Led by a pack of talented underclassmen, the Longhorns honored the legendary Darrell K Royal with a dominant win over Iowa State that surely would have made him proud.
Texas' post-OU surge continued on Saturday with a 33-7 trouncing of Iowa State to make it four wins in a row since the meltdown in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns scored three first half touchdowns before Iowa State found the end zone late in the half, but Texas' 20-7 halftime margin was as close as the Cyclones would get.
Moving On Up
After defeating Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech and now Iowa State, the Longhorns' season record now sits at 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big 12, maintaining their third-place position in the conference standings behind Kansas State (10-0, 7-0) and Oklahoma (7-2, 5-1), ahead of Oklahoma State (4-2) and Texas Tech (4-3). Texas also saw its standing in the BCS rankings improve, rising two spots to No. 15, right in line with the team's rankings in both the Harris and Coaches polls, and one slot behind its average mark in the computers.
Two regular season games plus conference championships is an eternity in college football, but following Saturday's action the possibility of a Texas vs Texas A&M Cotton Bowl remains a very real possibility. Although ESPN and Scout currently forecast Texas in the Cotton Bowl versus LSU or Alabama, both SB Nation and CBS Sports are projecting the rivalry will be rekindled in Jerryworld on January 4th. Texas fans may have mixed feelings about such a match up, but one thing's for sure: Cotton Bowl officials will not.
A Complete Win
After a hard fought road win last week over Texas Tech, the Longhorns simply dominated Iowa State in what was probably the team's most complete and impressive win of the season, more than doubling up Iowa State in both total yardage (609 to 277) and first downs (31 to 15). The offense's 7.9 yards-per-play average the third time during the current four-game winning streak that it has averaged 7.0 yards or more, while the defense delivered its best start-to-finish performance of the year, forcing 2 turnovers, holding Iowa State below its season averages in both points and yards, and limiting the Cyclones to just 3 of 14 on 3rd down.
|First 9 Games||361||5.0||23.3||.321|
|vs Texas Defense||277||4.6||7||.117|
|First 9 Games||424||5.4||21.4||.248|
|vs Texas Offense||609||7.9||33||.429|
Iowa State isn't a great team, but they're a solid, well-coached team that had been competitive in just about every game this season. ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said before the game that he thought Texas looked as locked in as any that he had prepped for all year, and whether he meant it or was offering pre-game platitudes... he was right.
A Young, Badass Offense
Almost all the pre-season question marks about Texas were centered on the offense, but this unit started well and has been outstanding for most of the season, with only a pair of subpar performances (OU, Kansas) surrounded by some of the best offense Texas has seen since Vince Young was on campus. Following this week's bombing of a solid ISU defense, Texas is now averaging an exceptional 6.64 yards per play, which ranks as the 14th highest nationally this season and if it holds would be the Longhorns' best mark since the national champs average 7.1 yards per play in '05, narrowly besting Colt McCoy's best season in '08 (6.60 ypp average, 16th nationally).
Of all the things to love about this year's offense, maybe the most exciting of all is just how young it is, never more apparent than during Saturday's win over Iowa State. Sophomore David Ash decimated ISU's secondary, connecting primarily with sophomore Jaxon Shipley (8 catches, 137 yards), junior Mike Davis (7 for 113 yards, TD), and sophomore TE Greg Daniels (2 for 62 yards). And on the ground, much the same thing: the four tailbacks who pounded out 206 yards and 2 TDs on 39 carries consisted of two true freshmen (Jonathan Gray and Daje Johnson) and a pair of sophomores (Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron), running behind a line with two sophomores (Josh Cochran and Dom Espinosa) and three juniors.
The only seniors of note on this year's team are Marquise Goodwin, D.J. Monroe, and D.J. Grant, and assuming no one transfers or leaves early for the NFL Draft, the 2013 Longhorns will return their top two quarterbacks, each of their top four rushers, their top two receivers, two of their top three tight ends, and all five starters from the offensive line. And of that group, all but four could return for another year in 2014. We've had to endure some growing pains along the way, but the future has never been brighter.
Quick Hitters vs ISU: Offense
We focused a lot more on it last year when it was the primary asset he brought to the field, but David Ash does some amazing things with his feet that really make us difficult to deal with... Greg Daniels had 2 catches for 62 yards -- including the one that mattered most -- and has steadily developed throughout his sophomore season into a player that looks like he's gearing up for a breakout junior campaign... I mentioned last week that I liked seeing Bryan Harsin refocusing targeted efforts to involve Jaxon Shipley, and we saw that elevated even more so on Saturday, as Harsin not only targeted Shipley as an intended receiver, but as a Swiss Army knife and as a threat/decoy, as well -- taking advantage of Shipley's versatility on his pass-back to Ash on the Wishbone play, and (less visibly) using him as a threat/decoyof to spring Gray for an 18-yard gain on a screen pass on 1st and 20... I couldn't have been more impressed with Dom Espinosa, who has just gotten stronger and stronger as the year has progressed, peaking with Saturday's performance against ISU. His mobility allows him to make some outstandingly impressive blocks in space, and against the Cyclones he was executing picture-perfect combo blocks like the one that sprung Gray for Texas' first TD of the game... Updating last week's numbers for Mike Davis and his quest for a 1,000 yard season, after racking up another 113 yards on 7 catches, including a 61-yard TD, the junior receiver now sits at 837 yards on the season with 2 games to play.
The Defense Plays Fast & Decisive
The Longhorns defense drew the easier assignment, and while there's no need to get carried away with what the unit did statistically, what I found encouraging was that after watching this unit looking slow and reactive all season, on Saturday they played fast, and looked decisive in their actions.
The improvements against Iowa State appeared to be a product of both greater experience and greater confidence, along with the emergence of some younger players in the place of the repeat offenders. Josh Turner is a playmaker at safety with a little bit of Earl Thomas in him, while the surprise player of the game in my mind had to be Peter Jinkens, who along with having a first name to which I'm partial showed great instincts in sniffing out the ball and flowing to the tackle without getting caught up in blocks.
In a historically awful year for the Texas defense, seeing the group put together a solid performance featuring valuable contributions from talented underclassmen like Turner, Jinkens, Cedric Reed, and Shiro Davis provided a much-needed boost that helps restore some optimism about a strong finish to this year and the potential to compete for the conference title a year from now.
It's late and I need to wrap this up, but one final note before signing off: it's a real shame that the overall performance of the defense is diminishing what has been a truly outstanding senior season from Alex Okafor, who was a beast once again on Saturday, with 9 tackles, including 2 for a loss, plus a QB Hurry to bring his season totals to 60 tackles, 12 TFLs, 8 sacks, 17 QB Hurries, 3 forced fumbles, and 1 blocked kick. He's been a dominant player on a bad defense, but hasn't played a single snap at anything less than 110%. He's your Defensive MVP for 2012, and it's not close.
Up Next: The Longhorns' next game will be the annual game on Thanksgiving Day (6:30 pm CT), with TCU (6-4, 3-4) sliding in to take the place of Texas A&M.
Congrats to the team on the win, and on honoring the legendary Darrell K. Royal, who had to be smiling on Saturday. RIP, Coach Royal.