We’re less than 24 hours from the No. 17 Texas Longhorns final home stand of the season, and it’s one that will have major implications on the outlook of their 2020 season. With the No. 13 Iowa State Cyclones in Austin, their Friday morning matchup may very see the winner head to Arlington in the coming weeks to compete for a conference championship.
The Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss keys to the game in a must-win for the Horns, Sam Ehlinger’s impact, their ideal Thanksgiving plate, and more.
Texas will have enjoyed nearly three full weeks since their win over West Virginia to get healthy and address areas of potential improvement. What will be the most noticeable benefit of the back-to-back bye weeks on Friday?
Cody — The defense has been coming into its own, but ideally, the offense will look noticeably more polished and consistent than it has to this point. I don’t expect this to all of a sudden become an elite group, but simply capitalizing on turnovers and short fields and avoiding quick three-and-outs changes the game.
Curry — I’d say rest tops the list. But rest can turn into rust pretty quickly — which is always cause for concern when you don’t trust a team. Ideally, these three weeks has given the coaching staff plenty of opportunity to install, correct, etc. I think Texas has taken advantage of the last few weeks and it’ll show on Saturday.
Anthony — Hopefully the extended preparation time allowed the coaching staff to come up with their best offensive gameplan all season. With Jordan Whittington back from injury and Bijan Robinson as a team’s clear No. 1 back, Texas should focus on getting the ball to their most explosive playmakers (Moore, Smith, Robinson, Whittington) in space against an Iowa State defense that loves to play within the hashmarks.
Gerald — Health is the easy answer, but my mind goes to one specific player: Keondre Coburn. He got banged up in the last game and he is a must-have playing against a team like Iowa State who wants to hand the ball off to Breece Hall 20 or more times. In a lot of ways, he sets the anchor for the run defense and a lot of the success can be attributed to the guys over-center.
Texas has bottled a star in Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard (2.9 YPC) and a likely soon-to-be 1,000-yard rusher in WVU’s Leddie Brown (3.1 YPC) in back-to-back games. Will Chris Ash’s defense be able to contain Breece Hall, as well?
Cody — I don’t think Texas will completely contain him, but I think they’ll bottle him up just enough that if Iowa State is going to win, it will be because Purdy played really well. That’s all Texas can hope for.
Curry — Eliminate Breece Hall from the equation and make Brock Purdy beat you by putting the ball in the air. If he’s able to do that, Texas deserves to lose.
Anthony — It’ll be a tough task considering Breece Hall is the best running back and Charlie Kolar is the best blocking tight end Texas will face this season. These are future NFL players. Allowing the Cyclones offense to maintain long drives won’t bode well for the Longhorns defense — Iowa State wants to wear opposing defenses down by establishing the run. Limit runs early in downs and force Purdy to make plays through the air.
Gerald — I don’t think Hall is a guy that you can fully contain, but you can keep him from killing you. Iowa State’s two losses this year are the only two games that Hall didn’t score multiple rushing touchdowns. I think the dress rehearsal for Iowa State was the scheme against Oklahoma State. Clog the middle, force them lateral and let the athletes Texas has outside clean up.
What about this Iowa State team presents the greatest cause for concern for Texas, and what area of weakness can the Longhorns potentially take advantage of?
Cody — I think Texas absolutely has to set the ton against Iowa State’s TE-heavy offense. If they can’t control the line of scrimmage and allow Breece Hall to run wild and Brock Purdy to establish a rhythm and chip away, it not only wears down the defense but prevents an inconsistent Texas offense from establishing a rhythm of their own. To me this biggest advantage is the athletes — Texas has superior athletes. Play like it.
Curry — I won’t pretend to know more about Iowa State than I actually do, but I will say that when Texas and Iowa State line up on the field, Texas should have superior athletes at every position. Iowa State might be better coached, but I think with all the coaching rumors swirling, Texas players have a chip on their shoulder. A win puts this team in the Top-15, and all anyone is talking about is Urban Meyer. I think Texas players want to send a message on Friday.
Anthony — To jump off Curry’s point, Texas shouldn’t have problems outscoring a bunch of three-star recruits from the Midwest. The main concern is the fact that Iowa State can force you to play within their strengths and beat you with stout defense. Be aggressive, attack the outside and let Ehlinger cook through the air. Iowa State’s cornerbacks and safeties can be susceptible to downfield throws.
Gerald — I think the matchup that worries me are the defensive ends against the Texas offensive line. I have been critical of that unit all year and this will likely be their toughest test. The ISU ends feasted against lesser talent, but the threat is still there.
If there were ever the time for Sam Ehlinger to put on a show and carry Texas, it’s on Friday. With some time to heal up, what kind of performance do you expect to see from him?
Cody — Until I see some consistency from Texas’ receivers, I’m not sold that he’ll put on a how through the air, but I expect we’ll see Ehlinger try to will Texas towards a win if necessary, which typically means he’ll have his way with his legs. Four total touchdowns.
Curry — He doesn’t need to put on a show, but hopefully he hits some of those deep balls he was missing against West Virginia. If his WRs step up and make plays for him and he protects the ball and doesn’t turn it over, maybe he can get some help from the rest of the team. And maybe Texas can give Bijan a few more touches..
Anthony — Possibly his best game of the season if he gets enough help from his teammates. Ehlinger knows the importance of this game. He knows there’s still a conference championship to play for. I expect him to play with a big chip on his shoulder to avenge last season’s loss in Ames.
Gerald — It’s senior day for a guy who is living his literal dream. I hope this is a night where he can show out. Hopefully with the extra time off he and the receivers have gotten into a better rhythm. If that’s the case, I think Sam’s last ride in DKR is a good one.
Prediction time: Will it be Texas or Iowa State who makes it four straight and inches closes to a trip to Arlington?
Cody — A healthier offense makes key plays and the defense continues to progress. Texas - 31, Iowa State - 27.
Curry — Texas. And that’s going to upset a lot of Texas fans champing at the bit to see Herman canned.
Anthony — I’ll take Ehlinger over Purdy any day of the week, but I’d also take Matt Campbell over Tom Herman. Iowa State 28, Texas 24. Here’s to hoping Texas makes me eat these words.
Gerald — We haven’t gotten a Dicker game-winner in a while. I feel like Texas wins this one close and maybe the new punter wins a game for the Longhorns.
What’s on your perfect Thanksgiving plate?
Cody — Glazed ham replaces the turkey. Gotta have baked Mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, caramelized brown sugar carrots, some green beans with bacon, and deviled eggs.
Curry — Kick it with the classics but — hear me out — replace turkey with prime rib.
Anthony — Honey ham, stuffing and cranberries with pumpkin pie for dessert. I’m not a big fan of turkey but a turkey sandwich the following day is unbeatable, too.
Gerald — Fried Turkey, preferably dark meat. Dressing. Mac and Cheese. Greens with bacon. Sweet potatoes.
If this Texas season were a Thanksgiving dish, which one would it be?
Cody — Turkey. It’s typically the featured dish but it’s overrated.
Curry — Mac and cheese. It was good when I was a kid, but now it makes me feel sick.
Anthony — Beets. I don’t mind most vegetables in general, but for some reason, my taste buds cannot stand beets.
Gerald — Ok. Hear me out. Turkey. Because of the build up, it should be better than it is. People have really high expectations because of the way fans talk about it, but are often left disappointed.