The Texas Longhorns came to play in the Red River Showdown against the Oklahoma Sooners last week in the Cotton Bowl. Their 49-0 triumph was the most points Texas has ever scored in the rivalry and delivered Oklahoma their biggest shutout loss in history. Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian’s play calling matched with quarterback Quinn Ewers’ amazing execution put the offense in full throttle. We also saw the defense seem to play at full intensity for the whole game, granted OU quarterback Davis Beville did not seem to pose a threat at any point during the game.
This week, the Longhorns host the Iowa State Cyclones at home and continue their revenge tour. After the six-game losing streak last season, we have seen Texas bounce back. However, the toughest of the Big 12 opponents lies ahead. Oklahoma State, TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and even Baylor have all shown that they deserve to be ranked. Plus three of those games will be on the road after the home-friendly start.
Texas showed up and showed out. Ewers completed 21 of his 31 passes for 289 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception, producing a QBR of 92.3. Considering the interception was intended to be a throw out of bounds that slipped, he narrowly missed an impeccable game. Leading on the receiving end, wide receiver Jordan Whittington had five receptions for 97 yards and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders had five receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Xavier Worthy and running back Keilan Robinson contributed a touchdown each as well. Lastly, on the ground, running back Bijan Robinson finished with 130 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. He was also named to the PFF team of the week. Running back Roschon Johnson had 57 yards on nine carries, and running back Jonathon Brooks had 39 yards on seven carries and a touchdown. The table below shows the usage and PPA for the game. You will notice Hudson Card and Jonathon Brooks missing because it factors out garbage time.
As an entire unit, Texas was moving the ball at 9.32 yards per passing play and 5.92 yards per rushing play. Tight end Jahleel Billingsley will be able to play his first game for the Longhorns this weekend. Before the season started, he was expected to contributed significantly. Sanders stepped up in the wake of Billingsley’s suspension and his grown into one of the top players at his position in the nation (top 10 and arguably top five). With both guys now in the rotation, it opens up the playbook again. Texas fans can become excited about having yet another dimension to the offense.
Iowa State has boasted one of the better defenses amongst the Big 12. Last week they were able to hold Kansas State to just 10 points and have only allowed more than two scores in a game once this season — in their 24-31 loss to Baylor. They have 11 sacks for 85 yards on the season and four interceptions. Their defensive scheme is quite interesting, built to stop pass-heavy offenses and deep shots. It consists of three linemen, three linebackers and three safeties.
This formation has unexpectedly resulted in an incredible run-stopping game simply due to the talent makeup. The linemen consist of nose tackle Isaiah Lee (15 total tackles, zero sacks), edge JR Singleton (8, 0) and Will McDonald (15, 3.5), who gave Texas big trouble in last year’s game with 2.5 sacks. Their linebacker unit has O’Rien Vance (32, 1.5) and Colby Reeder (28, 1.5) who are first and third in the nation as run-stopping linebackers. The table below shows how the Iowa State defense in every game this season and the PPA allowed per game.
The Cyclones have shown an impressive front in both dimensions on defense. They are eighth in the nation in rush yards allowed and 14th in passing yards allowed. However, Texas is easily the most talented offense that Iowa State has yet to face. Kansas and Baylor are the closest comparisons to Texas in offensive production and they were able to win their games against ISU.
For each touchdown the offense scored, it became more imperative for the defense to keep Oklahoma scoreless. The impact of a shutout speaks volumes in this rivalry. Although it has become apparent that OU is in shambles and they were without their starting quarterback, it was crucial that the defense played at that level. They were able to create havoc 13 times on 59 snaps (a 22 percent havoc rate). Linemen Byron Murphy II, Keandre Coburn and Justice Finkley, linebacker Diamonte Tucker-Dorsey, and safety Anthony Cook all contributed to sacks. T’Vondre Sweat, along with Murphy and Coburn combined for five TFLs. Number 5 on the other side of the ball was also named to the PFF team of the week. D’Shawn Jamison has proven himself to be one of the best cornerbacks in coverage this season, coming away with an interception in this game as well.
The Cyclones are last in the conference by standard and advanced metrics. They have the lowest points per game (23.2), yards per game (364), rushing yards per game (106.3), PPA (.177) and success rate (42 percent, and Texas ranks first defensively only allowing 36%). Their offense seems to find relative success with the passing game. Below are the PPA statistics for the Cyclones offense this season.
In last week’s game, Dekkers completed 22 of his 38 passes for 198 yards ending with a QBR of just 48.0 because they were unable to score a touchdown. Dekkers loves the short passing game with an average target depth of 6.6 yards and the bulk of his attempts come in these short slants and out options. This could contribute to a misleading completion rate as he tends not to pass over the middle with layered defenses. He has been sacked 15 times and has been pressured 50 times this season (second most in the league). We can expect the Texas front seven to continue to show a similar havoc rate as they showcased in Dallas.
Xavier Hutchinson has proven himself as a number one option as he currently leads the conference in receptions (57) and targets (87). Last week he finished with eight receptions for 100 yards. Slot receiver Jaylin Noel had six receptions for 31 yards and Dimitri Stanley had two receptions for 17 yards. Last year, Hutchison and tight end Charlie Kolar were walking all over the Texas defense, but losing Kolar to the draft has practically taken away their production at that position. In the rushing game, Jirehl Brock finished with 33 yards on 13 carries, and Deon Silas had seven carries for 30 yards. The lack of production on the ground also forces the Cyclones to pass on third and short and these conversions are what could tire out the Texas defense if the defensive backs are not ready for the quick passes. The table below is a mirror of the one shown under the offense section. It displays the PPA Iowa State has put up in every game and comparing it with the Texas defense average at the end.
Texas will not be the toughest defensive matchup Iowa State has faced yet. But seeing how they have struggled against worse performing defenses; it spells some good success for Texas on the defensive front. They struggle immensely in the running game, and their passing game can be slowed down by creating pressure and the defensive backs keeping the receivers in front of them.
With Ewers back, we have a few more quarters to assess his performance so far. This week, we are investigating how quarterbacks in the Big 12 and AP Top 25 look like in terms of passer rating, total passing yards, completion percentage and TD/INT rate.
The first table shows passing yards vs rating. Note the percentiles are based on data from the top 150 QBs by passing yards. This includes most starting quarterbacks in rotation for the FBS and ensures passing stats like Xavier Worthy’s double play pass to Sanders do not skew the data.
Although Ewers lacks the playing time compared to other top performers, he has been tremendous thus far. Card also exhibits how reliable he was for a backup quarterback in Ewers’ absence. Heisman favorite C.J. Stroud seems like he is in a league of his own, though the Buckeyes technically have not played a current top 25 team. Admittedly, he would still be in the top bracket of quarterbacl if adjusted. TCU’s Max Duggan has displayed incredible production through the first half of the season. ISU’s Hunter Dekkers leads the Big 12 in passing yards but ranks last in passer rating amongst the current starters in the conference. Also note that Stetson Bennet’s dropoff in passer rating has been a contributing factor to Georgia’s fall from number one in the polls.
The graph below plots completion percentage versus TD/INT rate.
Ewers is hidden under a clump of points right at the 80th percentile, completing 68.7 percent of his passes. Both Card and Ewers have six touchdowns on the season with Card having one interception (against Texas Tech) while Ewers has two (UL-Monroe and OU). Ewers and Card both demonstrate that they fall within the upper echelon of quarterbacks through these metrics as well. I want to also clarify that K-State’s Andrew Martinez, Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel, and Tennessee’s Hendan Hooker all have zero interceptions. But mathematically you can’t divide by zero, so they are plotted at the bottom rather than at a nonexistent number.
Where ISU struggles offensively, they make up for in defense, resulting in painfully slow games as we have seen so far. There is good confidence that we will hold the Cyclones offense to a typically low and expected score. We’ve seen the Longhorns offense perform against a confused defense in Oklahoma, but will they be able to produce even half as much against the best defense in the conference? Ewers’ return was great, Billingsley is now in the lineup, and Sark will continue to be a master architect, but ISU have demonstrated they are exceptional at run stopping and it could be an ugly game this weekend where Texas comes out with a narrow victory. The Longhorns are a 16-point favorite, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.