They can’t all be pretty. Sometimes you have gut out an ugly win even when you don’t bring your best game to the yard that day. Last year, we became accustomed to watching this Texas team come up on the short end of the stick in close games. Yesterday in Austin might be a small sign that maybe things could be changing.
Iowa State has been a nemesis for the Texas programs over the past decade. The Cyclones went from a program that regularly got its doors blown off by the Longhorns to being a program that was able to notch a three game winning streak in the series and has been consistently doing more with less despite the overwhelming talent advantage in Austin.
Matt Campbell is a good coach and he has had no problem getting his team up to play each week. That was once again evident during the matchup yesterday, as they made Texas earn everything and played them tight right down to the final minutes.
There is plenty to correct, but at the end of the day the Longhorns came out on top against a team that has given them plenty of issues in recent years.
Onto the observations.
The defense’s issues on money downs returned this week
After a couple of weeks of performing better on money downs (3rd and 4th down), the defense was back to conceding first downs at an alarming rate. The Cyclones were 9/15 on 3rd down (60% completion rate) and converted their only 4th down attempt of the afternoon. Hunter Dekkers and the Cyclone offense entered the contest on the struggle bus with everything funneling through Xavier Hutchinson, and this game served as a get right game for them, as they had their best offensive output of the season.
Hutchinson (who is a hell of a player by the way) notched 10 catches for 154 yards, but he missed a huge opportunity to put ISU up late on a busted coverage where he was wide open and just flat out dropped the pass. Outside of Hutchinson, Cyclone receivers seemed to have no issues getting open on 3rd and long no matter what Pete Kwitkowski was dialing up.
The Texas defense has been a lot better about not allowing busted coverages on the back end and until this contest they hand not allowed a receiver to go over 100 yards. Yesterday we saw a lot of backups get into the game and it seemed like communication and execution took a big hit once Ryan Watts left the game with an injury.
There is going to be a lot to coach up this week with the Longhorns heading into Stillwater this week and they will be facing another quarterback who is elusive and can make plays with his feet. Needless to say they will have to be a lot better than they were yesterday.
The highs and lows of Quinn Ewers
If there is one thing I know after watching Ewers a few times this year, it’s that things will always be interesting as long as he is taking the snaps under center. Whether it is interesting in a good way or in the negative way is what you just aren’t sure of yet.
After absolutely shredding Oklahoma last week in Dallas, Ewers came back down to earth a bit going against a veteran defense that deploys a three high safety look and is known for giving opposing quarterbacks some issues. Ewers ended the day 17 for 26 for 172 yards, but he had three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The yardage output ain’t anything to write home about, but Ewers didn’t turn the ball over despite a freshman mistake trying to ground a ball on a screen play early on. He did airmail a ball to a wide open Casey Cain on a 4th and 2 that should have been a touchdown and it was one of the more head scratching throws from him so far this year. Between that throw and the dropped pass by Cain later that also would have went for a touchdown, the two never did get on the same page.
After his performance last week, it is easy to have sky high expectations for the kid, but we need to remember he is still only a freshman who doesn’t have a even a half season of snaps under his belt due to him missing time with the injury.
Despite the up and down day throwing the ball, he didn’t flinch when he had to hit Xavier Worthy for a touchdown on 4th and goal that ended up being the deciding score. Yesterday was a good learning experience for 3 and he most certainly learn from the good and the bad moving forward.
The turnovers by the defense were right on time
Pretty self explanatory on this one. The turnovers caused by Jaylan Ford and Anthony Cook came at absolutely critical times in the game that ended up helping the Longhorns walk away with the victory.
The Ford interception prevented the Cyclones from going up 14-0 nothing and the offense turned right around and marched the length of the field to tie up the ball game. Kudos to Ford for taking advantage of a young quarterback, as he read his eyes all the way and it took him right to where he wanted to go with the football.
The forced fumble by Cook was easily the biggest play of the game and probably the biggest play of Cook’s career. The Cyclones were marching down the field looking like they were going to score the go ahead score and Cook absolutely smoked Dekkers from his side forcing the ball loose allowing Ford to get on top of the ball.
People on the internet (mainly opposing fan bases of course) have been screaming for targeting for about 24 hours, but I honestly think the angle above acquits Cook of any wrongdoing. Even RG3 walked back his statements in real time on the broadcast after initially advocating for the call.
Texas was on the wrong end of an egregious call earlier in the year against UTSA, and they were fortunately cleared of any penalty on this crucial play.
Game ball for the running backs and offensive line
With the passing game not clicking this week, Steve Sarkisian decided to lean heavily on his two future NFL backs in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, as well as the big fellas upfront. Sarkisian was rewarded by putting his faith in the run game despite struggling to move the ball on the ground against the Cyclones last season in Ames.
This time around, the Longhorns took the fight to Campbell’s defensive front and was outright assaulting them with the ground game for stretches of the ball game. During the final scoring drive, the Longhorns ran the ball on 9 of the 11 plays, as they bullied their way right down the field before eventually having Ewers hit Worthy for the go ahead score.
The Longhorn rushing attack ended up with 191 yards on the day with Robinson carrying the mail to the tune of 135 yards and Johnson chipping in with 71 yards.
Plain and simple, when the game was on the line Sark ran the offense through his two stallions. Robinson and Johnson might be the best 1-2 punch in the country at running back and they have shown up each week for the Longhorns. Enjoy them while you can.
On top of setting the tone in the run game, the Texas offensive line once again put a goose egg in the sack column. Will McDonald absolutely gave this unit fits a year ago and this time around you barely heard him mentioned. Hats off to to this group and two hats off to Kelvin Banks who once again put together a fantastic performance this week. Banks graded out the highest among the bunch in both pass blocking and run blocking according to Pro Football Focus and he checked in with the second highest offensive grade among all Longhorns this week. He’s a baller. All-American accolades are in his future.
When adversity struck they found a way to win
As I said previously, this was far from a pretty win. But at the end of the day it was still a win. Did the Longhorns leave points on the field? Yes. Did the Longhorn defense have a rough showing at the ballpark? Yup. But with all of that said, this team still found a way to battle and scrap their way to a victory even when things looked bleak at times.
You know what I call that? Growth. Because this was a game that Texas would have found a way to lose last year. This is a team that won five games just a year ago and now through seven games they already have five wins under their belt and barely came up short in the ones they lost. The Longhorns are 5-2 and still have the opportunity to make their way back to Dallas to compete for the Big 12 title despite having some maturing to do in several places on the roster.
I get people get frustrated with the way things can go week to week, but that’s the nature of this silly game called football. It can be an absolute emotional rollercoaster, so I try to make sure I stress that people enjoy the wins no matter how they come. This program isn’t in the position where they can blow the doors off opponents each week by just showing up to the stadium. They are going to have to scratch and claw out some games until that ability to win becomes a habit.
This team is getting better and like I’ve said before they still haven’t played their best football. That should excite you as fans and terrify opponents left on the schedule.
Mike Gundy and the Cowboys await the Longhorns in Stillwater. It will be loud and rowdy. Need to get healed up and ready to go if this team wants to stay in the conversation for the conference title.