Sports | No. 7 Texas vs. No. 23 Kansas State live updates: CJ Baxter runs for 54-yard TD on 4th and 1 to take 17-0 lead
AUSTIN, Texas — In arguably the biggest conference game of Steve Sarkisian’s tenure on the Forty Acres, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns host the No. 23 Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with kickoff at 11 a.m. Central on FOX.
Texas sits at 4-1 in the conference, part of a five-way tie that also features Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Kansas State. With head-to-head matchups between the Longhorns and Wildcats and the Sooners and Cowboys in the final Bedlam game, two of those teams are guaranteed to fall behind the pack, setting up a more difficult path to Arlington and the Big 12 Championship game.
In Sarkisian’s estimation, the Longhorns also possess the season’s best win so far, the Week Two triumph over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, a team that remains without another blemish on their record this year. Over the short history over the College Football Playoffs, teams in the same position as Texas haven’t made many appearances, but to the extent the Horns have any control over that possibility, it’s in winning out, including the Big 12 Championship game.
But injuries also loom over Saturday’s matchup. Texas starting quarterback Quinn Ewers will miss a second straight game with the AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, leaving redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy to start once again. During the early part of pregame warmups, sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke started getting loose with a large brace on his right knee even though Sarkisian officially listed Burke as “week to week.” In the same category but less likely to play is senior safety Jalen Catalon (leg), who hasn’t seen game action since leaving the loss to Oklahoma nearly a month ago.
And then there is the specter of potential injuries during practice this week. Horns247’s Chip Brown asked a pointed question on that subject on Thursday, but Sarkisian was notably evasive with pregame warmups et to provide some further perspective prior to kickoff.
Some of the injury concerns were alleviated, at least for the moment, when Murphy was one of the first Longhorns out of the tunnel and moving without impediment, as was junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders. And, as expected given the activity out of pads, Burke came out dressed for warmups.
When the entire team came out for stretching, senior right tackle Christian Jones was out with the offensive linemen, but redshirt freshman backup center Connor Robertson was not dressed and neither was Catalon with the secondary. In 11-on-11 warmups, however, Jones was not with the first-team offense, replaced by sophomore Cam Williams.
Noted Texas nemesis Kevin Mar is the lead official for Saturday’s game.
The Wildcats are averaging 5.3 penalties per game on the road this season and 4.6 penalties per game overall.
After Kansas State won the toss and deferred to start the second half, Texas started the game on offense with the ball at the 25-yard line following a touchback just inside the pylon.
With Williams starting at right tackle, the Longhorns opened the game with a stop route run-pass option to junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy for a 24-yard gain. The subsequent run was redshirt sophomore running back Jonathon Brooks was stuffed, but Murphy picked up another chunk play through the air with a bullet of a throw to junior wide receiver AD Mitchell for 12 yards. After a batted pass put the Horns behind schedule again, Sanders caught a slot for five yards, then gave it back on a false start. On 3rd and 10, Worthy was running free on a go route, but Murphy put too much air under the ball and it fell incomplete, sending senior punter Ryan Sanborn onto the field after an intentional delay of game. The Stanford transfer pinned Kansas State deep in its own territory with a punt downed at the 7-yard line.
A second-down run by Wildcats running back DJ Giddens picked up a first down, but a pass broken up at the line of scrimmage by senior linebacker Jett Bush and a run stuff forced Kansas State into a 3rd and 7 that resulted in a sack by junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell thanks to some tight man coverage on the back end by Texas.
Once again, Worthy looked dangerous on a punt return, gaining 19 yards for the Longhorns to stop the drive in positive territory at the Wildcats 47-yard line.
Kansas State loaded the box on first down to stop Brooks for a two-yard gain before the Texas starter found a seam up the middle on second down for eight yards. With one-on-one coverage on the outside, Mitchell hit the Wildcats defensive back with a little hesitation move on a go route to get open and Murphy dropped a perfect pass over the top for a 37-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead with 8:36 remaining in the first quarter.
In a sign of how different this Texas defense looks in terms of toughness, Burke was able to motor through a clear hold to get a chase-down sack of Howard and senior cornerback Ryan Watts delivered a huge hit on the perimeter, then junior linebacker Mo Blackwell flew up to drop Howard on a called run on third down to force a punt.
Kansas State was called for an illegal formation on its subsequent punt attempt and Texas opted to make the Wildcats kick it again, but paid for it in field position when the Kansas State punter connected on a 58-yarder.
Brooks came off dinged on a short first-down run and Worthy narrowly avoided a drop or an interception on a catch he bobbled for most of the eight yards he gained. Looking for another shot play, Murphy put it on the diving fingertips of Mitchell, who came up with a sensational catch to pick up 47 yards.
Texas moved into the red zone with a dart from Murphy to senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington and nearly scored a touchdown against the stingy red-zone defense of Kansas State, but freshman running back CJ Baxter wasn’t able to step through the final tackle and Williams was called for a false start. Two incompletion from Murphy, including a pass nearly intercepted in the end zone, caused the Longhorns to settle for a 32-yard field goal and a 10-0 margin.
Looking for a spark, Kansas State offensive coordinator put change-of-pace quarterback Avery Johnson in the game for the third Wildcats drive. The move didn’t pay off in the first quarter with Giddens gaining one yard on two carries.
Keeping Johnson in the game for 3rd and 9 didn’t pay off, either — Kansas State was called for a false start and then meekly handed the ball off to Giddens for a two-yard gain in conceding the drive.
Lined up in a Diamond formation to start the drive, Texas motioned Worthy out before handing it off to senior running back Keilan Robinson for an eight-yard gain. Another false start on the Longhorns and an illegal snap kept the Longhorns moving backwards trying to run a play on second down. Murphy connected with Worhty and Whittington on consecutive passes stopped short of the first down, prompting Sarkisian to leave the offense on the field for 4th and 1 in Texas territory. The Longhorns lined up and looked ready to call a quarterback sneak, instead tossing the ball to Baxter, who broke a tackle and found the open field for a 54-yard touchdown run and a 17-0 lead.
A short run and an incomplete pass forced Kansas State into a third and long again. Looking to pass, Howard had to scramble instead and wasn’t able to find the line to gain thanks to pursuit from Texas senior linebacker Jaylan Ford and senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat.
Back in the game, Brooks nearly broke a second-down run, settling for seven yards and a first down instead. When Sanders leveled a Kansas State defensive back on an end around to Worthy for 16 yards, Texas looked ready to blow the game open. Instead, freshman wide receiver Johntay Cook was tripped up on a shot play that resulted in an interception.
Faced with a sudden change, the Longhorns defense continued to swarm, stuffing the Wildcats on consecutive runs before Watts nearly came up with an interception when he broke on the third-down pass by Johnson.
Worthy finally had another chance to return a punt, collecting the ball on the bounce and getting downhill with incredible speed to gain 33 yards and come close to another punt return touchdown.
Behind a good block from Mitchell, Brooks took the left edge on first down for 21 yards, setting up a second red-zone attempt against one of the nation’s best defenses in red-zone touchdown rate. Brooks put the Longhorns into a 3rd and 4 with two runs, but came up short on third down when he was caught from behind, sending the RedCat onto the field. As the trigger man, sophomore running back Savion Red fumbled the exchange on what looked like a potential pass to Sanders to turn the ball over on downs.
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