In the Charlie Strong era, Texas Longhorns games tend to end after the first score and with the Horns are now 0-11 when the opponent scores first, a trend played out in Ames on Saturday night, as the Iowa State Cyclones overcame a change at offensive coordinator this week to beat Texas, 24-0.
Texas senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson had a chance to break the shutout when a ball hit his hands in the end zone on the game's final play, but he dropped it. Just like the Horns figuratively dropped the ball the entire game.
All the good feelings, all the talk about the potential for bowl eligibility and progress? Out the window. This team won't have a postseason and Strong has major questions to answer. Saying that the team is better than it showed will no longer suffice. If there's one positive, it's that he didn't try to do so in the post-game press conference.
The Horns have now been outscored 112-10 on the road this season as the Cyclones picked up the program's first home win in the series. Coming into the game, Texas had never scored fewer than 17 points against Iowa State, marking another low point in a long line of them over the last six seasons.
Want another one? The only other teams that Iowa State has beat at home over the last three seasons are Toledo, Kansas, and Northern Iowa.
An all-too-familiar story played out for the Longhorns in the game -- the defense couldn't get off the field on third down in critical moments and the offense was once again ineffective after seemingly ganing an identity as a physical running team. Iowa State ended the game converting 15-of-24 third downs and out-gained Texas 426 to 204, with 77 of those yards coming on the meaningless final drive.
Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads schemed to stop the scrambling ability of Texas redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard and there were no counters from a limited Longhorns offense that was never able to generate any big plays. Over the first 11 drives, the deepest offensive penetration was the Iowa State 47-yard line. On the next play, Heard threw his third interception of the season when he shoudl have thrown the ball out of bounds.
Seven of those drives were three and outs.
Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes replaced Heard early in the fourth quarter, but was unable to provide any spark for the struggling offense until the final drive. On one play in the fourth quarter, senior wide receiver Daje Johnson was wide open down the sideline and Swoopes threw the ball out of bounds, a fitting image for the entire game.
After a poor game by Heard, Swoopes did nothing to suggest that he would be the better answer morving forward. So at least there's not really a quarterback controversy looming, just the return of questions about whether the Horns have a long-term solution there.
Three 3rd and 10 conversions in the first half by Joel Lanning, the new Iowa State starter at quarterback, were particularly painful. He gained 50 yards on those nine carries, but looked inept in the passing game, bouncing multiple passes in front of intended receivers and completing only 11-of-26 passes.
The final incompletion seemed important at the time, as Texas senior cornerback Duke Thomas leaped to barely deflect a ball that would have otherwise found the hands of Iowa State wide receiver Quenton Bundrage for a big touchdown just before the half. Instead, Bundrage wasn't able to pull the ball in and the Cyclones had to settle for the a field goal.
Iowa State had marched 66 yards on 11 yards on its second possession to take the early lead with a three-yard touchdown run by Mike Warren. The drive featured three conversions on third down for the Cyclones.
In the second half, all the Cyclones had to do was avoid mistakes. If there was one crushing play, it was Lanning standing in the pocket seemingly forever, then scrambling briefly before finding an open wide receiver to convert a 3rd and 12.
This was a sound beating across the board just when it looked like the Horns were ready to turn the corner. Last year, the same thing happened when Texas won against Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoa State, then played so poorly against TCU and then had a historically-bad offensive performance against Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
Every time Strong's teams take a step or two forward, several steps back quickly follow. It's a trend that can't continue, but with major offensive questions looming again and familiar defensive concerns returning, there wasn't really a single positive to take from this performance.
No matter what happens over the final four games, this is going to be a long offseason that in all likelihood won't feature a lot of positives for Strong and his staff to sell on the recruiting trail with significant turnover likely among those coaches.