The slide for the Texas Longhorns continued in Ames on Saturday night with a 30-7 loss to the Iowa State Cyclones that featured another second-half meltdown as the home team scored 27 unanswered points after Texas took a 7-3 lead into halftime.
Iowa State beat Texas for a third-consecutive time, sending the Longhorns to the program’s fourth-consecutive defeat for the first time since 2010. The only Power Five wins for Texas this season have come against programs that subsequently fired their head coaches.
The four-consecutive blown halftime leads are the most in the FBS in the last 15 seasons — the issues for first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian are historic after Texas fired Tom Herman following a 7-3 campaign and a tenure that never featured the type of defeats that have happened multiple times this season.
Herman never lost as badly as Texas lost to Arkansas. Herman never lost as badly as Texas lost to Iowa State. Herman never blew a 21-point lead like Texas did against Oklahoma. Herman never blew an 14-point lead like Texas did against Oklahoma State. Herman never blew an 11-point lead like Texas did against Baylor.
The Longhorns defense did play well enough to hold the Cyclones to three points and 40 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per carry in the first half, as well as 1-for-7 on third downs (14 percent).
In the second half, however, the Iowa State running game found its footing with 135 rushing yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run by Cyclones star Breece Hall, who creased the Longhorns at the line of scrimmage, then made super senior safety Brenden Schooler miss in the open field.
“It’s unfortunate — the first touchdown I thought we had some opportunities to get them on the ground,” said Sarkisian.
The Texas defense was able to get a stop on the next Iowa State possession, but after a second consecutive three and out by the offense, the Cyclones used a trick play — a pass from wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson on a lateral — to score a 49-yard touchdown on the first play of the team’s third second-half drive after winning the field-position battle against the Longhorns.
On the play, sophomore safety Jerrin Thompson bit on the lateral, allowing Tarique Milton to get open down the field.
Another three and out by Texas gave Iowa State good field position once again and a 21-yard run by Hall followed by a 23-yard completion to tight end Charlie Kolar set up a short touchdown by Hall.
So a 7-3 game at halftime turned into a 24-7 rout in the third quarter as Iowa State out-gained Texas 209-6 and out-scored the Longhorns 21-0.
“We went into halftime with the lead, came out of the came out of the locker room and whether it was not making the proper adjustments, whether it was our inability to get them on the ground, or inability to get a first down, they got control the ball game and really controlled the entire second half,” said Sarkisian.
The fourth quarter hardly went much better than the third quarter — Texas was able to move the football to some extent, but went scoreless and allowed two sustained drives that produced field goals. And sophomore running back Bijan Robinson left the game with an injury after he was banged up late in the third quarter. After the game, Sarkisian said he thought Robinson suffered a stinger, but was unable to offer a clear injury update.
The Longhorns finished the game with 207 total yards in one of the worst offensive performances in recent memory, truly a low point in program history after more than a decade of abject mediocrity — the last time Texas had fewer total yards was against Notre Dame in 2015, when the 163 yards produced by play caller Shawn Watson ended his tenure after a wasted offseason.
“So, ultimately we struggled all night offensively to generate anything consistently against them and you know, the defense kind of wore out,” said Sarkisian.
“We didn’t coach well enough for this ball game, clearly, and we didn’t play well enough to win. They were the better team. They won the game. They controlled the game,” said Sarkisian. “We’ve got to find a way to get our players in position to perform when the ballgame gets kicked off and tonight, obviously, our inability to do that showed itself and we got beat.”
The offensive struggles began with the ineffectiveness of junior quarterback Casey Thompson, who went 2-for-6 passing for two yards before he was pulled in favor of redshirt freshman Hudson Card after Thompson was unable to make a defender miss in the open field as he gained eight yards on a 3rd-and-9 scramble.
On Thompson’s four drives, Texas gained 25 yards on 14 plays.
“I just felt like we needed a spark,” said Sarkisian. “We just weren’t in rhythm offensively at all, especially in the passing game. I felt like we needed a spark. I thought Hud deserved the opportunity to go.”
Card was able to lead the Longhorns on a 14-play, 78-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter that featured a 24-yard completion to junior wide receiver Joshua Moore on third down. Unfortunately, his inability to connect on deep passes became apparent on the following drive when freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy was wide open on a potential 59-yard touchdown, but Card didn’t give him a chance to make a play on an overthrow.
Then, like Thompson, Card struggled with his pocket presence, a familiar theme after he was benched for losing his composure against Arkansas.
“I was just trying to get him to settle his feet down, trust what he saw. I think that’s one of the things when you almost think there’s pressure sometimes and there’s not and when you have really good vision and you trust your reads, you get the ball out in a timely manner and it just wasn’t coming out as timely as we would have liked,” said Sarkisian.
“Now we had a couple of broken routes where guys ran the wrong routes and now all of a sudden, when the play breaks down, you try to create, but needless to say, I think the experience for Hudson was good.”
Thompson’s initial strong play after Card’s benching helped the Longhorns avoid a full-on quarterback controversy, but it’s here now as Texas struggles to gain bowl eligibility needing two wins in the final three games.
“We’ll reassess that position moving forward next week,” said Sarkisian.
The schedule offers a reprieve with Kansas coming to Austin next Saturday and Sarkisian needs to take advantage of the opportunity to help determine the future of the quarterback position. And end the losing streak.