The Texas football team may have been eliminated from Big 12 Championship contention, but there is still a lot on the table as the Longhorns roll into Manhattan, Kan., for an 11 a.m. duel with the Kansas State Wildcats this Saturday. For one, UT's spot in a bowl game will be determined by its record, and the Horns still can win at least seven game for the fourth straight season. Here are three storylines to watch:
Deuce Vaughn faces former hometown team
It was not more than a year ago that Deuce Vaughn was dominating on high school football fields across Central Texas, starring for Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock.
A year later, he is in a starting role with Kansas State's offense, and presumably is looking forward to facing the Longhorns Saturday. Vaughn has surprised many with his immediate impact on the Wildcats offense, leading the team in rushing touchdowns (five), average rushing yards per game (58.6), and total rushing yards (558).
What makes Vaughn even more dangerous is the fact that he is more than a running back. He also is a do-it-all player who could be rushing up the middle one play, and lined up in the slot the next. He actually leads the team in receiving yards (389) and averages 43 receiving yards per game. Vaughn's has to be the name every Texas defender has circled on his scouting report.
With safety Caden Sterns opting to skip the final two games of Texas' season and prepare for the draft, the Longhorns will be without one of their top defenders. If Texas can slow Vaughn down enough, the Longhorns likely will walk away with the victory. However, as last week showed, the Longhorn defense was not able to slow Iowa State running back Breece Hall down enough to keep him from pushing the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead touchdown.
Deuce Vaughn rips off a 38 yard TD run to give Kansas State (+5.5) a 31-22 lead— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) November 29, 2020
Loss of experienced starters could spell trouble for the Horns on both sides of the ball
With just two games left in the regular season, Texas has seen two of its most experienced players, safety Caden Sterns and guard Samuel Cosmi, opt out of the remainder of the 2020 campaign. Though expected, considering Texas is out of Big 12 Championship contention, those departures are big blows for Texas. Cosmi has anchored an inexperienced offensive line this season, and besides center Derek Kerstetter, is the only upperclassman on the O-line.
Kerstetter is questionable for Saturday's game. This would leave the Horns looking to fill major gaps at two positions on the line, and quarterback Sam Ehlinger likely scrambling quite often. Look for the Kansas State defense to try to capitalize on the Longhorns' experience up front. On defense, Sterns has stayed healthy and made some key contributions, including one interception and three pass breakups.
Texas will be without two, or possibly three, of its most experienced starters. Look for safety B.J. Foster to step up on defense, and when it comes the offensive line, Christian Foster will be asked to play plenty of snaps, as will freshman Jake Majors, who likely will see time at center.
UT's chance to capitalize?
While the Wildcat defense has a chance to capitalize on UT's lack of depth on the offensive line, the Longhorns have an opportunity of their own on defense. Kansas State has been without accomplished quarterback Skylar Thompson since Oct. 12, when he suffered a season-ending "upper-body" injury, forcing true freshman Will Howard into the starting role. With Thompson behind center, the Wilcats rolled to a 3-0 record, including a victory over Oklahoma. Since that point, Kansas State has gone 2-4, recently losing on a game-winning field goal to Baylor, 32-31. If there is one area in which Texas needs to dominate, it is in the pass rush.
Sure, Vaughn may be hard to stop, but Kansas State throws the ball often, and if the Longhorn defense can throw a kink into the Wildcats' passing attack early on, chances of leaving Manhattan with a win will skyrocket.