MANHATTAN, Kan. — On the heels of an inspired win at home over Big 12 basement dweller Iowa State, Texas faithful came into this road game looking for a well-coached, well-prepared team and found one.
Bill Snyder’s bunch, as usual, played its customary disciplined, focused football. At least for almost three quarters, by which time Kansas State had all but salted away the victory in a 24-21 game that it dominated and was that close only because Texas tacked on a touchdown in the final 46 seconds.
In a matchup of identical 3-3 teams, the Wildcats were clearly the better average team. Neither of these teams are going anywhere, but Texas is getting to its destination faster. The Longhorns played miserably in a first half that may well have been Charlie Strong’s worst in his 32 games, and that’s saying something.
If you’re desperate for a positive, consider this a respectable loss, except that it came against a flawed Kansas State team in a flawed league that played so well, even sore-shouldered quarterback Jesse Ertz looked like an All-American, running for two scores and passing for another. But any impartial observer who watched the proceedings would come up with the inevitable conclusion.
Texas is a bad football team.
Charlie Strong’s not a bad football coach, even if his team so often plays like one.
Like Saturday, when his defense committed four penalties — three were accepted — on Kansas State’s game-opening touchdown drive, and 10 on the day. And when his defensive backs gave more cushion than a furniture store against a team that thrived on quick screens.
When his offense turned conservative, mainly threw short, and when, after scoring on an 80-yard touchdown pass to its fastest wideout, Devin Duvernay, Texas inexplicably and maddeningly never threw his way again for the next 34 minutes because, Strong said, “they were playing off of us.”
And when his defense gave up two fourth-and-1 plays to Kansas State for first downs deep in Wildcat territory. And when cornerback John Bonney got burned frequently but remained in the game. And when end Charles Omenihu jumps offsides twice in the game’s first three plays.
And when Strong’s offense came up empty on two fourth-down throws — perfect passes at that — to Dorian Leonard and Armanti Foreman, and both were dropped. Those weren’t the coaches’ fault. “Those could have been huge plays for us,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “Guys got to make plays.”
And when Strong’s defense produces three turnovers in a span of four Kansas State series and realized zero points from them.
And while Strong’s future appears to be trending more and more toward a pink slip, with his fourth loss in the last five games after a misleading 2-0 start to the season, and with games left against Big 12 frontrunners West Virginia and next week Baylor, the team does continue to fight. However, there’s little discernible progress to distract the school’s administration from the unmistakable truth that this team is just not getting better.
Every time one thinks Strong is indeed turning this program around, it runs into itself, only to reel backward. That’s where it sits now as a disturbing 14-18. Not everyone is giving up, and the team did keep playing hard if not particularly well. But Texas’ three wins have come against bad teams that were 4-16 before the weekend.
He did get one endorsement, however.
The gracious Snyder told Strong after their post-game handshake that, “You’re the guy,” but he might be hard-pressed to convince Longhorn Nation of that.
He is the guy for at least the next five games, but at 3-4, he’d better win four of them. A 6-6 record at season’s end wouldn’t represent real improvement, not for a program of this stature.
As solemn Texas athletic director Mike Perrin trudged up the northeast tunnel of Bill Snyder Family Stadium after yet another loss there, he mumbled to reporters, “No talking.”
That description also could be applied to the Longhorns’ first true Big 12 road game of the year.
Not much winning.
Texas may lead the nation in double negatives for all the mistakes it makes and repeats over and over again. Doesn’t seem to matter if it’s three blocked extra points one game against Oklahoma State or deep bombs another versus California or the inability to cover Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook, because it’s always something. In its last two losses, Texas has forced seven turnovers and got three points out of them.
The Longhorns do make plays. Just never enough of them.
Quarterback Shane Buechele looks like the answer, but he needs help from his receivers. D’Onta Foreman easily could win the Doak Walker Award and is Texas’ best running back in a decade, but he can’t carry the ball every down. Anthony Wheeler and Edwin Freeman made sensational plays, but Kansas State still converted both its critical fourth-down plays and almost half of its third downs.
It just looks broken, and no one’s sure if Strong can fix it. Probably not even Strong, who looks and sounds more and more distraught by the day.
“It’s like a broken record,” defensive lineman Paul Boyette said. “I love coach Strong and the coaching staff, but it falls on the players. We can’t come out and play just one half. We’ve got to find a way out of this slump, and everybody’s got to pull their weight. We can’t make any more excuses.”
That’s one negative Texas fans can agree on.
No more excuses.