AUSTIN -- Mike Davis had a step. On a play where Kansas State's defensive backs likely had the simplest instruction don't let your man behind you Davis was able to do just that.
Former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis once said of the receiver: "He reminded me of a really fast guy." Now, that really fast guy burst past Kansas State cornerback Nigel Malone, a Thorpe candidate with seven interceptions, with K-State clinging to a 17-13 lead with less than a minute left.
Texas quarterback Case McCoy, who led the Longhorns back from a 17-3 deficit, floated a pass toward Davis that fluttered just outside of the receiver's grasp. What could have been a big play, a potential game-winner, fell a foot too far. Two plays later, the result was complete, a 17-13 loss.
"We had our chances to win, and I guess that's why it's called football," said senior center David Snow, after the loss on Senior Night. "You're not guaranteed to win."
Each of the last two weeks, Texas has been painfully reminded that the Longhorns are this close to turning the corner, only to realize that -- at times -- the inches can seem like miles.
"I really thought we had a chance to win until that last play was over," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "I'm proud of the way we fought."
Fight certainly wasn't the issue Saturday, especially defensively. Texas held Kansas State to just 121 yards on 56 plays, holding a Wildcats squad that averaged almost 209 rushing yards per game to just 38 yards on 39 carries. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who entered the game as one of college football's deadliest weapons, was swarmed, sacked five times and held to 87 total yards, including just four yards on the ground.
"I thought they were terrific," Manny Diaz said of his Texas defense. "We feel like they have been getting better week-in, week-out."
But each of the last two weeks, a stout defense hasn't been enough to earn a victory, with a few plays changing the tone of the game. Texas outgained K-State by nearly 200 yards, but the Wildcats took advantage of great field position on three separate occasions.
On the first, quarterback David Ash threw behind his receiver. The ball was tipped and intercepted by Kansas State linebacker Emmanuel Lamur. It took the Wildcats seven plays and a fourth-down conversion to earn 13 yards, and Kansas State kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead. After Texas used a short field of its own to tie the game, Texas appeared to get a break when Kansas State muffed a punt and the Longhorns recovered the ball.
But for the second consecutive week, a questionable call hurt the 'Horns. Texas was slapped with kick-catching interference, and instead of a turnover that set Texas up for a go-ahead score, Kansas State started off with the ball on the 46.
"It was deflating," Brown said, before stating that he couldn't discuss the call further.
Texas gave up two big-plays on the drive, the first of which was a 24-yard pass from Klein to Sheldon Smith, which bailed the Wildcats out of a third-and-14. The second came on a third-and-3 from the 16, when Klein threw a perfect pass to the back shoulder of receiver Chris Harper for a 10-3 lead with nine seconds left before halftime.
In the third quarter, Ash's second interception gave the Wildcats the ball on the Texas 37. After a defensive pass interference call gave Kansas State the ball at the Texas 2-yard-line, it took Klein three plays to dive in over left tackle for a 17-3 margin.
"They know what they are doing," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "And whenever you are out of position for one play, they are going to exploit it."
The Wildcats entered the game with a reputation for pouncing on mistakes, and they lived up to it. Three short fields were created by two interceptions and a penalty. Those short distances led to three scores and 17 points.
"Tremendous," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said of the two interceptions. "They made a big difference."
That the Wildcats accounted for just 17 total yards on all their other combined drives was irrelevant. Kansas State has gotten to 9-2 this year and to the brink of (at least) a Cotton Bowl berth by making the exact plays they needed to at the exact times they needed to make them. At the same time, Texas, which rallied behind a McCoy, is 6-4 and has a 3-4 record in conference play because it has come up just short on those same plays.
McCoy hit Blaine Irby for a 36-yard touchdown to close to within a score and thrice more had the Longhorns into Kansas State territory (and a fourth time, at the 50). But he came up a few feet away on a potential touchdown pass to D.J. Grant, then just missed Davis at the end.
"I thought when he came in, he provided the spark that we needed," said Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. "On offense, it's always one or two things here and there. Those guys were scratching and clawing at the end."
In that way, this year's Texas team is different than last year's version. They're in better shape, and will fight for everything they get. But the difference between a 10-win regular season, like the Wildcats can now attain, and a six-win season, which the Longhorns could now face, is razor thin. To get back to 10-win seasons, Texas could stand to emulate Kansas State's ability to grab a win even when they don't bring their 'A' game.
If Texas is to get back, the Longhorns are going to have to slice their turnovers to a minimum, and they have to start scoring points when they get the ball to the other team's side of the field.
"Give Kansas State credit," Brown said. "They didn't make any mistakes, and we didn't force any of theirs. Our defense played great. Our offense was sporadic. But we had a chance."
At the end, that chance was limited to a single play when McCoy tried to find "a really fast guy" who ran past an opponent making a mistake. And like the Longhorns' ongoing rebuilding job, the pass was incomplete.