Shane Buechele and UT avenge last year’s loss to Kansas.
AUSTIN — Revenge is not the purest motivator. Nor is it the most stable. Playing with that kind of raw emotion can leave the mind clouded and body burnt out. But when channeled properly it can make a fine, if ephemeral and highly combustible, fuel.
Texas might have burnt out too soon Saturday night, but its opening salvo proved enough to down error-prone Kansas 42-27 at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
It took nine seconds for UT to get on the board. After recovering a gameopening onside kick inside Kansas territory, quarterback Shane Buechele dropped a 49-yard dime to Lorenzo Joe — who enjoyed a career day with five receptions for 98 yards — as he streaked past the coverage.
That play in and of itself was not reason to believe UT (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) was playing with hate in its heart from last year’s loss at Kansas. That showed on the other side of the ball.
On KU’s first possession, safety Jason Hall speared Jayhawks quarterback Carter Stanley with all the intensity of a medieval battering ram. Team physicians examined a sprawled Stanley as he struggled to suck in air. Later in the first quarter DeShon Elliott drove running back Khalil Herbert into the ground with such force it’s a wonder there wasn’t a man-sized silhouette embedded in the turf.
Mistakes hamper effort
That aggression did not always serve UT’s purposes, though. Often enough, those punishing hits were counterbalanced by miscues borne of overzealousness and big-play hunting.
Both of KU’s first half touchdown drives were helped by UT penalties. Stanley Sim’s 5-yard scoring reception was aided by a horse-collar penalty and defensive pass interference call. A 12-play, 75yard drive that ended in leaping end-zone grab by 6-6 freshman Earl Bostick Jr. benefited from an illegal substitution penalty called on UT.
And Kris Boyd’s fumbled kickoff return became the genesis of KU’s 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter, which cut UT’s lead to 28-17.
Against another team, say West Virginia or Texas Tech, those mistakes might have cost Texas the game. The Horns survived against Kansas (1-9, 0-7) because of their superior talent and a 28-7 first-quarter cushion.
Senior Antwaun Davis turned in arguably the best performance of his career starting at nickel back in place of injured P.J. Locke (ankle). He had 16-yard pick-six in the first quarter, recovered a muffed punt at the Kansas 22-yard line, then intercepted Stanley in the end zone one drive later.
UT’s defense forced four turnovers and recorded four sacks.
“This is a guy that needed to pass an ungodly amount of hours in the spring and summer to graduate, and he needed to graduate to be eligible to play this season,” coach Tom Herman said of Davis. “And he graduated and is playing really good … he’s filled in very well for P.J.
“And then Jason Hall, that’s another product of P.J. going out, but it was good to see him find a natural home there kind of down low to the box and being able to defend the run a little bit.”
UT’s other early scores came off a dazzling, juke-filled 23-yard scamper by Toneil Carter and an8-yard hookup between freshmen Sam Ehlinger and Cade Brewer.
It marked Ehlinger’s first taste of game action since sustaining a concussion against Oklahoma State. He attempted and completed two passes for 9 yards with the score.
But Buechele piloted UT for the game’s majority, and his performance proved uneven.
He completed 22 of 39 passes for 249 yards, one touchdown, and one illadvised interception early in the fourth quarter with UT grasping to a 15-point lead.
UT’s defense, as it has all season, bailed out Buechele and the offense. Malik Jefferson recorded the game’s biggest stop, blowing through KU’s offensive line to wallop running back Taylor Martin in the backfield on fourth-and-2 from UT’s 29-yard line.
Chris Warren plunged in from 1 yard out on UT’s ensuing possession, a protracted 12-play, 68-yard drive, the final nail in a coffin that proved exceedingly difficult to shut.
It was, as Herman said, very much a “tale of two halves,” particularly for the Longhorns’ erratic offense.
“I think the momentum thing is real,” Herman said. “With such an inexperienced outfit that we have right now, we’ve got to do a better job about not worrying what the score is and not worrying about how the defense is playing or worrying about getting stopped.
“We knew that we were going to have to punt every now and again in this game. We harped on it all week, making sure we maintain a positive energy on that side of the ball. And I think we did. I think we let the momentum get to us just a hair, but we snapped out of it pretty well.”
The Longhorns won’t be playing for revenge in their final two games against West Virginia and Texas Tech. Their motivation will be a winning season and bowl eligibility.
For a program that hasn’t experienced either in too long, that should be fuel enough.
Malcolm Roach lifts UT teammate Antwuan Davis into the air in celebration following an interception during the Longhorns’ victory over Kansas on Saturday night in Austin.