Truth be told, I think if asked, most Texas Longhorns fans (myself included) would have gladly taken a 24-21 win over the Iowa State Cyclones in the preseason. Coming off of three straight to Iowa State (including last year’s 30-7 loss in Ames), getting past the Iowa State hump in the schedule with a victory would have been a delightful change of pace from recent history against a historically putrid flyover country football team.
Of course, quite a bit has happened between the preseason and yesterday. The Longhorns, already halfway through a rollercoaster of a season, entered the game 4-2 fresh off serving a humiliating loss to archrival Oklahoma. Iowa State on the other hand, entered Saturday with a 3-3 overall record, 0-3 in the Big 12, was 104th in the NCAA in scoring offense, and, by all metrics, was not supposed to be a threat of any kind to Texas.
Fast forward through sixty minutes of the game — the result is just as good, but sheesh, it certainly wasn’t pretty. But, there’s a reason you’ll see the phrase “a win’s a win” in just about every piece of Texas Longhorns-based literature you’ll read this week. As bad and ugly and as the win
may have been was, the outcome of a big green “W” in the win column is, ultimately, what matters most.
No, Texas fans probably shouldn’t parade this win around and celebrate it like we did last week or in other drubbings served out this year. But in the end, the win goes down in the record books all the same.
Here’s some key things I noticed in yesterday’s game:
Texas survived a poorly-played game
If you didn’t catch it in the intro up top or just skipped over it, this was NOT a pretty game for the Longhorns. The list of items to clean up in practice following this game against Iowa State rivals that of the Baker family’s laundry list from Cheaper by the Dozen.
In all three facets of the game, the Longhorns underachieved against the Cyclones. The offense failed at times to capitalize on golden opportunities, such as coming away with zero points after getting the ball on Iowa State’s 21-yard line early in the game. Quinn Ewers sailed throws over receivers’ heads, missing open touchdowns or routine plays we’ve seen him make in his small sample size at Texas.
Defenders missed tackles, covered receivers poorly, and had terrible pursuit of the ball to allow a paltry Iowa State offense to carve up scoring drives and chunk plays. To top it all off, Bert Auburn even missed a chip shot field goal.
But despite it all, Texas found a way to escape with a win.
That toughness was apparent early in the game. With Iowa State up 7-0 and driving, a two-score deficit looked imminent. Longhorn teams of the past may have folded and yielded another score in this scenario. But linebacker Jaylan Ford nabbed a clutch interception in the back of the end zone to halt the Iowa State offense and turn the tides of the game, with the following response on offense a 14-0 run to end the half.
That momentum didn’t carry into the second half, though, as the two teams ended up in a dogfight with Texas trailing late in the fourth quarter. But a go-ahead touchdown pass to Xavier Worthy put the Horns up 24-21, and a fumble recovery by none other than Jaylan Ford paved the way for a Texas victory.
There’s no reason Texas should have been in such a close game, needing to make goal line stops and game-winning drives against a team that, on paper, was two to three scores worse than the Longhorns. But Texas had players step up and make plays when they needed them to, and scrapped their way to a win in a game that we’ve seen go the other way for years.
Running back Roschon Johnson said as much post game while calling the game a “5-star win.” His running mate Bijan Robinson also commented how this year’s team has gotten tougher in its response to adversity.
While the play leaves something to be desired, the heart and grit at the end of the game was palpable. That matters, too. But as many before me and after me will say, a win is a win. And that’s what matters most.
The running back duo of Bijan and Roschon carried (literally) the offense
It’s been said and written ad nauseum this season, but Texas’ running backs room of Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson are good. Yesterday’s game was perhaps the most critical for Texas’ rushing game, as Bijan and Roschon had to carry the load on offense as Ewers struggled with accuracy and touch on his passes throughout the game. And though Iowa State’s offense ranked among the NCAA’s worst, their defense, particularly their rushing defense, was among the country’s best.
Texas’ running backs responded to the challenge by rushing for 206 yards on 39 carries for an average of 5.28 yards per carry. It may have been Ewers and the passing attack that cumulated three scores in the game, but because of the low passing yardage total (just 172 yards) it was the running game that provided the offense some consistency when the passing game struggled.
Of the 206 yards on the ground, 135 of those belonged to Bijan. And of those 135 rushing yards, 54 yards (or 40 percent) came in the fourth quarter as Texas grinded out the win over the Cyclones. Of Roschon Johnson’s 71 total yards rushing, 39 yards (55 percent) came in the fourth quarter, including 37 yards on what ended up being the game-winning drive for Texas late in the game.
This was a game that Texas needed to rely on its rushing attack, and Bijan and Roschon rang the bell with their big games, especially by carrying the team late in the fourth when the Horns needed them the most.
The next four weeks will make or break the season
REV UP THOSE FRYERS because the Big 12 season is about to get kicked into high gear. Over the next four weeks, Texas will have to play Oklahoma State and Kansas State on the road before playing TCU at home in what will likely be their toughest single four game stretch of football on the season.
Standings wise, the quartet of TCU, K-State, Texas, and Oklahoma State make up the top four teams in the Big 12. From an advanced metrics and analytics standpoint, these are the top four schools in the conference. In all likelihood, two of these four will be playing in Arlington in December for the Big 12 Championship, with a New Year’s Six bowl game (and potentially, maybe even the College Football Playoff) on the line.
To be playing for the Big 12 Championship and to have a chance to win the conference championship for the first time since 2009 would make this one of the best Longhorn seasons of the past decade. That scenario is the exact situation that Coach Sarkisian pegged as the team’s goal preseason. But in order for that to happen, Texas will likely need to go at least 3-1 in that stretch — and even that may not be enough with the loss against Tech already in the Horns’ bag.
But, if everyone stays healthy, you can’t say Texas won’t have a chance. ESPN seems to like the Longhorns’ odds, favoring them to win in all four of these games.