The Texas Longhorns largely played poorly on the road in Ames agains the Iowa State Cyclones, but scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take the lead with three minutes remaining.
A pass interference penalty helped Iowa State get into field-goal range — another pass interference penalty was declined thanks to a tough catch by the Cyclones — when an offsides penalty on 4th and 5 gave Iowa State a chance to kick a shorter field goal.
The distance between the initial 42-yard attempt that never happened and the eventual 36-yarder both made it an easier conversion and took critical time off the clock. Texas would have gotten the ball back with two minutes remaining had the initial kick gone through. When the field-goal attempt did go through, the clock ticked to zero for a 23-22 win.
Other than a late drive in the first half that produced a touchdown, Texas struggled offensively for most of the game with eight three and outs, doubling the worst previous performance by the Longhorns this season against the Sooners. Arguably the most damaging three and out came on the last possession, when Texas ran the ball twice and then called a slip screen in an effort to take time off the clock, but ended up giving the ball back to Iowa State for the game-winning drive.
The run game in particular was missing in action, as Texas only gained 54 yards on the ground on 2.1 yards per carry and had to resort to passing the ball almost exclusively, throwing 28 times to only nine runs in the second half. After the game, head coach Tom Herman said that he and his staff will go back and evaluate why the running game struggled so much after having success against Kansas State last week.
Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns while avoiding an interception, but only completed 22 of his 40 pass attempts and clearly missed the presence of senior wide receiver Collin Johnson, who missed the game with a hamstring injury.
His replacement, redshirt freshman Malcolm Epps, caught the go-ahead touchdown pass on fourth down when Ehlinger was forced to scramble, but also had two other drops and stopped his route in the end zone to set up the fourth down when he caused Ehlinger to misfire.
Several other receivers also dropped passes, including two rare drops by senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who had nine catches for 107 yards in the game.
Defensively, Texas mostly played well, but several key mistakes hurt the Horns, especially a 75-yard touchdown to start the second half that featured another badly busted coverage after three Longhorns defenders failed to get Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy to the ground.
The defense also struggled with the Iowa State running game early, allowing the Cyclones to get to the perimeter as the home team rushed for 85 yards in the first half. After halftime, the Longhorns improved, holding the Cyclones to 2.1 yards per carry.
The Texas offense got off to a poor start, going three and out on the first two possessions despite gaining solid yardage on first down thanks to an unsuccessful run on the first possession and a blown up screen pass on the second possession. A third-down conversion moved the chains on the third possession, but quickly fizzled on the ground after that.
Meanwhile, Iowa State got off to a hot start on the ground to open the game, consistently taking the edge on Texas by running outside zone and creating leverage with motion and shifts. A coverage bust that featured the secondary turning star Cyclones tight end Charlie Kolar free in the end zone on a screen fake resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass by Brock Purdy.
By the end of the first quarter, Iowa State was driving again and out-gaining Texas in total yardage 118-30 thanks to 7.1 yards per carry on the ground and 7.8 yards per completion with an efficient passing game. The Longhorns only gained eight yards on seven rushes in the opening quarter, the fifth time in seven Big 12 games that Texas hasn’t scored in the opening 15 minutes.
Faced by a third and short for the Cyclones, however, the Longhorns were able to get two stops to turn Iowa State over on downs. then promptly went three and out again.
The defense stepped up when sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison came up with his third interception of the season, but Texas opted against a field-goal attempt and failed to convert on fourth down when Iowa State stuff a run by Ehlinger. At that point, the Longhorns had converted only 6-of-14 fourth-down attempts this season after converting 12-of-15 attempts last season, which ranked second nationally. With the ultimate result a one-point game, Herman might regret that decision.
A 15-play drive by Iowa State covered 67 yards and took 4:41 off the clock, but the Texas defense held and forced a field goal by the Cyclones.
And then the Longhorns offense finally came to life with the home team playing prevent defense — Texas marched 75 yards on only five plays, fueled by two catches by Duvernay and three catches by sophomore wide receiver Brennan Eagles, including an acrobatic 13-catch at the front corner of the end zone that was ruled a touchdown on review.
With the score, the Longhorns went into halftime trailing 10-7 after averaging only 1.7 yards per carry in the first half and converted 1-of-7 third downs.
The second half didn’t start out well, either. After three defenders forced Purdy out of the pocket, he heaved a deep pass to a wide-open Deshaunte Jones, who ran free behind the Texas coverage on the opposite side of the field before working his way back to the quarterback.
Then the offense sputtered with two outright drops and a low throw from Ehlinger targeting Eagles on third down that hit the ground.
Iowa State kicked a 48-yard field goal and the Texas offense went three and out for a sixth time on the day after calling a pass play on 3rd and 1 that featured four hitches. Ehlinger was sacked when sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram wasn’t able to make his block in pass protection and the Cyclones easily covered the four hitch routes run by the Longhorns.
Fortunately for Texas, the defense stepped up with three straight stops, including one on a fake field goal, sandwiched around a successful drive keyed through the air. Ingram caught a 22-yard touchdown pass to finish it after the Longhorns caught the Cyclones in a zero blitz and Ingram got behind the coverage on a vertical release from the backfield.
Unfortunately, the late touchdown to take the lead didn’t stand and now Texas will have to evaluate why the offense is consistently starting out so slowly and why the defense keeps making critical mistakes with a trip to Waco to face Baylor looming next weekend.