AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Kansas State saw on film how opponents ran up and down the field on Texas. The Wildcats simply couldn’t duplicate it.
After two weeks of giving up staggering yards on the ground, the Longhorns’ defense tightened up Kansas State and made the big plays by creating three second-half turnovers in a 31-21 Texas win Saturday night in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Kansas State (2-2, 0-1) had hoped its zone read option, with either Jake Waters or Daniel Sams at quarterback, could find the same running lanes BYU and Mississippi did. But Waters rarely got moving forward and the slippery Sams carried just eight times.
The Wildcats rushed 38 times for 115 yards, a paltry 3.0-yard average.
By the time Texas (2-2, 1-0) jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the second half, the running game wasn’t much of an option. The Wildcats were forced to throw in a game of catch-up.
“What do you think they focused on that whole week or two? They were ready to stop the run, they wanted us to beat them with the pass,” Waters said.
Waters passed for 275 yards, including 237 to Tyler Lockett, but also had two fumbles in the fourth quarter. John Hubert ran for two scores but also had a fumble that set up a Texas touchdown in the third quarter.
“”We need some leadership to really step up, considering the fact that we got exposed a little bit tonight,” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said.
Johnathan Gray rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and David Ash threw a 63-yard touchdown pass for the Longhorns. Ash, who missed the previous game with concussion-like symptoms, passed for 166 yards in the first half but missed the second with a new head injury. Senior Case McCoy took over, leading two touchdown drives.
The victory allowed Texas to avoid its first 1-3 start since 1956 and snapped a five-game losing streak to Kansas State.
Texas came in as a team desperate to turn around its season. After consecutive losses, coach Mack Brown urged his team to focus on the Big 12 and trying to win the league crown. The Longhorns, most notably the defense, responded with their most complete game of the season against the defending Big 12 champs.
“You always want to start the conference off right,” Gray said. “We wanted to prove a point and hit them in the mouth.”
The Texas defense, which played so poorly in the two losses, gave up a huge night receiving to Lockett, but forced the turnovers that swung momentum and preserved the win late.
The victory could ease some of the pressure on Brown, even if just for a few hours or days. Brown has been harshly criticized by Texas fans after the bad start to the season and his job future beyond this season rapidly escalated into a matter of open speculation.
On Thursday, a member of the Texas board of regents acknowledged that he and a former regent spoke in January with Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent about Saban coaching the Longhorns if Brown retired. Two days later, Brown was asked if he would consider retiring, but the matter was dropped when Brown said he wanted to keep coaching.
Saban dismissed speculation he’d be interested in the Texas job, but that didn’t stop some Texas fans from printing burnt-orange “Saban 2014″ t-shirts and wearing them to the game Saturday night.
Texas led 17-0 after Gray’s first touchdown. Kansas State responded with its first drive across midfield and Hubert spun through two tacklers on a 15-yard touchdown run with 1 minute left in the half.
The Wildcats fumbled on their first possession of the third quarter. Gray carried seven times in an eight-play drive and his second touchdown made it 24-7.
Kansas State had pulled within 10 and was driving for a touchdown late when Waters fumbled on the Texas 6 with 2:03 left to play.
The Wildcats had one last chance when Tramaine Thompson returned a punt 40 yards inside the Texas 15, but Waters was sacked twice and fumbled with 17 seconds left.
“At times we were pretty flustered,” Thompson said. “Texas came in and definitely hit us first.”
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