This preview will look at Texas' match-up against Iowa State. The fourth game of Texas' season will take place in the dreaded Thursday night spot on September 28 at 7 pm CST in Ames.
If the past couple years have taught Texas fans anything, it's to not preemptively pencil in a victory against historically lower tier Big 12 teams.
The Iowa State Cyclones handed Texas one of the most crushing defeats of the Charlie Strong era with an unlikely 24-0 thrashing in Ames in 2015. In 2016, the Longhorns won at home in a lethargic, unconvincing victory in which Texas was down 6-3 at half (the 'Horns would come back to win 27-6).
Texas will be coming off of a bye week entering the Iowa State game in 2017, but the 'Horns will have to travel to Ames and play on a Thursday night.
Iowa State was sneakily solid at home last season. The Cyclones notched a 66-10 thrashing of Texas Tech, and defeated San Jose State 44-10. Iowa State only dropped one of its six home games by more than 10 points, which was the season closer against West Virginia (Iowa State lost 49-19).
And though the Cyclones only won three games last season, Iowa State appears poised to improve in season two under head coach Matt Campbell.
- QB Jacob Park
- WR Allen Lazard
- RB Mike Warren
- S Kamari Cotton-Moya
- LB Willie Harvey
- LB Kane Seeley
- Four offensive line starters
Iowa State's potential in 2017 likely lies in the hands of junior quarterback Jacob Park. The 6'4, 204 pounder was ranked as the No. 5 overall pro style quarterback in the 2014 class, and originally attended Georgia.
Park emerged as Iowa State's clear starter towards the back half of the 2016 season and finished the year with 1791 yards, 12 touchdowns, five interceptions, and a 58.9 completion percentage.
The Cyclones' aerial attack doesn't end with their QB. Iowa State also has an NFL caliber wide receiver in senior Allen Lazard, who reeled in 69 receptions for 1,018 yards a season ago. The senior was named to the All-Big 12 preseason first-team this year.
Defending Lazard will be a tall task for a Longhorns secondary that couldn't keep opposing star receivers even remotely in check in 2016. Texas' secondary allowed Cal receiver Chad Hansen to grab 12 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns, and Oklahoma wideout Dede Westbrook snagged 10 catches for 232 yards and three TD's.
Texas did, however, keep Lazard to seven catches for 65 yards in 2016.
Iowa State will also be returning its second leading wideout, Deshaunte Jones, who had 37 receptions for 536 yards in his freshman campaign last season. The former high school quarterback had 11 receptions for over 20 yards and could be a breakout player in 2017.
Jones led Iowa State with 87 yards against Texas in 2016, with most of that coming from a 42 yard catch in the third quarter.
The Cyclones will also be returning their running back tandem in David Montgomery and Mike Warren. Montgomery rushed for 563 yards in his freshman season in 2016, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and also catching 13 passes for 129 yards.
Warren notched 559 yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season, and tacked on 12 catches for 98 yards. The now redshirt junior won Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2015 and broke ISU's single season yards per carry record by averaging 5.9 yards a run.
So how can Texas' defense exploit an Iowa State offense seemingly beaming with talent?
In the trenches.
Iowa State lost four of its starting offensive linemen from 2016. Though defensive line may not be Texas' strength, the 'Horns should be able to get into the backfield and to the quarterback frequently in Ames.
As SB Nation’s Iowa Cyclones site Wide Right and Natty Light said:
"The offensive line lost FOUR starters from a year ago, and we’ll see if Jake Campos can come back to full strength after a broken leg. Hell, if the season started today, Robby Garcia (a former defensive tackle) will be starting at offensive guard for the Cyclones. That’s crazy."
Iowa State has a few key pieces on defensive, but not a cohesive, depth-filled group.
The Cyclones' defensive line will be highly inexperienced. Three-star JUCO recruit Kamilo Tongamoa was one of the prized recruits of the 2017 class, but he’s yet to make it to campus. According to Campbell, Tongamoa is finishing up course work at community college.
Linebacker Willie Harvey tied the team for most tackles with 78 in 2016 and will return for his redshirt junior season.
The Cyclones are so thin at linebacker, however, that they may start former starting quarterback Joel Lanning at the position alongside Harvey. It could be a move that pays dividends for Campbell's ISU team, but linebacker may not be a position that's entirely locked down by the time the 'Horns come to town.
Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya was a preseason second-team All-Big 12 selection, and for good reason. The senior notched a team third-best 73 tackles in 2016, and led the Cyclones with three takeaways.
The Cyclones also have some depth at corner, and like Texas, defensive back may be Iowa State's strength on defensive.
Still, the excellence of Cotton-Moya and company likely won't be enough to challenge Shane Buechele and Texas' versatile receiving corps.
Iowa State is in many ways is similar to Texas — the Cyclones have a new, young coach and a plethora of talent in skill positions. Still, there are weak and inexperienced spots present, particularly on defense.
The Cyclones could be a significant challenge to the 'Horns, but if Texas wins the battle in the trenches and sets the tone early, it's hard to see Tom Herman's group falling.
ISU could be a bowl team, and upsets and close games tend to happen in Ames. It could be a trap game for Texas, and it will certainly be a must-win for the 'Horns.