The Longhorns clinched the win against Kansas State on Saturday after a game-winning field goal from sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker. But this moment was possible because Texas’ defense forced a Kansas field goal and tied the game at 24 points apiece.
For weeks, the defense was missing key players such as sophomores nickel back B.J. Foster and safety Caden Sterns. Their returns were highly anticipated, as coaches and players pointed to the incomplete roster as a reason for the recent defensive faults. Now, the pieces are falling into place and Texas’ defense successfully stopped Kansas States’ explosive offense.
“We showed y’all that this is what happens when we’re fully healthy,” freshman defensive lineman Keondre Coburn said. “We’re a great team, unbelievable team, and that's what we did.”
Texas’ defensive confidence grew as the game progressed, but the start of the first quarter featured what Texas defense fans have been seeing for three weeks — unsuccessful third-down blitzes, missed tackles and bad coverage. Kansas State scored its first touchdown one minute and 35 seconds into the game, when Texas went for their usual third-down blitz package and attempted to sack quarterback Skylar Thompson. Unfortunately, Thompson completed a pass to wide receiver Malik Knowles, and a missed tackle from senior safety Brandon Jones sent Knowles all the way to the end zone.
They extended their lead to 14 in their second drive, when Thompson found the hands of wide receiver Wykeen Gill on a corner route. For the second time that night, Jones was in the hot seat as he was the player covering Gill. But Jones used his experience to motivate himself for later plays.
“I'm an older dude, so I know that adversity is going to hit eventually,” Jones said. “I kind of have that 1–0 mentality, the, ‘Next play, next play. Don't let it linger on too much.’”
Jones’ mindset allowed him to redeem himself and disrupt Kansas State’s offense for the rest of the game. Jones forced a fumble in the second quarter that gave Texas possession and disrupted the Wildcats’ momentum. In the fourth quarter, Jones’ 53-yard punt return catalyzed Texas’ drive, which ended in a touchdown.
His mindset was contagious. Texas’ defense executed huge plays on first and second downs to create third-and-longs. Foster was inches from intercepting a pass on third-and-10, but tipped it just enough to disrupt Thompson’s pass and force a punt. Jones was extremely happy in having the experience of both Foster and Sterns on the field.
“It was awesome having them back out there because (of) just the game experience that they have,” Jones said. “We've been playing with each other … going on two years now. We just have a connection, you know? We were able to interpret and understand stuff a lot more being out there together.”
KSU is notorious for their time-killing drives and averages 34 minutes and 26 seconds per game. Against Texas, they only had the ball for 28 minutes and 41 seconds. The Longhorns also held KSU to 24 points, eight points lower than their average point total.
Now that Texas has a complete roster, its defense will be expected to perform at a high level in the three remaining games. Team captain and defensive lineman senior Malcolm Roach said the team’s sense of urgency is high and they will continue playing their best game.
“I feel the last two games I've been playing great ball,” Roach said. “But as a team, you know, not getting the W against TCU, that left a bad taste in your mouth. I feel like everybody in the locker room has a sense of urgency right now. (They) just want to come out there, want to get better. And that's one thing that we're doing. We just try to continue to play our best ball in the months of November and December, so if you continue to do that, you have a chance to compete for things that you want to compete for.”