Football

Don’t stop believin’: Texas’ journey toward the Big 12 title now goes through 3-8 Kansas

Jayhawks turbo-charged about the future with Les Miles' arrival, but Longhorns will meet the current Jayhawks on Friday

Posted November 18th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • The 15th-ranked Longhorns (8-3, 6-2) can clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a win Friday.
  • “A lot of people thought we had forgotten how to play defense or how to coach defense.”
  • QB Sam Ehlinger expected to have an MRI on Sunday on right throwing shoulder.

Texas coach Tom Herman should be doing cartwheels. Kansas gave his players plenty of reasons to take the regular-season finale against a 3-8 team serious.

While Texas was busy thumping Iowa State 24-10 on Saturday night, Kansas was running wild on Oklahoma.

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Freshman running back Pooka Williams Jr. had 252 yards and two touchdowns on the Sooners. Not one single yard for loss on 15 carries, either.

The Jayhawks, tied for 100th nationally in scoring offense, hung 40 points on OU’s beleaguered unit. Fans were bewildered, and they don’t have defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to blame anymore.

“But OU has no defense,” Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager said late Saturday. “And what time is it? It’s 11:12 … and OU still sucks.”

The Sooners have quarterback Kyler Murray, so OU escaped with a 55-40 win. Still, Kansas (3-8, 1-7 Big 12) showed it still has some fight.

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. (1) runs ahead of Oklahoma defenders during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

The 15th-ranked Longhorns (8-3, 6-2) can clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game with a win Friday in Lawrence. Even Herman admitted the Jayhawks are “a team that is going to give us their best shot.”

Then on Sunday, Kansas officials announced Les Miles as the team’s new coach. David Beaty was fired earlier this month but agreed to stay on and finish the season. Beaty is 6-41 in four seasons with one game left before stepping aside for the grass-eating “Mad Hatter.”

“Les Miles is exactly what we need for our program right now,” Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement.

Miles won 114 games in 12 years at LSU and led the Tigers to the 2007 national title. He also had a four-year stint at Oklahoma State from 2001-04 and boasts a career record of 142-55. Whether this ground-and-pounder can adapt to a league of run-pass options and wide-open shootouts remains to be seen.

Miles’ arrival will invigorate the Kansas program, to be sure. But there are some juniors and seniors in the locker room currently who have no fear of Texas as it is.

Kansas was a 24-point underdog in 2016 when the Jayhawks stunned the Longhorns 24-21 in overtime. The loss effectively cost UT coach Charlie Strong his job. It was easily one of the most embarrassing low points in UT football history.

Texas is unable to stop a field goal by Kansas to win the game in overtime in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday, November 19, 2016. Kansas beat Texas 24-21in overtime. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Now, the Horns are going back to Lawrence with a Big 12 title shot on the line. “To see coach (Tom) Herman’s culture come full circle, I’m happy for him. I love that man,” tight end Andrew Beck said.

Defensive end Charles Omenihu was adamant the Horns cannot vary from their normal preparation. “All that means is we’ve got to go 1-0 and win the game and prepare just as hard if it was us versus Oklahoma,” Omenihu said. “Just prepare hard.”

After three weeks of criticism about their effort, their leadership and even the defensive alignment, the Texas defense came out swinging against the Cyclones. That’s the analogy defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s been preaching for two weeks.

“We had to go back to ol’ Rocky Balboa,” defensive back P.J. Locke III said. “This is our culture. We’re physical. This is what we had to do.”

Texas came after freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, who had led Iowa State to five straight wins. The Horns racked up six sacks and five quarterback hurries. Eight players were credited with tackles for loss as the Cyclones managed just 210 total yards.

It was 24-3 for most of the fourth quarter. Iowa State got a garbage-time touchdown with 1:33 remaining courtesy of Tarique Milton’s 47-yard punt return that set up a short field.

“This is a defense that has taken a lot of hits lately,” Herman said. “A lot of people thought we had forgotten how to play defense or how to coach defense.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a 24-10 win over Iowa State during a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Texas has a quarterback that’s taken a lot of hits, too. Sam Ehlinger was scheduled to have another MRI on Sunday after getting hit squarely on his right throwing shoulder before halftime. He did not play in the second half, leaving things to backup Shane Buechele.

Herman said the medical staff called it an AC contusion, basically a deep bruise. Ehlinger came back to the sideline, warmed up and wanted to go back into the game. Herman said Ehlinger tried “pretty hard.” The sophomore was waved off.

Coaches wanted to redshirt Buechele this season. He’s now played in two games; NCAA rules allow for four. It’s conceivable Texas has three games remaining — Kansas, a Big 12 title game and a bowl game.

Otherwise, it was a rather unforgettable night at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Texas fans waved goodbye to 26 players on Senior Night. The sold-out crowd of 102,498 was electric. It was the second-largest group ever packed into the place.

Michael Huff, a charter member of DBU and now an assistant coach at Texas, seems like an impartial judge. “The environment last night might be the best I’ve ever seen, thank you to the best fans in the country,” he tweeted.

The moment when fans held up their cellphone lights to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” made a perfect capstone to UT’s 5-1 home record this year. That’s the most wins at home since 2009.

Texas just has to keep it going this week in Lawrence.

“If you love winning,” Omenihu said, “if you love this feeling, you’ll do anything to keep it going.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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