No. 14 Texas heads to Kansas on Friday with a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game on the line and a head of steam, especially on defense, built by perhaps its most physical and dominating performance of the season last Saturday in a 24-10 win over Iowa State.
The two teams will kick off a big day of do-or-die games in the Big 12 at 11 a.m. at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, a venue that holds some bad memories for the Longhorns.
Texas lost to the hapless Jayhawks here in 2016, effectively ending the tenure of coach Charlie Strong and, unwittingly, putting the Longhorns into the upward trajectory that’s led them back into prominence in the college football world.
The Longhorns (8-3, 6-2 in Big 12 play) have already won more games than they have since 2013 and will be a huge favorite to clobber Kansas (3-8, 1-7 in Big 12 play). Still the loss two years ago hangs over the Longhorns as an example of a situation when everything that could go wrong did.
“Win or lose, regardless of opponent and regardless of venue, you have to move on,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “It requires a skill to make sure that you do it properly. There is no need for ‘closure.’ We’ve played a lot of football since then, and we’ve grown up a lot as a team.”
Texas handily beat a gritty Iowa State team last Saturday to put itself into the position to earn that spot in the league championship game, and did so by returning to the physical style of play that earned it a six-game winning streak earlier in the season.
“Iowa State, we feel like, is the second-most physical team in the Big 12,” said Herman, while considering his own team the most physical. “So we knew we were going to have to match and or exceed their physicality to have a chance in that game.
“In the other games, the style that they play might lend itself for you to play a little differently, too. I’m not saying we will ever not play physical, but there is a little bit of both there. It was important for us to get back to playing ball the way that we’ve designed our program to play.”
While the Jayhawks have one more game to play this season, most of the excitement around the program of late has centered on the hiring of former LSU and Oklahoma State coach Les Miles as Kansas’ new head coach.
Miles will replace David Beaty, who is 6-41 as the Jayhawks’ head coach but was told two weeks ago that he would not be retained at season’s end.
Kansas will host its senior day on Saturday after slugging it out with Big 12 heavyweight Oklahoma last week in a 55-40 loss. The Jayhawks’ 40 points were the most scored in a conference game during Beaty’s four-year tenure.
“Our job is to go win this game,” Beaty said. “To help those (players) that are going to still be here.”
Although neither this season nor his four-year run as KU’s football coach met Beaty’s expectations, he will leave the program behind feeling proud about certain aspects of his tenure.
“You know, it’s a production business,” Beaty said. “So at the end of the day it’s about production and production is spelled out with W-I-N — you’ve got to win. We weren’t able to do that at a high enough level fast enough. And I get that. So it’s the way of the world and we understand it.”
True freshman running back Pooka Williams had a standout game for Kansas, rushing for a career-high 252 yards and also throwing a touchdown pass. Williams set a KU freshman rushing record while his 16.8 yards per carry were the third-most in Big 12 history.
Texas and Kansas meet for the 18th time in program history on Friday in Lawrence. Texas owns a record of 14-3 overall. Friday’s matchup will be the 10th all-time at KU. UT is 6-3 all-time on the road in the series. The Longhorns have won 14-of-15 matchups since becoming Big 12 Conference foes.