Thanksgiving is a time for celebrating three of the most important things in life: family, food and football. This Friday, our Texas Longhorns have a chance to control their own destiny and move on to the Big 12 Championship for the first time since 2009. As I flew home from Maryland back in September, I would have laughed optimistically if someone said we would be sitting at 8-3 and in a “win and you’re in” situation. But that is exactly where we are.
This team has fought every week and refused to give up. They came together as a team and dominated Iowa State from whistle to whistle. Even after Sam Ehlinger went out with a shoulder injury, the team continued to control the game. That speaks to what Tom Herman has done for this program. Herman has not just recruited a few quality players, but instead has developed a system that puts all players in positions to succeed. The game did not stop when Sam went down. Herman looked to his bench and said, “next man up." That is what we’ve been missing this past decade.
Heading into Championship territory
For the fans who have faded away or lost hope throughout the season and are shocked at Texas’ current position, I will briefly explain how we got here.
Following consecutive losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia, the Horns were seemingly eliminated from the Big 12 Championship race. However, West Virginia’s loss to unranked Oklahoma State last weekend blew the door wide open. Assuming the Longhorns take care of business against Kansas, which is no freebie, there are two possible matchups for their opponent on December 1st.
Scenario A: West Virginia beats Oklahoma giving them their second conference loss. Despite having a better overall record (10-2 compared to Texas’ 9-3), Oklahoma and Texas would both have two conference losses. In the event of a tie, the Big 12 rankings look at the head to head matchup results, in which the Longhorns have the edge.
Scenario B: Oklahoma beats West Virginia giving the Mountaineers their third conference loss. Texas would then surpass them and move into second place in the Big 12.
All of this is great, but Texas still has travel to Kansas and suit up on Friday. As the 2016 team knows, this game is not as automatic as it has historically been.
Kansas is a much better team this year and will play hard for their senior night and head coaches last game. Although being 3-8 overall, Kansas has played well against Oklahoma, Kansas State, and West Virginia. Freshman running back Pooka Williams is coming off of a 15 252-yard and two touchdown performance against Oklahoma. On the season, Williams has over 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns. Williams is a smaller back at 5'10" and 170lbs, but is deceptively strong and very willing to lower his shoulder. While not contributing much in the passing game, Williams is very smart about releasing his blocking assignment to try and give his quarterback an easy check down. I think defensive end Breckyn Hager will be key to set the edge and prevent Williams from using his elite speed to gain chunks of yards.
Other than Williams, I am not very worried about what Kansas does offensively, especially with how we played last week. The Longhorns were able to hold Iowa State to under 250 yards of offense. Additionally, the pressure we were able to get up front was exceptional. We ended the day with six sacks, nine tackles for loss, and two turnovers. Way to step up, boys.
What's stopping us?
The big question mark for the offense right now is the status us quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Following his second quarter exit Saturday night, Ehlinger aggravated the AC joint on his throwing shoulder again, the same one he injured earlier in the year. However Herman did not seem too concerned and believes Sam will be ready to go on Friday.
Wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey had another big performance with seven receptions for 86 yards and a touchdown. I really do not see anything with this Kansas defense that would lead me to think they will slow down his historic season. Between Duvernay, Humphrey, and Johnson, this Kansas secondary is going to have a tough afternoon.
This has been a roller coaster of a season. I have been so impressed with what Herman has done. Taking care of Kansas this Friday would speak so much to his ability to keep his team focused.
With all of the noise circulating in the media surrounding his personal life and the constant public criticism that goes with being a part of such a historic program, a trip to the Big 12 season would certainly prove to everyone that he is the man for the job. As long as we stay focused and don’t make get over confident, I don’t see how we won't be playing on December 1st in Dallas.