The tough Longhorn running game and a handful of explosive plays from David Ash propelled Texas to a convincing win over a scrappy Iowa State team.
Given the fact that DKR was notoriously conservative, a fullback dive would probably have been more fitting than a trick play that included not one, but two passes, but the play clearly energized the team and the fans, helping the Longhorns get off to a fast start after all those issues this season.
Getting vertical in the passing game for Ash on the first play foreshadowed the rest of the day for the starting Texas quarterback, who threw for a career-high 364 yards, including an insane performance in the first half, when he went 15-for-16 for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
The biggest play may have been the 61-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Davis in the first quarter, who managed to run past an Iowa State cornerback on his trademark post route despite a little hitch in his stride after leaving the field briefly with a minor injury.
After a strong performance against Texas Tech that nevertheless included some struggles in the third quarter, Ash turned in a pretty complete three-plus quarters on Saturday, further confirming that there are no lingering side effects from his benching against Kansas.
The scary thing? Ash still missed on a couple of passes that he may be able to connect on as he continues to grow and improve. If he can do that, he'll become one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
For now, avoiding performances like the one against Kansas and playing consistently is the goal.
Significant step forward for the Texas defense
If the last several games were baby steps for the Longhorns defensively, the performance against the Cyclones would seem to represent a big step forward. Defensive coordinator Steele Jantz with a variety of blitzes in passing situations, harrying him into a 15-for-29 performance that included two interceptions on balls that were overthrown because of pressure in his face.once again kept away from early-down twists and was able to dial up pressure against Iowa State quarterback
Against the run, Texas wasn't quite dominant giving up 4.6 yards per carry, but didn't give up a run of longer than 14 yards, receiving a strong performance from true freshman Peter Jinkens, who filled in ably for Kendall Thompson, who suffered the concussion last week against Texas Tech.
Overall, the Longhorns only gave up 277 yards, only the third time this season they've held an opponent under 300 yards, with the longest play by the Iowa State offense covering only 23 yards. Take out the drive before the half that resulted in the only touchdown for the Cyclones, and dominant would probably be the right word.
Strong performance by the offensive line
Coming into the game, I was worried about Texas not being able to move the line of scrimmage against an Iowa State rush defense that is well regarded by the advanced metrics, especially since the Power and zone games have not been a strongsuit in recent weeks.
Building on the strong finish to the Texas Tech game, the offensive line turned in what was one of the most impressive efforts in years, paving the way for 222 big rushing yards, aided by some tough running from Joe Bergeron, who led the team with 82 yards and averaged more than seven yards per carry.
Overall, Texas averaged nearly five yards on every attempt against a team that was giving up only 3.8 yards per attempt coming in.
Step by step, the Longhorns are becoming the physical rushing team capable of picking up yardage against good run defenses -- exactly what Mack Brown has wanted for years.
Nick Jordan back in at kicker
The Longhorns had only attempted one field goal since the West Virginia game, when Penn State transfer Anthony Fera missed a big kick late.
After Fera had his first attempt blocked and then missed an extra point, Texas opted to go with true freshman Nick Jordan, who hadn't tried a field goal since the Ole Miss game following Fera's return and a 3-for-7 start by Jordan, who converted both of his opportunities, one from 25 yards out and the other from 37, getting into the range where he had problems early in the season.
The two will likely continue competing in practice, but Texas continues to have problems there that could come back to haunt them in a close game.
Texas has been so outstanding this season scoring touchdowns in the redzone -- second in the country in touchdown percentage -- that some of the failures to get the ball into the end zone in some of the situations on Saturday stood out in sharp relief compared to the rest of the season.
It's a credit to Harsin and the Texas offense that the standards are so high in that regard now, but the issues were significant in the game in that the Longhorns could have put the contest out of reach much earlier with some greater efficiency.
Texas had the one field goal blocked, settled for two field goals, and missed on the 4th and 1 call when Ash's pass to DJ Grant in the end zone was incomplete.
Against TCU, and certainly against Kansas State, Texas will need to return to being one of the top teams in the country in that regard.
Team continues to grow
Coming out of the tumultuous month of October, the win against Texas Tech was a surprise and once again raised the expectations a little bit. Early in the day against a tough but flawed team, Texas exorcised some demons and provided more reason for optimism heading into a bye week before TCU comes to town.
Predicting a win over Kansas State still seems like a stretch at this point, but the Longhorns are undoubtedly a better football team today than they were even two weeks ago against Kansas, showing some needed growth that has come about by the team demonstrating some mental and physical toughness, for which Mack Brown deserves some credit.
For right now, at least, the football is good again, and that's a damn good thing.