Saturday. The Longhorns struggled in the first half and used a dominant third quarter to defeat the Cyclones. Playing a complete game on the road against a disciplined team will be a challenge for a young team.
“K-State grinds it out, they’re gonna run the ball and get first downs, they’re so patient,” Strong said. “It puts pressure on the defense. When you see teams drive the football like K-State does, they make mistakes and get behind the chains. K-State doesn’t do that. They drive, get in the red zone and then score.
“They’re not gonna beat themselves. You have to be good enough to beat them.”
The defense had eight sacks against Iowa State and limited the Cyclones to two field goals and 280 yards in total offense. In three games before playing UT, Iowa State was averaging 39 points and 472 yards in total offense.
Kansas State is averaging 47 points in three home games (against Florida Atlantic, Missouri State and Texas Tech) and 15 points in road games (against Stanford, West Virginia and Oklahoma). That scoring discrepancy is likely based on the opponents faced. Also, the Wildcats’ 44-38 victory over Texas Tech was fueled by a pick six and kickoff return for a touchdown.
“You always talk about packing your defense,” Strong said. “We just have to go from the start. If you don’t give up big plays, and you don’t allow the crowd to get into the game, then you’re going to be able to get those stops.”
Much was made of a “team meeting” that Texas had last Thursday and how it might have contributed to the Longhorns’ victory over Iowa State. Strong said it was a regularly scheduled meeting he holds each week.
What might have been different was that some of the players were vocal about it and to their teammates.
Hager said, “We all got real with each other.” Defensive end Naashon Hughes said, “We finally started challenging each other instead of pointing fingers.”
If, as Hager claims, Texas is going to win the rest of its games, the drama and significance of that meeting will increase with each victory. That’s the nature of the media narrative game.
Senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette, one of the few remaining players from Mack Brown’s last season, has seen and heard a lot during his time in Austin. Hopefully, he won’t wind up in a job where “staff meeting” is a regular calendar item.
“We’re tired of having these meetings,” Boyette said. “We’re tired of having these feelings after the game like, ‘Oh, next week. Next week.’ There’s no more next weeks. We’ve got to get this thing turned now.
“I’ll be 23 in December. I’ve been having player meetings since I was 18 here. I mean, nothing else can be said. It’s time for people to grow up and be men. That’s really all I can say.”
- Texas freshman receiver Devin Duvernay — remember, he committed to Baylor before being released form his scholarship — has two receptions of 60 or more yards in the Longhorns’ last two games. There are 36 FBS schools that don’t have a single such catch.
- Freshman center Zach Shackelford suffered an ankle injury in the first half Saturday and it’s not certain if he’ll be healthy for the K-State game. Shackelford, who is from Belton, Texas, was a verbal commitment to K-State before signing with UT.
- Kai Locksley, a redshirt freshman quarterback who never saw the field for the Longhorns, confirmed Monday he planned to transfer. Locksley verbally committed to Florida State but signed with Texas in 2015. “Kai and I had a conversation about a month ago, and he just felt like he needed to go somewhere else,” Strong said. “I just told him, ‘Listen, just go take care of your classwork. Make sure you take care of your academics so wherever you do decide to transfer you have enough GPA where it won’t be an issue.’”