Is it really already Thursday night? A hectic week of lawyerin' has kept me from the keyboard, but isn't at all a reflection of my lacking enthusiasm for this week's match up with Iowa State. For reasons I'll explain, I think it's a nearly ideal battle for this team in the week before OU and the Red River Shootout.
So better late than never, let's bang out a few Iowa State game thoughts...
Know thy foe. You know Steele Jantz, but what about the rest of the Cyclones? For an excellent primer on the Iowa State roster, my good friend Scipio has an excellent-as-always breakdown of the Cyclones personnel that is well worth your time to read. On the opponent blog front, I'm thrilled that just in time for Texas week the hilarious and irreverent Wide Right & Natty Lite have made their move over to SB Nation, where they're now teamed up with the Clone Chronicles crew. Go visit, read, laugh, learn. Bookmark it. Rinse, repeat.
Trap game for Texas? It's easy to imagine a match up with Iowa State a week prior to the Red River Shootout being a dangerous "trap game" for Texas, but not this year. The Cyclones are 3-0, they're at home, they have a coach that commands respect, they whipped the piss out of us in Austin last year, and their quarterback is the lovechild of Chuck Norris and MacGuyver.
Aside from all that, this Texas team is young and hungry to grow and improve. You're vulnerable to overlook opponents when you're used to winning, not when you're still learning how to win. In many ways, Saturday's road game in Ames is a perfect stepping stone in the schedule, providing UT with a meaningful challenge in a hostile environment. Iowa State is too good to take lightly, good enough to help us prepare for a huge battle like OU, and not so good that we won't have a strong chance to win if we play well.
That's why I love this match up, at this particular point in the schedule, for this year's team: we're heading on the road to battle a physical, disciplined, well-coached team that will force us to earn a win with quality play of our own, and who is perfectly capable of beating us if we don't.
There's no need to look forward to OU... Saturday's game against Iowa State is prep for what's ahead.
Iowa State Challenges: Offense. Let's follow up on that a bit and talk specifics -- as in the specific challenges that Iowa State will present to Texas, beginning with the offense. After losing their quarterback (Austen Arnaud), top rusher (Alexander Robinson), and only two receivers to catch 30+ balls (Collin Franklin and Jake Williams) from a year ago, there was more than a little doubt surrounding the Cyclones offense heading into 2011. Enter Steele Jantz, who wasted no time in securing LEGEND status with fans, leading the Cyclones back from a two touchdown deficit with 4:30 remaining in a 20-19 comeback win over Northern Iowa in their season opener, and then as an encore brought Iowa State back from behind on three different occasions in the fourth quarter and overtime periods of a 44-41 win over in-state rival Iowa. Which Jantz sent into overtime with this:
There's a little Tebow in Steele Jantz, less the outrageous surrounding talent to help make big plays. The Cyclones have a good-enough offensive line and a decent shifty tailback in Shontrelle Johnson, but the real challenge is the wildcard factor that Jantz introduces. Although not the most impressive pure quarterback, he's one of those QBs who regularly defies perfect defense, extending plays with his athleticism, good feet, and uncanny playmaking instincts.
What challenges does that present for the Texas defense? To begin with, disciplined assignment football is a must, and especially with respect to maintaining outside containment, because ideally you want to force Jantz to play straight up and beat you from the pocket. Relatedly, it will be imperative that the Texas defense stay home and avoid giving up big plays because of over-pursuit, and that Texas' linebackers successfully spy Jantz and keep him in front of them, tackling surely when they close in to make a play. Last but not least, Texas' secondary will need to maintain coverage throughout the play, knowing that Jantz is good at buying extra time and extending plays.
I expect Manny Diaz to construct a game plan around limiting ISU's running game and guarding closely against giving up big plays. Jantz is welcome to save some plays with miracles, so long as they don't go for touchdowns. Look for Texas to cast a net around Jantz's perimeter and try to force him to string multiple completions together from the pocket to get to the end zone.
Iowa State Challenges: Defense. The Cyclones' strength is in the back seven, a sure-tackling group anchored by a pair of rock-solid linebackers and two athletic DBs who could play for most teams in the country. The defensive line is feisty and well-coached, but there aren't any individual match ups that frighten you.
The biggest challenge for the Texas offense is likely to be the wisdom of Paul Rhoads, a superior defensive mind who will recognize Texas' power rushing as the strength of the offense and who won't miss the importance of trying to do to our young quarterbacks what I just finished saying Manny Diaz wants to do to theirs. I expect Rhoads will play the run very aggressively with numbers in the box, while asking his defensive ends to be extremely disciplined in containment. Rhoads wants Case McCoy to prove he can be successful from the pocket every bit as much as we want Steele Jantz to prove he can do the same.
Fortunately, Texas has a lot more flexibility, diversity, ad counter-measures at its disposal than does Iowa State. Most importantly, Harsinwhite have the speed at their disposal to force Iowa State to defend the width of the field, with a variety of burners like Monroe, Goodwin, and Shipley who can turn big plays if the Cyclones overload the middle. Iowa State's linebackers are very sound, but they don't have terrific lateral speed, and Texas could find success both with edge rushes and the screen game.
Texas also has David Ash, who when in the game gives us a dizzying amount of offensive diversity, and serves as a huge thorn in Rhoads likely game plan. If the biggest challenge the Texas offense will face is Iowa State's attempt to limit Malcolm Brown's effectiveness and force Case McCoy to play from the pocket, the ability of David Ash to come in and play well in giving Iowa State a different look could be a key to the game. Once a Harsinwhite offense gets a defense on its heels, the power rushing game opens up and it's game over for the defense.
For Texas, then, the biggest challenge will be finding success in the various plays designed to loosen up the Cyclones' D. If Texas sputters in that regard through the first half, I expect Iowa State will have success limiting Malcolm Brown and UT's power rushing game, and the pressure will build on Texas' young QBs to make some plays down the field. Alternatively, if the Longhorns quickly pop Iowa State's defense with those plays designed to stretch the field -- to the sidelines and downfield -- we'll blow up their game plan, the middle will open up, and the Cyclones will be in trouble.
Final Thoughts. I laid out a good bit of analysis based on how I think the coaches of these two teams will approach this game, but there are enough wildcards in this match up that I can't say I have a great deal of feel for how this game will play out. There's the playmaking ability of Jantz; the challenges I expect Rhoads to present to Case McCoy and Malcolm Brown; the youth and inexperience of potential game-changer David Ash; what I expect to be a legitimately hostile environment; and all the other unknowns that surround these two young teams early in their seasons.
One thing I know for sure is that Iowa State is unlikely to give us as many opportunities as UCLA did last week. They'll be disciplined, physical, and well-coached, and energized by an rightfully excited and enthusiastic home crowd that will believe the Cyclones can win every bit as much as the players. I'm looking forward to the challenge, and eager to see this see how this young Texas team handles it. I'm worried about a slow start, but my gut says that our speed and diversity open things up for us offensively -- eventually, if not right away -- while I like Manny Diaz's defense to do well in forcing Jantz to win it from the pocket.
If so, I like Texas to emerge ahead of a low-scoring first-half and begin to break through Iowa State in the fourth quarter. Call it Texas 30 Iowa State 22.
What are your thoughts on the game? What worries you? What are you hopeful to see? Predictions?