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Texas aims for Big 12 title game in return to Kansas

November 22, 2018
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Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr., center, is tackled by Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes, left, and linebacker Curtis Bolton, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Tom Herman wasn’t on the Texas sideline two years ago, even if a bunch of his players were, when the Longhorns walked out of Memorial Stadium with a head-shaking loss to Kansas.

The defeat ended a string of 13 consecutive wins over the Jayhawks, likely sealed the fate of embattled coach Charlie Strong and ultimately led to Herman’s hiring away from Houston.

But when asked whether there is a sense of revenge among the veteran players on the Texas roster as they prepare to return to Lawrence for the first time Friday, the plainspoken Herman responded with what could only be considered an audible shrug.

“I feel like that program that went there, I feel like that was 50 years ago, not two years ago,” he said. “We’re so far passed that point in our program, no, there’s no hidden significance to it.”

Especially considering some far more important things are at stake: The No. 11 Longhorns (8-3, 6-2 Big 12, No. 15 CFP) will clinch a spot in the Big 12 title game with a win.

The fact that the Longhorns are in the mix heading into their regular-season finale may be the best evidence of the progress Herman has made. The year they lost to the Jayhawks, they finished 5-7 for the second straight season, and played their finale knowing a bowl game was out of reach.

“We’ve come a long way but we’re far from a finished product,” Herman said. “I would argue we’re overachievers at this point, when you look throughout the landscape of our conference. How many first-team all-conference guys do we have on our starting 22? I don’t know. I think we have some pretty good players, but we have a lot of guys that know how to play team football.

“That’s the sign of progress,” Herman said, “when your culture can take over and win some games.”

The Jayhawks (3-8, 1-7) are in the midst of another culture change of their own.

David Beaty will be coaching his final game for Kansas on Friday, having been relieved of duties with two games left in the season but allowed to finish out his fourth season in charge. He only has six wins over that time period, including that monumental high of beating the Longhorns.

The school has already hired national championship-winning coach Les Miles, and he is busy assembling a coaching staff and hitting the ground recruiting.

“I haven’t spoken to him and we probably won’t speak,” Beaty said, “but that’s OK. I’m going to be the coach here through the rest of this week and then it’s going to be time for a change. Our job is to win this game, to help those (players) that are going to still be here.”

Texas is no doubt in a better place than it was two years ago, when the Longhorns lost to the Jayhawks. But the reality is Kansas is in a better place, too, with a competitive roster — even if the positive results have been painfully hard to produce.

“Only the ones who have been inside know where we started and where we’re at today,” Beaty said. “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.”

He has one more chance on Friday.

HAGER APOLOGY

Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager issued a public apology earlier this week after he called out Oklahoma following the Longhorns’ win over Iowa State last week. Hager had said that “OU still sucks,” and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby publicly reprimanded him.

POOKA POWER

Kansas freshman Pooka Williams torched the Sooners for 252 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries last week.

“He’s the real deal,” Texas defensive lineman Chris Nelson said. “The biggest thing for this game is just gang-tackling. Everybody has to put a hat on him.”

SAM THE MAN

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger is expected to play after reinjuring his right shoulder against Iowa State. Shane Buechele finished up the win over the Cyclones and Ehlinger did not throw early in the week, but Herman expressed confidence he would be ready by Friday.

JOHNSON HEALING

Longhorns wide receiver Collin Johnson said he’s “close to 100 percent” after hurting his knee in practice early this month. He caught three passes for 55 yards against Iowa State, and said, “It was good to be back out there. At this point, everybody is battling.”

BIG 12 TITLE

Texas won three Big 12 title games, the last in 2009, before it went away following the 2010 season. Oklahoma played TCU for the championship last season.

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