Oof. In one of the more disappointing victories of the Herman era, the Longhorns escaped what would have been a season-defining loss to the Kansas Jayhawks thanks to the leg of sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker. Heading into a pivotal road game against the TCU Horned Frogs, Texas looks to prove whether it can be a real contender for the Big 12 Championship.
Here’s how the game against TCU could go:
Texas wins if …
… the offense continues to produce at a high level.
Outside of the Red River Rivalry game, the Longhorn offense has been performing just as well as one would expect given all the talent on the roster. The talent of running backs freshman Roschon Johnson and sophomore Keaontay Ingram coupled with that of senior receivers in Devin Duvernay and Collin Johnson provides junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger with all the tools necessary to put points on the board. The offense was not the problem against Kansas. As the defense is still a big question mark, the offense will need to once again carry the team if the Longhorns want to leave Fort Worth in control of their own Big 12 destiny.
… the defense can play disciplined football.
The defense has underperformed in various ways, but the most striking issue is the team’s inability to tackle. In the loss to Oklahoma, the Longhorns failed to bring down graduate transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts and junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb on several occasions, resulting in many missed opportunities to get back into the game. Against Kansas, missed tackles and penalties gave the Jayhawks every opportunity to score, causing the unexpected shootout. If the Longhorns can get back to playing tough, disciplined football and reduce the number of penalties and chunk plays, Texas should leave Fort Worth with a win.
Texas loses if …
… TCU runs the ball well.
In TCU’s loss to Kansas State last week, the Horned Frogs put up 247 yards on the ground. Freshman quarterback Max Duggan ran for a bulk of the production, rushing for 130 yards on only 13 attempts. Senior running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua each chipped in 56 yards to the total. Against Kansas, Texas struggled mightily against sophomore running back Pooka Williams Jr., which caused problems for the pass defense. With a secondary already weakened by injury, an inability to stop the run would put more strain on the corners and safeties. If TCU can replicate their performance from last week at home, the Longhorns could be in trouble.
… the offense turns the ball over.
Ehlinger has done a great job this season at limiting turnovers, but in the game against Kansas, he threw an interception at an inopportune time. The fourth quarter interception led to a score by the Jayhawks, which, had it not been for a blocked PAT returned for two points, would have tied the game at 31. With the defense playing as poorly as it is, Ehlinger cannot give opposing offenses the opportunity to take advantage. Until the defense begins to improve, Ehlinger will have to continue to carry the team as far as he can, and turnovers can make that job much more difficult. The rest of the offense has to do its part in limiting turnovers as well. A fumble by freshman receiver Jake Smith led to a Kansas touchdown that tied the game. Those kinds of mistakes against TCU could lead to a loss for the Longhorns.