Texas-Iowa State: Five Important Questions

Reese Strickland-US PRESSWIRE

Taking a look at five questions that will help determine the winner on Saturday morning.

Horns_bullet_mediumWill Manny Diaz stick with a base defense? At least from this perspective, the improvement in the Texas defense against Texas Tech, such as it was, largely came about due to Diaz allowing the defensive line to play out of base alignments and simply make plays, something that was no doubt aided by the improvements in recent weeks by the young linebackers.

As Diaz continues to try to pull back from the edge and save his job, continuing to do what works and avoid what hasn't been will be key for him moving forward. Not to mention the success of the Texas defense.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas force Steele Jantz into making bad decisions? Though there has been some improvement in recent weeks by the awesomely-named Iowa State quarterback, most Cyclone fans would probably not feel comfortable predicting a turnover-free performance by the current starter.

With nine interceptions on the season and 12 touchdown passes, the odds are almost equally as likely that Jantz will throw a pick as a touchdown and his decision making on the zone read that Iowa State will almost certainly employ hasn't been a lot better.

Against Baylor, Texas was extremely successful in turning turnovers into touchdowns. It was the difference in the game last year and could be again this year if Jantz can't avoid big mistakes.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Texas avoid another slow start? This season, as in the past, 11 am start times have not been particularly kind to the Longhorns. Whether the team simply has problem adjusting to the changes in schedule that take place as a result of waking up so early or some other factor, it's concerning.

In the end, it's on head coach Mack Brown to do a better job of preparing his team since this has been such a consistent issue.

If there's good news, it's that Texas probably takes Iowa State seriously after what happened in 2010, though the team also said the right things going into the Kansas game.

At least the Longhorns won't have to deal with cold temperatures in Austin on Saturday morning.

In addition to the early start time, though, Texas will also have to contend with the emotions of honoring legendary head coach Darrell K. Royal by lining up in the wishbone to start the game. Such moments can have the benefit of galvanizing and energizing teams, but they can also be draining as well, providing another element that will test the Longhorns.

Horns_bullet_mediumWill Iowa State be able to shut down the pin-and-pull? Other than the perimeter run game that co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin abandons at times to the frustration of many fans, Texas is now heavily reliant on the pin-and-pull play as the basis of the running game, even showing what appeared to be a variation against Texas Tech that pulled only one offensive lineman instead of two and used fullback Ryan Roberson as the other blocker to take care of an edge defender.

The worry is that Texas can't really rely on Roberson as a lead blocker on Power and the offensive line, for whatever reason, has not had a lot of success recently running between the tackles, forcing everything to happen on the edge.

Right now, the only running play that is working with consistent success is the pin-and-pull. Even with that being the case, a solid defense like Texas Tech wasn't able to stop it enough to derail the Texas running game, perhaps because Texas executes the play at an extremely high level, especially compared to the rest of the plays that they run.

The best hope for the Texas running game may be to run the bread-and-butter play until late in the game when the Cyclones get worn down by a lack of depth, which was essentially what happened against the Red Raiders.

Horns_bullet_mediumCan Mike Davis continue his ascent to stardom? The designated deep-ball threat for the Longhorns is now among the most productive wide receivers in the country on a per-catch basis and pace to crack 1,000 yards on the season.

He benefited from Texas Tech playing with one deep safety intent on helping out in run support, leaving the Red Raider cornerbacks on an island they were clearly not equipped to survive on.

It would be a surprise to see the Cyclones abandon the strategy employed by Longhorns opponents this year by playing with even numbers in the box against the run game, so the likely solution is for Paul Rhoads to relieve his safeties of such aggressive run responsibilities in an attempt to avoid those big plays.

If that is the case, can Davis still find ways to get open deep to create the big plays Texas may need to win the game?

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