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Texas Longhorns grow up in heart-stopping win over Iowa State

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It was far from perfect, but the Longhorns finished.

Cooper Neill

Finish.

On a segment by the Longhorn Network before the game, the Texas Longhorns team talked about the need to make the crucial plays to win games at the end.

In a 48-45 win over a game Iowa State Cyclones team, the Longhorns did exactly that for the first time under head coach Charlie Strong.

Was it a resounding win against another 2-4 team or was it a huge growing experience for a young team? Consider it the latter.

-- The play-calling from Shawn Watson down the stretch was incredible. Calling for a slip screen on 3rd and 8 from the ISU 26 on the second to last drive was monumental and one of the few, if only, times that Texas has run the play all season. Perfect call at the perfect time with the perfect execution.

-- Remember a few short weeks ago when people were still wondering if Tyrone Swoopes could play quarterback at Texas? His down-field passing was immensely better and even though he threw for 321 yards, he still left some plays on the field. The yards per attempt concerns look to be in the past, at least for a week, as he gained 8.9 for every toss.

-- With 22 seconds left in the game after Iowa State matched the previous Texas touchdown, Watson dialed up an out and up for Jaxon Shipley down the sideline and Swoopes delivered a pass that was ever so slightly under thrown, but still went for a massive 39-yard gain.

-- Then, what was essentially the game-winning effort by Swoopes on the next play -- check out his final throw of the game to senior wide receiver John Harris down the sideline:

-- After the pass to Harris, Watson basically looked like every intense Texas fan around the country (and world):

-- Harris still isn't quite perfect, fumbling the ball on an odd push pass play in the first half that was returned for an Iowa State touchdown. With that being said, his performance was once again incredible when assessing just how far he's come in the last year since catching that Hail Mary against the Cyclones, with most of that growth happening and becoming apparent since the start of this season.

He caught nine passes for 147 yards and was big and physical down the field in pulling in passes and in blocking for his teammates, as he's done all season.

Has any other wide receiver at Texas in the last 10 years improved as much as quickly as Harris has improved?

-- It's really starting to come together for Swoopes as a runner. He's understanding when to get north-south, his size is starting to force opponents to miss arm tackles, and he even made a defender miss along the sideline late in the game by using their momentum against them to cut back inside and pick up a few more yards.

Lacking ideal speed and lateral quickness, the sophomore is starting to learn how to make his body and athletic capabilities work for him, a beautiful thing to watch develop.

His 24-yard run keyed the first touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 38-31 lead and his 17-yard run kick-started the next scoring drive for the Horns that resulted in the Cyclones getting the ball back down a touchdown with 1:19 left in the game.

On the day, he had 14 carries for 95 huge yards.

-- Are there still doubters? Senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley thinks so:

So it goes, perhaps, but those people are increasingly foolish. Buying on Tyrone Swoopes.

-- There's still room for growth, of course, as Swoopes still doesn't always get downhill on his roll outs to add his momentum to his arm strength. And the decision to throw the ball across his body when Texas could have taken a 21-0 lead was indicative of his youth and something that Watson will surely take him to task for during the week. Judging by the reaction of Swoopes on the sideline, though, he knows he needs to be better than that and can easily be better than that.

But still...he had over 400 total yards. Don't compare him to Vince Young, just look at him as Tyrone Swoopes, impactful quarterback in his own right.

-- Give plenty of credit to the Iowa State football team. Coming into the game, it was easy to look at a lot of the statistics and results for the Cyclones and look at them as a poor football team, but they were ready to play against Texas and had a better game plan and executed that game plan better than Baylor or Oklahoma did in previous weeks.

Quarterback Sam Richardson was once again dangerous escaping out of the pocket when the rush lanes weren't perfectly filled by the Longhorns, gaining 50 yards on runs outside of sacks. He threw the pick to Haines, but also managed 345 yards through the air.

-- The Texas defense played a lot of 3-3-5 and continued to struggle defending the run from that alignment, as the Iowa State offensive linemen were consistently free to get to the second level and annihilate Longhorns linebackers. In part because of that, Cyclones running back Aaron Wimberly averaged almost eight yards per attempt in gaining 110 yards on 14 carries. With his darting quickness, he possessed the best feet on either team for the second year in the row.

-- With that being said, give plenty of credit to Texas senior running back Malcolm Brown, who gained 72 yards on 19 carries. All of those yards were hard-earned, as he continued to run with extreme aggression and made several impressive cuts. In this space, there's been a call over the last few weeks for Brown to get more carries and on Saturday junior Johnathan Gray had only six. Call that a winning distribution for Texas.

-- Former walk-on safety Dylan Haines had something of a storybook moment in the first half with his interception return for a touchdown. Matched up against stud Iowa State tight end E.J. Bibbs at a big moment in the first half, Haines read the route, jumped it, made the play, and finished it.

That's a Charlie Strong special right here -- he saw the potential of Haines working hard in practice, cultivated it, and now Texas has a contributor at a need position who made one of the plays that was a difference in the game.

Take a minute and think about how special that is.

-- Speaking of Bibbs, Iowa State tried to isolate him against whipping boy Adrian Colbert on a critical 3rd and goal in the third quarter by motioning him out of the formation. Colbert held up in coverage to hold Iowa State to a field goal after giving up a touchdown earlier in the game. The Iowa State senior may be the best tight end in the conference and could have an NFL future as an H-back, but Colbert won in a big moment. Baby steps for the raw kid out of Mineral Wells.

-- Look for freshman wide receiver Allen Lazard to end up in the Iowa State record books. He's the biggest recruit that Paul Rhoads has ever brought to Ames and he was difficult for Texas to cover in gaining 88 yards on eight catches, including a nice touchdown snag on a fade route.

-- The Texas offensive line has made significant improvements in the last several weeks and the fact that redshirt sophomore Camrhon Hughes was able to start at right tackle was significant news for the Longhorns. Credit offensive line coach Joe Wickline for developing Hughes and the entire unit to the point that they are sustaining blocks with more ease and not giving up leverage after gaining it.

Suffice it to say that Wickline is earning his paycheck as an offensive line coach and his contributions to the offense as a whole shouldn't be underrated -- all the run/pass reads and wrinkles to the quarterback run game and diamond formation looks are stuff that he brought from Oklahoma State.

- Taking junior defensive tackle Malcom Brown for granted right now is rather easy, but here's another notice that Texas fans should appreciate him before he's off to the NFL next year. On the day, he had nine tackles, (five solo), with one sack and a fumble recovery to post a line that still didn't tell the tale of his impact.

-- Sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway also had a big sack early in the game with a straight discard of the Iowa State center. After leaving the field in the first half, there was some concern about his health until he was able to return. Important strides every week for him.

*****

More later, but until then, feel good about this win, especially in contrast to how unsatisfying the close win against Iowa State in Ames last year felt.

Texas still has a long ways to go, but the program is unequivocally heading in the right direction. The coaching staff has imparted real progress on this group and the players finally stepped up and finish.