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Texas loss to K-State means time is running short for Charlie Strong

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Time is a funny concept. It is measured exactly – seconds, minutes and hours – but can sometimes either zoom past or move like molasses.

As a 77-year-old Hall of Fame coaching wizard, Bill Snyder can appear to make time fly or stand still. Saturday in Manhattan, Snyder’s Kansas State team didn’t play possessed, but it possessed the ball enough to post a 24-21 victory over Texas.

Especially in the first half, Kansas State’s ball control offense made time a two-sided proposition. The Longhorns felt like the first 30 minutes were over in three minutes. The Wildcats’ 21-7 edge at intermission came thanks to a nearly four-to-one edge in time of possession. Texas’ TOP – 6:42 – was third-lowest for any FBS team in a first half this season.

“That is what we do,” said Snyder, who is 9-4 against Texas. “It is important to do that, but you have to put points on the board – it is not just exclusively possessing the clock.”

On the topic of time: Now 3-4 this season, the sand through hourglass is running short on Charlie Strong. All the talk of having talent as good as any team on the schedule, of running the table, of competing for the Big 12 title, of reaching the eight wins most believe are necessary for Strong’s fourth season…

Empty as the Texas possessions following Kansas State’s out-of-character three turnovers.

“It is always tough to lose a game when you know you had the opportunities to win it,” said Strong, who is 3-4 after seven games for the third consecutive season.

“We knew it was going to be one of those games where we were going to have to kind of grind it out. You have to move on. You have to think about next week at home (against Baylor) and we just have to get ourselves back together.”

(Those ill-chosen but probably correct words were used by ESPN’s Adnan Virk.)

Snyder’s offense was effective in time of possession but not in terms of holding on to the football.

  • After Charles Jones fumbled going into the end zone that would have given K-State a 28-7 lead, Texas used that opportunity to drive to the Wildcats’ 26. But on 4th and 3, Dorian Leonard dropped a slant pass that would have converted the first down and probably picked up more yardage.
  • On the ninth play of K-State’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Ertz floated a pass down the middle of the field that Edwin Freeman intercepted and returned 33 yards to the Wildcats’ 36 with 9:50 remaining. The Longhorns, though, misfired with a four-and-out. After a third-down sack, freshman quarterback Shane Buechele lofted a perfect pass to Armanti Foreman on 4th and 16. Foreman had his hands on the pass and it would have been a tough catch but it fell to the turf.
  • Following an Ertz fumble at midfield, Texas got a first-down at the K-State 10 with six minutes to play thanks to a 23-yard catch-and-run by Jake Oliver. The next three plays – loss by Buechele on a zone read, short run by D’Onta Foreman (124 yards on 24 carries) and a bad snap/sack – led to Trent Domingue attempting a 35-yard field goal. He shanked it badly.
  • Sterlin Gilbert was hired to turn Texas into a modern-day offense. But he is still an inexperienced play caller. He was let down by his play-makers on several occasions, but there was plenty to call into question his play calling at a time when the Longhorns had a huge chance.
  • Freeman’s interception came at a time when the game was winnable. Despite closing to within three points, the last five minutes or so was desperation time for UT offense. When Texas had a chance to flip the script, two straight running plays followed by a sack led to an empty possession.
  • Failing to keep Kansas State’s defense guessing is a formula for disaster. The play calls after the interception either called for a big-play deep shot, some quick throws or something off of play action. Wildcats’ defensive end Jordan Willis, the Big 12’s sack leader, abused UT right tackle Brandon Hughes, especially when the Longhorns were in obvious passing downs. Willis finished with a forced fumble, two sacks and three tackles for loss.

Offensively, it was classic “K-State keep away.” The Wildcats had a 78-62 edge in offensive plays. Quarterback Jesse Ertz was a modest-but-effective 20-of-27 for 171 yards and a touchdown. He also had 78 yards on a team-high 18 carries as K-State registered 234 yards rushing.

An effective running game often made the Longhorns’ defenders look silly and kept UT’s explosive offense observing from the sideline.

It’s not the home field advantage that accounts for the fact Texas hasn’t won in Manhattan since the second Bush Administration (2002). It’s because the Wildcats are fundamentally sound in the basics of blocking and tackling. That was vividly evident against the Longhorns.

Texas has four stars and five stars; K-State counters with a roster of players that were overlooked and under-recruited. You can say the recruiting services often miss with their star ratings. Or you can say that the Wildcats know how to play and win, while the Longhorns’ talent is wasted on indifferent performance.

The Longhorns committed five penalties (one was declined) on K-State’s opening, tone-setting TD drive. Texas committed 10 penalties in total, missed twice as many tackles and failed to make the game-deciding plays that separate winning from losing. A roughing the passer penalty aided the Wildcats’ last drive of the first half that made it 21-7 at halftime.

Malik Jefferson was the signature recruit for Strong in the Class of 2015. Jefferson’s lack of improvement provides ammunition for Strong’s critics. Jefferson plays tentative when he does shoot a gap and when he tries to play and read, he can’t get off blocks.

On a 2nd and 11 in the fourth quarter, Jefferson was back on the field at middle linebacker. Playing five yards off the line of scrimmage, Jefferson saw Ertz on a quarterback draw, came up tentatively and allowed himself to be blocked. Ertz deked to his left and gained 16 yards as Jefferson jogged to where the tackle was made.

That’s just one snap shot in a multi-page photo album. The Longhorns played soft in the secondary against an offense that throws short and medium, not deep. Their run fits often went to a hole while the K-State back was going through a different hole, and when they did make contact with a player wearing purple, it was when the UT player was being blocked.

“I love coach Strong and the coaching staff,” Texas senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette said.” But it falls on the players. It falls on us. We’ve got to play a complete game.”

In other words, 60 minutes.

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