Tom Keegan: Longhorns suddenly pass-happy vs. Jayhawks

Texas wide receiver Lorenzo Joe (5) catches a deep pass beyond Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (25) during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Texas wide receiver Lorenzo Joe (5) catches a deep pass beyond Kansas cornerback Marnez Ogletree (25) during the first quarter on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium in Austin, Texas.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

— The masses frustrated with the sluggish state of Texas Longhorns football wondered what it was going to take to shake the Longhorns’ vertical passing game from a deep, season-long slumber.

The one-word answer was right at their fingertips on the schedule they held in their hands: Kansas.

Texas receivers were the driver, Kansas cornerbacks the golf ball Saturday night in Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium, where an age-old question was settled once and for all: Which side prevails when a poor pass offense faces a vulnerable pass defense? Answer: If the team that can’t stop the pass has lost the last 37 times it has played a game outside its home stadium and is 0-9 on the season, then it’s home-run derby time for the other side.

In sprinting to a 59-20 victory, Texas abused KU’s defense with multiple big plays, one week after not scoring a single point against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.

The Longhorns (4-5 overall, 3-3 in the Big 12) established the theme of the evening on their first play from scrimmage when John Burt went long and burned Marnez Ogletree. Jerrod Heard hit him in stride and Burt sped into the end zone for an 84-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage during the Charlie Strong era. Not for long. D’Onta Foreman’s 93-yard run became the third-longest running play in Texas history, when safety Fish Smithson and cornerback Brandon Stewart couldn’t stop him.

The prevailing wisdom entering the game was that Texas would use its superior power to run the ball up and down the field to a lopsided victory. The Longhorns could have done so, but when it’s your long passing that needs healing, why not take advantage of the opportunity to build some confidence through the air? 

Texas entered the night ranked last in the Big 12 with five touchdown passes and 134.4 yards passing per game.

Heard and backup Tyrone Swoopes combined to complete 19 of 30 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. The Longhorns also rushed for 299 yards.

How much faster does Kansas need to become in the secondary via recruiting upgrades to combat the speed the Big 12 schedule presents?

“Quite a bit,” first-year head coach David Beaty said during a candid post-game press conference.

The need for speed in the secondary, the pronounced lack of numbers at defensive tackle and the long-time embarrassing state of the kicking game all serve as reminders that the end of this season, still three games away, does not spell the end of the Jayhawks’ huge competitive disadvantages in the Big 12.

The Longhorns’ decision to use the vertical passing game to pressure the Kansas defense didn’t take the visitors by surprise, the Jayhawks simply weren’t able to combat it. 

“He likes to run more than other quarterbacks in the Big 12, but he can throw the deep ball and he showed that today,” Smithson said of Heard. “They came out attacking and we just have to do better and stay on top of them.”

If facing an angry opponent eager to erase the embarrassment of the previous week’s outcome played a part in Texas running away with a 35-6 second half Saturday, the same formula applies next week, when Kansas plays at TCU. The Horned Frogs, who had national-title aspirations, took a beating from Oklahoma State to fall out of the undefeated ranks. 

It’s not as if Kansas can get faster in a week.

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