Week 5 preview: 2022 blowout loss to Texas still stings for motivated KU squad
photo by: AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
Lance Leipold and his Jayhawks weren’t especially interested this week in revisiting their stunning upset win at Texas in 2021, ahead of a rematch that finds both programs in dramatically different spots.
Newly ranked No. 24 Kansas has plenty to say, though, about its 55-14 home loss to the Longhorns last November. For those who experienced it, the memory of last year’s defeat continues to loom large, particularly as a game in which the Longhorns produced a staggering total of more than 400 rushing yards.
“Four hundred twenty-seven,” defensive coordinator Brian Borland said Wednesday, midway through a reporter’s question. “Who’s counting?”
Borland added that the year prior, even in the Kansas win, Texas had still thrown for some 400 passing yards.
The improvement this time around, going on the road Saturday to face a resurgent Longhorns squad that ranks No. 3 in the country and has already beaten Alabama in Tuscaloosa, won’t just be necessary for KU on one side of the ball. Just as the Texas offense has boldfaced names like quarterback Quinn Ewers and wide receiver Xavier Worthy, the defense features the Big 12 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Jaylan Ford, a linebacker, and corners Jahdae Barron and Ryan Watts.
Ford’s offensive counterpart, KU quarterback Jalon Daniels, who had just returned from a long-term shoulder injury when he took the field against the Longhorns last November, vividly remembers the throws he couldn’t make in the blowout loss, noting in particular a third-and-7 miss looking for Quentin Skinner on the Jayhawks’ first drive, and overthrows trying to find Luke Grimm.
“I was missing throws that I feel like I wouldn’t have missed since high school,” Daniels said.
Daniels’ aptitude for quarterback runs played a key role down the stretch against BYU last week, after the coaching staff largely kept him away from contact the previous week at Nevada. His passing, while perfectly efficient and downright impressive against Illinois in particular, hasn’t necessarily reached the stratospheric levels it did at times in 2022, and the Jayhawks will likely need a performance of that caliber to challenge Texas Saturday.
No. 3 Texas Longhorns (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) vs. No. 24 Kansas Jayhawks (4-0, 1-0 Big 12)
• Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas, 2:30 p.m. Central Time
• Broadcast: ABC
• Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network (in Lawrence, KLWN AM 1320 / K269GB FM 101.7 / KKSW FM 105.9)
• Betting line: Texas -16.5; over/under 61
• Series history: Texas leads 14-2
What to watch for
1. Long ball: The Jayhawks knew ahead of the Nevada game that the Wolf Pack would try to take long shots down the field; they surrendered a big one from Brendon Lewis to Dalevon Campbell. They then successfully took away the run against BYU but still fell victim to 50- and 37-yard passes from quarterback Kedon Slovis that helped kickstart drives for the Cougars in the second half. Ewers, for his part, struggled to hit the deep ball in Texas’ season opener against Rice but has alleviated some of those concerns since, and he certainly has the depth at receiver to punish the KU secondary, throwing to top targets Worthy, who is No. 3 in all-time receiving touchdowns for Texas, Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell and Noah Whittington.
2. Top tight end: The presence of Ja’Tavion Sanders, a first-team all-conference tight end last year as only a sophomore, should be a great concern for Borland’s unit as well. Sanders has already put up 100-yard performances against Alabama and Baylor. KU had trouble with BYU’s tight end Isaac Rex last weekend, allowing him four catches for 41 yards on the Cougars’ first drive alone, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Ewers go to Sanders with the same urgency and frequency this time around.
3. Heat: Borland and offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki already love rotating players and designing packages tailored to their unique skill sets. That variety will be put to the test Saturday as the Jayhawks contend with late-fall 95-degree afternoon heat in Austin. Athletic reserves like tight end Trevor Kardell and defensive tackle Gage Keys, both standouts in fall camp who made impacts on small snap counts against BYU, will likely be called upon for more significant action.
Cornell Wheeler: The backup linebacker is seeing extended playing time for the first time in his career, which started at Michigan back in 2020 and featured just one combined tackle his first two seasons at KU. Wheeler has since set career highs with three tackles in consecutive games and forced a fumble with a hard hit last week against BYU. Borland said this week that Wheeler, who had been slowed by a hamstring injury in camp this year, “matured and transformed as a person to get to this point.” He’s shown his acumen in spelling Rich Miller and carving out his own niche in defense, and could be called upon in big moments against Texas.
Inside the numbers
228: Ewers has completed this many consecutive passes without throwing an interception; the KU defense, with six picks on the year, will look to snap that streak.
60.5: KU converts this percentage of third downs, which is best in the country. Leipold said Monday it’s a testament to offensive execution, good planning, staying in normal downs and distances and the experience of the team.
12.5: Texas is allowing just this many points per game through the first four weeks of the year, which puts the Longhorns in a tie for 12th in the nation in scoring defense.
Texas wins 38-24. Kansas has excelled thus far this year, most notably against BYU, in controlling time of possession to prevent opposing offenses from seeing the field. (The Jayhawks have held the ball for over 33 minutes per game, which is 11th-best in the nation.) That minimizes the damage opposing quarterbacks can do even if they’re generally making good throws. A strategy like this starts, though, with getting consistently good gains in the running game on early downs, which KU just won’t be able to do as well against the Longhorns’ potent front, facing players like Barryn Sorrell and T’Vondre Sweat backed up by the top-notch linebacker Ford. There’ll be more pressure on Daniels to make every throw and less room for error when he doesn’t because of Ewers’ own ability to move the Longhorns down the field.
The Jayhawks should keep this one within striking distance but fall in the end to one of the nation’s top teams.