Texas football: What are Fans' Minimum Requirements to Feel Good About Kansas Game?
If you were to tell a 2016 Texas fan that the team was two wins away from being bowl eligible and ranked No. 15 in the country at the halfway point, they would have been ecstatic.
Fast forward three years and a 4-2 record with both losses by a combined 14 points to top-five opponents has the natives starting to grow a little restless on the Forty Acres.
Tom Herman has quickly become a victim of his own high performance through the first two seasons.
So what can Herman and his team do to get back in the good graces of the Longhorn nation? The simple answer is win. Texas faces a gauntlet of six games that all come down to must-win situations to ensure a spot in the Big 12 title game and a rematch against Oklahoma. Most fans would consider anything less than this to be a step in the wrong direction for the program.
Texas can't win six games on Saturday against Kansas, but it can show steps of growth in the right direction. Here's what Texas fans should be watching for when the team takes the field at DKR tomorrow night.
1) Is the team more physical?
A lot has been made about missed tackles against Oklahoma, but the more concerning problem was getting whipped in the trenches on both sides of the ball. The Sooners for 276 yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. The Longhorns managed just 100 and 2.8 yards per tote.
Against a Kansas team with one of the best backs in the country, it's important for Texas to reverse both of these trends. Can Texas win the line of scrimmage, slow down Pooka Williams and get either or both Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson going in the running game?
Texas must show it can run the ball when it wants to, not the other way around. On defense, sure tackling and swarming to the football would be a sign things are headed in the right direction. Getting Keondre Coburn back to eating up double teams and shutting down the middle of the field would be a great sign for Texas.
2) Avoid mistakes in the return game
The Longhorns have struggled in the return game all year. Devin Duvernay made some poor decisions against Oklahoma, but just a few weeks back it was a pair of muffed punts that nearly allowed Oklahoma State to come back and steal a win at DKR.
The Longhorns' kicking game has been stellar, but the return game is putting the offense and defense in bad positions. That's something that needs to be fixed against a Kansas team that let Oklahoma's punt return squad run wild on them a few weeks back.
3) Find a rhythm in the passing game
Last weekend was not Sam Ehlinger's fault by any means. The Texas junior played admirably and showed a lot of toughness shaking off nine sacks and constant pressure to put the ball in some incredibly-tight windows.
Yet there's no doubt that his rhythm with both Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay was off. For the first time all year, Duvernay looked rattled, while Johnson dropped a pass he would catch 99 percent of the time. Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith both looked like freshmen for the first time all year.
With a strong running game and a physical performance from the offensive line, Ehlinger should be able to get back to what he does best, put his wide receivers in positions to succeed.
This one is pretty obvious, but Texas fans will start to get antsy if this game is in doubt in the fourth quarter. For some reason, Kansas has had Texas' number in recent years, including last year's tougher-than-expected 24-17 game in Lawrence.
Texas needs to come out and eliminate all doubt by pressing its talent advantage on both sides of the ball and not allow Les Miles and a mystery Kansas offense to keep it close late into the second half.
A 31-24 win would still be a notch in the right column, but it would certainly add to the questions currently being asked in Austin. Texas fans are hoping for something more like 41-14 where the only questions in the second half are "when will we see Casey Thompson?" and "when are they gonna play Don't Stop Believing?"