Explosive passing plays in the second half and a stingy defense that repeatedly made stops behind the line of scrimmage helped the Texas Longhorns secure a much-needed 27-6 victory against the Iowa State Cyclones in Austin to stop a three-game losing streak.
The game marked several milestones for the Charlie Strong era in Austin — it was only the second time in 14 games that the ‘Horns pulled out a win after the opponent scored first and the first time to secure a victory after trailing at halftime. Texas had lost all 14 previous games under Strong when trailing at halftime.
Following a negated touchdown pass to Armanti Foreman due to offsetting facemask penalties early in the second half, Texas freshman quarterback Shane Beuchele was finally able to hit a deep ball, connecting with wide-open sophomore wide receiver Jerrod Heard for a 37-yard touchdown pass to take a 10-6 lead.
Buechele followed up that strike with a 75-yard bomb to freshman Devin Duvernay to extend the lead. As on Duvernay’s long catch against Oklahoma last week, it was a switch route to the boundary. This time it featured a broken tackle to find the end zone.
Buechele finished the game completing 26-of-38 passes for 296 yards and those two touchdowns, while also turning in his most efficient rushing performance in burnt orange and white with five carries for 33 yards.
An increased willingness to attack down the field also produced several key pass interference penalties as Buechele appeared fully recovered from the rib injury he suffered in the third game against Cal.
The defense struggled at times in the first half in allowing third-down conversions that helped Iowa State possess the ball for much of the opening 30 minutes, but managed to hold the Cyclones to two ultimately insignificant field goals.
In the second half, a taunting penalty on sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd after a third-down sack extended a drive and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on sophomore Fox end Breckyn Hager set the ‘Horns back before Duvernay’s catch.
The lack of discipline combined with four first-half penalties on the offense hurt the ‘Horns. In fact, all four drives that included penalties resulted in punts in addition to the three points given up as a result of Foreman’s fumble deep in Texas territory.
The only Texas drive that didn’t feature a penalty or turnover resulted in the only three points scored by the Longhorns in the first 30 minutes.
Fortunately for embattled head coach Charlie Strong, the defense was able to record eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss to stop an Iowa State offense that was nowhere near the quality of previous opponents.
Through three quarters, the Cyclones had gained only 211 yards, ultimately finishing with 288 yards and six points. After allowing a fourth-down conversion and a long third-down conversion on the final drive, the ‘Horns fittingly finished the game with a sack on the final offensive play for Iowa State.
With the defense swarming for the first time since the UTEP game, Texas junior running back D’Onta Foreman went over 100 yards for the seventh straight game with an 18-yard touchdown run to stretch the lead to 24-6.
Foreman now trails only Longhorns legend Earl Campbell in consecutive 100-yard games and finished with a career-high 30 carries for 136 yards in a workman-like performance.
The touchdown run by the junior running back marked the 24th point for Texas in 15 minutes of game time after going nearly two calendar years without scoring against Iowa State.
Texas made some more lineup changes before the game, including inserting sophomore cornerback John Bonney into the starting lineup. Predictably, Bonney struggled early in the game in giving up a long third-down completion and nearly giving up another when he was saved by a sack.
Overall, however, the Longhorns defensive backs played a solid game against overmatched competition — it turns out that playing against average quarterbacks and average wide receivers makes a difference.
There were still some bad moments, but for the most part the secondary avoided the consistent and catastrophic mistakes that characterized four of the first five games this season.
Does that represent substantive improvement that will tell against better passing teams like TCU and Baylor?
For now it is major improvement. And though Kansas State won’t provide a significant challenge in that respect next week, the performance against Iowa State was extremely positive, as the staff was able to deliver strong messages to under-performing players like sophomore cornerbacks Davante Davis and Holton Hill without costing the team a victory.
With expectations at the lowest ebb of Strong’s tenure as his job hung in the balance of this outcome, his ‘Horns prevailed—perhaps that isn’t saying much.
However, what this win does say is that Strong is safe for another week after avoiding a crippling loss with a relatively dominant performance against an Iowa State team that gave Baylor and Oklahoma State bigger challenges in the last two weeks.
It wasn’t always pretty — especially in the first half — but the Longhorns took care of business against the Cyclones, providing at least a preliminary indication that the much-discussed Thursday meeting paid some dividends.
Onward and upwards, hopefully.