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Texas vs. Iowa State: Penalties still hurting Longhorns offense

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Regardless of the opponent, the ‘Horns needed this one.

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Even against a 1-4 Iowa State Cyclones team, this win Saturday night was a much-needed one for the Texas Longhorns.

The ‘Horns struggled to get into a rhythm on offense the first half and repeatedly stalled drives with self-inflicted mistakes, including penalties and a turnover.

Then came the third quarter where the offense came out firing, the defense stood strong, and the ‘Horns had this game locked up by the time the fourth quarter started.

I re-watched the game last night, and yes, Texas still won and had a bagillion sacks..

Let’s get into this.

— The only drive Texas scored on in the first half was the only drive that was not affected by an offensive penalty, a turnover, or both. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the penalties by now, but to summarize, the drives went as follows.

1. (offensive pass interference/punt) 1Q 10:43 — Jake Oliver pushes off and gets called for offensive pass interference. The play (and his catch) that resulted in a 3rd & 2 changed to 2nd & 24 due to the flag. Texas would punt to end that series.

2. (fumble & unsportsmanlike/ISU field goal) 1Q 3:11 — D’Onta Foreman fumbles, then Caleb Bluiett gets called for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the play. ISU would start the drive in the red zone. Texas holds the Cyclones to a field goal.

3. (false start/punt) 2Q 14:24 — False start on Dorian Leonard. This may not look like a huge flag since it’s a five-yard flag on first down. But following this play, Shane Buechele overthrows a pass out of bounds, then Texas is looking at a long 2nd & 15 and runs twice before coming up short and being forced to punt.

4. (offensive pass interference/punt) 2Q 9:14 — Pass interference on Jacorey Warrick sets Texas back to 1st & 20 on its own 13. Then Tyrone Swoopes runs for three yards, Buechele can’t connect with Leonard on a pass, and Kyle Porter gets eight yards on a draw play, but still comes up short. Texas punts.

5. (Ineligible player downfield/Punt) 2Q 4:55 — On 2nd & 5, a big reception by Dorian Leonard over the middle for 17 yards gets called back on an ineligible man downfield call on Tristen Nickelson. The 2nd & 5 turns into a 2nd & 10. Foreman runs for a couple yards, then a Buechele incompletion on third down forces the punt.

Those penalties weren’t the only reason five of the six drives in the first half ended without points, but they definitely played a factor in each drive.

In the second half, the Longhorns added five more penalties (offensive facemask — Armanti Foreman, taunting — Kris Boyd, unsportsmanlike — Breckyn Hager, illegel block — Jeffrey McCulloch, roughing the passer — Erick Fowler).

Texas would end the night with a total of 100 penalty yards.

Next week, Texas can’t afford to come out like that in the first half on the road against a disciplined Kansas State team. The Wildcats will do a better job of capitalizing off those mistakes than the Cyclones did.

— Finally, it looks like head coach Charlie Strong made an effort to simplify the defensive scheme some, and it looked like it had a positive effect on the defense overall.

Count me in as a fan of the defensive players wearing wristbands with the plays on them. During his press conference, Coach Strong said he went with the wristbands to disguise his calls. I have to also imagine it helped the players know what play was being run.

Regardless, whatever it takes to get everyone on the same page should be utilized.

I will say I’m not ready to say this defense is fixed. The defense played better, but there’s no doubt the consistent pressure up front helped this Texas defense avoid getting tested more on the back end than it has against some other teams.

And coming into this game, we knew ISU’s offensive line was weak in pass protection. But hey, the defense did look better than previous weeks, and that’s still a plus.

— Give the Texas defense credit for holding ISU to a field goal after Foreman fumbled and Bluiett was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty. The Cyclones started in the ‘Horns red zone and only got three points out of that.

— At his Monday presser, Strong said he called three or four plays the entire game. Most of us think he meant that he used three or four base formations on defense the entire game to simplify things.

After re-watching the game, as far as I could tell, I saw Texas come out in their version of a 3-3-5, move to a 4-2-5 for most of the game but also use some Double Fox (their version of a 3-4 defense) with Roach and Hager on the outside of three down linemen.

Coming out in the 3-3-5 was the most interesting move. That base formation is often referred to as one that can have success against spread teams due to the ability to disguise more out of that formation.

-- Kris Boyd had a more than solid game. Good for him to seize the opportunity. He just needs to keep his emotions in check, as we all probably know by now.

— Starting opposite of Boyd at corner, John Bonney held his own at times. But I can’t imagine he’ll lock down the other starting corner position for the rest of the season.

I don’t exactly know what’s going on with Holton Hill and Davante Davis or why they continue to struggle. I mean, I see them blowing coverages but I’m not sure what’s going on at practices or why they continue to make their mistakes.

I do know they both are superior talents over Bonney when they play well. Texas needs them to get their acts together quickly.

— A pass-rush combination of Hager, Roach and McCulloch feels like it could turn into an intimidating, specialized unit for this Texas defense as the season goes on, and in the seasons to come. McCulloch is continuing to make plays on the defensive side of the ball.

— I said this last week and I’m saying it again, Anthony Wheeler has a chance to turn into a very solid linebacker for Texas and among the conference. He’s currently ranked fourth in total tackles (48) and tackles per game (8) in the Big 12.

The last time Texas had any player end the season in the top-10 in tackles was in 2014 when Jordan Hicks (113) and Steve Edmond (109) ended fifth and sixth, respectively. Bryce Hager (114), Breckyn’s older brother, finished fourth that year playing for Baylor.

— Blocking on kick returns is a struggle right now. It almost doesn’t matter who is returning the kickoff because it looks like it’s tough to find any creases, lanes, or running room on returns.

— There were two instances I can remember where Buechele almost threw an interception. The one he did throw got batted at the line.

Otherwise, log this game away as another one of his impressive freshman performances. He’s continuing to do his part this season, and maybe a bit more.

— On more than a couple of occasions, it looked like Buechele scanned through at least an option or two before finding the open receiver.

Given how quick the passes/plays are executed in this offense, some times you don’t see that as much as you could in other (Shawn Watson) offenses.

But you could see Buechele scan a few times Saturday night, and one of those plays was his bomb to Duvernay.

Buechele started left before scanning back to his right to find a streaking Duvernay on the sideline. That throw and catch was fun to watch.

The offensive line also needs credit here on these plays for blocking long enough to give Buechele time to make his read and throw.

— That wheel-route pass play where the slot receiver runs the wheel route to the sideline is becoming one of offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s go-to plays. When Buechele sees it and executes it, it’s a very productive play.

On the flip side, if I’m noticing how often Texas runs this play, I’m sure there are defensive coordinators around the Big 12 noticing this as well. I’ll be curious to see if Texas is able to continue to convert on this play as the season continues.

— While we’re on Duvernay, what an athlete that guy is. It will be interesting to see if he can keep this production up. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be as involved in the offense each game moving forward. I wonder what John Burt is thinking while watching those deep bombs...

— What more is there to say about D’Onta Foreman right now besides recommending that everyone enjoy it. He’s beginning to bring back memories of some great Texas running backs of the past.

— Dorian Leonard stepped up in a huge way. Good for the veteran. He’s another guy who seized his opportunity Saturday night.

— I can’t help but wonder what more passes to the speedy Jerrod Heard would look like. His transition to wide receiver has gone about as smoothly as it can. Good for him.

— The 18-Wheeler package was pretty much a non-factor again. What’s concerning is this happened against a poor run defense that didn’t have any serious answers for D’Onta Foreman. Is it time to put a call in to Jay Norvell? (I kid, I kid... I think).

Not only did Texas win for the first time under Strong after trailing at half (now 1-14 when trailing at halftime), the ‘Horns did so largely by dominating the third quarter thanks to some big plays from the offense right after halftime.

Maybe against a 1-5 Iowa State team at home, things like winning after trailing at halftime and starting the third quarter off well are small victories.

As things stand right now, though, Texas will take anything it can to build positive momentum the rest of the way this season.