The No. 18 Texas Longhorns have a golden opportunity to end their season on a high note with an upset against the No. 6 Kansas State Wildcats. To do so when starting a backup quarterback, getting pressure on KSU quarterback Collin Klein will be a must for the Texas defense.
Looking to deliver another signature performance when his team needs it most, junior quarterback Case McCoy is the starter for the Longhorns with David Ash struggling with a rib injury. Though McCoy is not the expected problem area for this contest with the conference-worst Texas run defense matching up against the conference's third-best rushing offense.
That said, a Longhorn upset was already unlikely in this matchup but now the Wildcats are coming off a 52-24 beatdown at the hands of Baylor, who spoiled their national championship hopes. And, coming off their bye week, Bill Snyder and his Wildcats have had two weeks to stew over it.
With both teams coming off crushing in-conference losses, this game comes down to preparation and desperation. Especially for Texas, who has to play its absolute best game in order to knock off the Wildcats at home in the cold.
Here are the five ways that the 'Horns can do just that.
The primary task of the Texas Longhorn defense in this matchup will be to get consistent pressure on Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. If Texas can do that, its chances of pulling the upset will greatly increase.
For much of the season Klein was the model of efficiency throwing the ball, accounting for 12 touchdowns through the air against only three interceptions. That was until he traveled to Waco to face the supposedly-porous Baylor defense.
Against the Bears, Klein threw three and was completely out of sorts as his team was blown out 52-24 by Art Briles' squad. The reason for the Heisman candidate's struggles? He was facing consistent pressure all night.
The Bears were only able to sack Klein twice, but made him uncomfortable throughout the night in hurrying him an incredible 10 times. The Longhorns have better pass-rushers than do the Bears and simply must take advantage of that suddenly-vulnerable Wildcat front.
This task becomes much easier if senior sack maven Alex Okafor (ankle) can go. If not the team will look to sophomore Cedric Reed, who is coming off the best performance of his career against TCU on Thanksgiving. Also keep an eye on tackles Brandon Moore and Malcom Brown, who have each shown the ability to get into the opposing backfield.
One of Case McCoy's greatest attributes is his ability to escape pressure and extend plays that look dead to rights. But this attribute becomes a liability when McCoy does not accept defeat, which he is going to have to at times against Kansas State.
When he has been called upon to play this season, McCoy has performed admirably. He has completed almost 67 percent of his passes and his relief effort against Kansas saved the 'Horns from a humiliating loss. He is a great leader and his scrappiness is fun to watch, but he has to know when to throw the ball away.
McCoy overextended a play against TCU, and it led to a crucial interception that sealed the loss for the 'Horns. McCoy's target was Jaxon Shipley, who was triple-covered, and Texas still had plenty of time to finish the drive.
The main point here is that McCoy, sans mistakes like he made against the Horned Frogs, has the talent to win with this Texas team. If he can play mistake-free and in control against Kansas State, Texas has a real chance.
The Longhorns are supposed to be a team built upon running the ball on offense, though they seemed to give up on the run in the second half on Thanksgiving. These running backs are Texas' bread and butter, and these guys need to be used heavily against Kansas State.
In the second half of the TCU game, starting running back Johnathan Gray only had three carries as Texas tried to win the game throwing the ball. In a game that was never out of reach for the 'Horns with the quarterback struggling, getting away from the running game just does not make sense.
It is also worth noting that while Texas was on its four-game winning streak, it was averaging 201.5 yards per contest on the ground. Against TCU, this team only ran for 87 yards.
With the talent Texas has in its backfield, it just cannot afford to not utilize the running backs even if the going is tough. Defenses tend to soften as games drag on, and an effective running game is the simplest way to take the pressure off of a quarterback. But most of all, the Kansas State run defense is vulnerable.
En route to routing the Wildcats, the Baylor Bears ran the ball 49 times for 342 yards. Texas has more talented running backs than do the Bears, so the coaches need to give these runners a shot to prove that.
Against a physical team like Kansas State, the Longhorns need to make they wrap up and finish tackles on defense. Otherwise we could have a repeat of what happened in the Oklahoma game.
Kansas State is the most physical football team Texas has played all year and will look to run all over the 'Horns on Saturday. This could present a real problem for a 'Horns team that gave up 343 yards on the ground to Oklahoma, the second-most physical team Texas has played this season.
Against the Sooners Texas allowed freshman quarterback Blake Bell, who is a very similar runner to KSU's Klein, to run for four touchdowns in the red zone. On each touchdown run Bell was able to shake off at least one tackler to power his way into his end zone.
The 'Horns have gotten better at tackling since the OU game, but they have not been tested the way Kansas State will test them since. The entire defense needs to commit to playing assignment football and finishing stops when given the chance. Especially in the red zone where Klein does the bulk of his damage.
One advantage Texas has over Kansas State is overall team speed, and Texas needs to use its speedsters on offense to create matchup problems.
Texas has three offensive players that run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds in Daje Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and D.J. Monroe. Those three players combined to touch the ball three total times against TCU and are consistently under-utilized in the offense.
Not only do these three have serious big-play ability, but all they have displayed a nose for the end zone, especially Goodwin and Monroe. Goodwin has scored four touchdowns off only 33 touches, and Monroe has been even more effective with three touchdowns on 15 carries. Meanwhile, Johnson has only seen the end zone twice thus far but has produced multiple big-gainers for this offense.
With their big-play potential and the matchups issues they create, these three at least need to be on the field more if only to create matchup problems. Especially Monroe, who scored all three of his touchdowns in the first three games of the season and has hardly seen the field since.
There is only one ball to go around, which has been the main obstacle for this group. This best approach here would be for Texas to ride the hot hand with the change-of-pace guys the same way it does with its conventional backs. Their abilities are too valuable in a game like this to be ignored, and they should get at least 10 touches against the Wildcats.