BIG 12 CONFERENCE
Texas (4-4, 2-3 Big 12)
At Kansas State (5-3, 2-3)
Bill Snyder Family Stadium
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2
LINE — Texas by 3½.
SERIES RECORD — Tied 5-5.
Last Meeting— 2007, Kansas State 41-21.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Both teams still fighting to become bowl eligible, and both have lost two in a row. Texas having a down year after winning the Big 12 and playing for the national championship. It’s the last home game of the season for the Wildcats, so they want to make it count.
Texas defensive line against KSU running back Daniel Thomas. Texas has given up big yards and big plays rushing in each of its losses and Thomas is the second-leading rusher in the Big 12 with 996 yards and 10 touchdowns. In losses to UCLA, Iowa State and Baylor, Texas has allowed touchdown runs of 38, 29, 20 and 69 yards.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Texas — Punt returners Adrian Philips or Kenny Vaccaro. One — or both — of them will be catching punts for the first time and doing it where windy conditions can make it even more difficult. Texas making the change after a several fumbles by Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams.
Kansas State — WR Aubrey Quarles. He’s coming off two big games and faces a Texas secondary that has given up four touchdown passes the last two weeks with broken coverages and missed tackles.
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — There’s a reason Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert has only six touchdown passes in eight games: his receivers keep dropping them.
They drop long passes, short passes and medium ones, too.
Long gone are the days of record-setting receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby catching everything Colt McCoy threw their way. Gilbert has been saddled with a group that treats the ball like it’s radioactive.
It’s a problem Texas (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) would like to fix when the Longhorns play Saturday night at Kansas State (5-3, 2-3). The Longhorns have lost four of their last five games.
“We’ve been over it and over it and over it. There is absolutely nothing that we can see except there is too many guys dropping a ball,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “It hurts our momentum, and it wears on everybody.”
First-year players and seasoned veterans alike are at fault.
Freshman Mike Davis looked early like he could be a big playmaker for the Longhorns with a couple of touchdown catches to offset some early drops. More puzzling have been drops by junior Malcolm Williams and senior James Kirkendoll.
The tight ends are struggling, too. Sophomore Barrett Matthews had a couple of drops in a loss to UCLA and a sure touchdown pass bounced off his facemask in last week’s 30-22 loss to Baylor.
The Longhorns dropped five passes against Baylor and also had to settle for five field goals instead of touchdowns when they drove deep into Baylor territory.
“If it was one guy, we’d take him out. But everybody seems to have one,” Brown said.
And even when they catch the ball, the Longhorns have a bad habit of dropping it again. Faced with 3rd-and-19 with 2 minutes left against Baylor, Gilbert threw a perfect strike to Marquise Goodwin for 21 yards. Goodwin took two steps, dropped the ball and Baylor recovered. Game over.
“We just need to relax, have fun,” Williams said. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me I know if I get a couple of catches early on it really helps me settle in and gain some confidence. If you miss the catches early on, you have to have a short memory and just forget about it.”
Gilbert, who has his own share of miscues with nine interceptions and several fumbles, was unwilling to call out his teammates’ mistakes after his best game of the season still ended in a loss.
“There were plenty of open targets that I missed. It’s going to happen,” Gilbert said.
It didn’t happen very often the previous two seasons when Texas went 25-2.
In 2008, Shipley and Cosby combined to catch 181 passes when McCoy set an NCAA record with a 77 percent completion rate. In 2009, Shipley caught a school record 116. Both players are now in the NFL.
Texas’ leading receiver this season is Kirkendoll with 31 catches for 389 yards and one touchdown.
“We’ve said Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby caught those balls, stayed on the field. We scored touchdowns with them,” Brown said. “We dropped at least two touchdown passes (against Baylor).”
Brown insists he can’t just take players off the field for the drops. The players compete for the right to play every week and those who practice the best get in the games.
Brown is charting every ball that the receivers touch in practice. The staff has always charted catches and drops when the offense is practicing plays, but now they’re even watching warmup drills.
“We’ve never done this before,” Brown said. “If it was one guy dropping five balls, you can fix it easier, but it’s not.”