MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Two images from Saturday, as they relate to reeling Texas, remained stuck in my mind hours after the Longhorns lost 24-21 to Kansas State -- a fifth straight defeat here over a dozen years and 12th loss in 17 games away from home in three seasons under coach Charlie Strong.
In the first moment, K-State linebacker Charmeachealle Moore, overlooked by most programs out of Dallas five years ago, surged through the Texas line to hammer Big 12 rushing leader D'Onta Foreman in the backfield on a third-and-1 handoff early in the second quarter.
The other featured Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, the premier Strong signee in three years and preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, flat-footed and seemingly uninterested as KSU quarterback Jesse Ertz ran past for a nice gain in the fourth quarter.
This is Texas after eight weeks, overmatched and outplayed again by lesser talent and growing more lost with each trip away from Austin.
The Longhorns return home Saturday to face No. 8 Baylor (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC). UT has played well in Austin, but it likely can’t save Strong’s job without correcting the road woes. And really, Texas’ problems run deeper than anything directly tied to the location of its games.
Strong’s team, since the season-opening overtime thriller against Notre Dame, has failed to show that it knows how to win. Texas has enjoyed just five weeks in three years with a winning record. With a chance to get there again Saturday, it squandered multiple opportunities in the second half with unforced errors.
The Longhorns, with Texas Tech, No. 10 West Virginia, Kansas and TCU still ahead after Baylor, must know the margin for error is slim, yet their lack of urgency poses reason for alarm.
“This team will fight,” Strong said Saturday. “It doesn’t concern me at all.”
It should concern him that Jefferson disappeared at times against K-State. He watched from the sideline for periods as the Texas defense worked Saturday in the second half.
He was not benched, according to the coach.
“They rotated,” Strong said.
Jefferson was not made available to speak to the media. Such semantics remove focus from the reality that Texas has not pieced together a full game this season.
Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert saw it differently. No one is pressing, he said.
“If the ball’s in your hands and it’s there,” Gilbert said, “you’ve got to make the play.”
Texas appeared content to try to take what the Wildcats offered, which was not Duvernay. At some point, offensively, Texas needs to take what it wants.
“Just stop making mistakes and just clean up the little things,” Duvernay said. “Everything comes down to the little thing.”
Texas, perhaps, performs worst at the little things. It was penalized 10 times Saturday and ranks 113th nationally in penalty yards per game. By collecting two fumbles and an interception, none of which Texas turned into points, it drew even in turnover margin for the season.
“We have to get better,” Buechele said.
Another image lingers from Saturday. It’s Bill Snyder, the 77-year-old Kansas State coach, in an embrace with Strong at midfield after Trent Domingue’s onside kick for Texas in the final minute bounced out of bounds and the Wildcats drained the clock.
Snyder and Strong talked for several seconds -- mostly Snyder -- before Strong stood alone in a crowd of Longhorns, all the eyes of Texas on him as he slipped into a group that made its way to the southeast corner of the field to salute the UT fans in traditional form.
“We all play for him,” Foreman said of his coach. “It’s definitely hard to lose games like that, knowing that a lot of a lot of people say that they don’t want him here. I know that I definitely want him to be here. So I give my all for him and this team.”
From here, for Strong and Texas, the treacherous road turns even more difficult to navigate.