At night. In Ames.
Over the last four matchups between the No. 7 Texas Longhorns and the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclones have come away winners in four of the last five contests, including a 30-7 trouncing of the Longhorns in 2021, head coach Steve Sarkisian’s first season on the Forty Acres.
“It’s definitely be gonna one heck of a farewell present. They’re going to come in here on Senior Night in the dark. I don’t think they really know what’s going to be coming for them. I think they’re gonna have to come out and figure it out,” Iowa State senior offensive guard Jarrod Hufford said this week.
“We have distaste in our mouth for them — we definitely want to send them off to the SEC with a loss on our end.”
Hufford went on to accuse the Longhorns of believing that their shit doesn’t stink, closing out his incendiary comments, “They’re just people that have such a high ego that needs to get checked.”
Texas players certainly took notice on social media, but Sarkisian downplayed the bulletin-board material provided by Hufford on Thursday.
“I think our players hear things indirectly and we try not to just put too much into that,” said Sarkisian. “We try to focus on our mission and we’ve been on a mission since Week One and that mission continues Saturday night, so we try to keep the focus on us, we try to be enamored with what we need to do to play the game to at the level that we’re capable of playing.”
Regardless of what Sarkisian was willing to say publicly, the captains for the game announced by the program on Saturday afternoon spoke volumes, with senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat and junior defensive tackle Byron Murphy, the two players most likely to match up against Hufford for the majority of Iowa State’s offensive snaps, both included among the four captains.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Central on FOX and, in a positive potential development for the Longhorns, senior safety Jalen Catalon is expected to play for the first time since the Cotton Bowl against the Sooners.
After Iowa State won the toss and deferred, Texas received the ball first and struggled to get ahead of the chains, converting a 3rd and 10 on an 11-yard completion to junior wide receiver AD Mitchell and then hitting junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders for 15 yards up the middle, but punting after two passes intended for junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy fell incomplete, as did a third-down throw to freshman running back CJ Baxter.
The Longhorns defense responded with the Cyclones facing a long field, forcing a three and out when Sweat batted down a pass on 3rd and 4.
The second possession for Texas went even more poorly when redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers took a bad coverage sack on first down for a nine-yard loss and another sack on 3rd and 10 when Iowa State brought a blitz that hit home.
On the interior, the Horns produced a tackle for loss on a running play by the Clones to start their second drive and then gave up a 13-yard pass over the middle to move the chains. The subsequent run by Iowa State only produced two yards, but also resulted in Sweat taking a leg to the helmet and requiring attention on the field from the medical staff.
A pass-interference penalty called on Texas senior cornerback Ryan Watts extended the drive and moved Iowa State across midfield. After Watts gave up a completion, Sweat returned to the field on a short gain by the Cyclones on the ground. The Texas defensive backs continued to give up inside leverage, though, against an Iowa State passing attack with nothing more than the hopes of throwing the ball downfield.
The drive stalled on an illegal touch on a Cyclones wide receiver and a sack by Murphy on third down that forced a 45-yard field goal to end the 11-play, 53-play drive that took 5:47 off the clock.
A first-down pass on the ensuing drive went better for Texas as Ewers hit Worthy for 17 yards before two carries by Baxter resulted in a holding penalty by sophomore right guard DJ Campbell, putting the Longhorns behind the chains and causing a punt when Ewers couldn’t find senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington on a dangerous throw broken up on 3rd and 10.
The Texas defense responded, however, stuffing a run for no gain on first down, breaking up a pass at the line of scrimmage on a blitz by senior safety Jerrin Thompson, and then sacking Iowa State quarterback Rocco Brecht on third down.
Opting against a punt block, Texas produced a return opportunity for Worthy and the Longhorns star capitalized with a 24-yard effort to the Cyclones 33-yard line. A pass to Baxter and two runs by sophomore running back Jaydon Blue produced a first down, but a touchdown pass to Mitchell was negated on a holding penalty. Blue got 12 yards back on a short pass, the second-down run by Blue was stuffed, and Ewers couldn’t hit Mitchell for a touchdown against physical coverage as junior place-kicker Bert Auburn settled for a 39-yard field goal and a 3-3 tie.
Iowa State opened its drive with rhythm, hitting a pass for 18 yards on the first play and a 15-yard screen pass up the middle on the third play. Critically, a pass on 3rd and 4 was initially ruled a completion at the sticks before the spot was overturned for a 4th and 3 that resulted in a missed 51-yard field goal.
On a Worthy-centric drive, the first play went for 11 yards to the Texas wideout, the third play went for 30 yards, but a run for 16 yards ended in a fumble and a recovery by Iowa State for a potentially game-changing turnover in the Cyclones red zone.
The short passing game was still working for Iowa State with four completions on five attempts to start the drive, including an overturned targeting call on freshman safety Derek Williams, until Texas finally forced a stop, producing another major swing in the game when an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Worthy was called back for an illegal block in the back by senior safety Kitan Crawford.
A 13-yard run by Baxter on second down was positive for Texas, momentum temporarily halted with an incompletion and a sack before Ewers stood tall to hit Sanders for a 17-yard gain that ended with Sanders down on the field with an injury. Needing a big play before the half, Ewers found Whittington an impressive route for a 30-yard gain that left Campbell needing medical attention. Following a false-start penalty, Ewers threw a check down to Blue for six yards and a crossing route to Whittington for three yards, then was called for intentional grounding under pressure, forcing a timeout by Sarkisian with the clock ticking down and Auburn missing the 50-yard attempt before the whistle. Given another opportunity, Auburn connected after a timeout by Iowa State to send the game into halftime at 6-3.
Iowa State converted two first downs to start the second half with a typically conservative approach that took a significant blow due to a three-yard loss on a 1st and 10 run and then settled for two short completions before punting just across midfield.
An explosive 21-yard run by Baxter set the tone for a key Texas drive that also featured a 19-yard catch by Worthy before its most critical play — a 3rd and 1 somehow marked short on a catch by Mitchell that produced a 23-yard touchdown catch by Whittington on a play-action pass for a 10-3 lead.
TOUCHDOWN JORDAN WHITTINGTON!!!— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
TEXAS LEADS 13-3 pic.twitter.com/NGXQy681mD
Needing chunk plays to get back in the game, Iowa State hit one by beating Watts on a double move for 33 yards, a middle screen for 20 yards to move into the Texas red zone, and a 14-yard touchdown on a rail route to Iowa State running back Eli Sanders. But on the extra point, Sweat blocked the attempt and sophomore nickel back Austin Jordan returned it for two points and a 15-9 margin.
Of course it was T'Vondre Sweat who got his mitts on that extra point attempt— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
Austin Jordan picks it up and Texas steals two points! pic.twitter.com/xRDdd5tPbn
After a three and out by Texas, senior safety Jerrin Thompson came up with a huge interception, breaking on a throw by Becht to produce the first turnover for the Longhorns.
The offense responded with a 13-yard gain by Baxter on a run and a 13-yard completion to Mitchell to send the game into the fourth quarter.
To start the final quarter, Sarkisian dialed up arguably his best play call of the day, a play-action pass to junior tight end Gunnar Helm on a crossing route that turned into a wheel for a 31-yard touchdown catch, followed by a two-point conversion handled by Whittington on a jet sweep to lead 23-9.
Another great play call from Sarkisian!— CJ Vogel (@CJVogel_TFB) November 19, 2023
Ewers finds Gunnar Helm on the backside wheel for a 31-yard TD! Texas moves up 14 after a 2pt conversion. pic.twitter.com/5z4dHq9de5
With Iowa State on the verge, Texas performed a familiar feat — allowing an opponent back into the game on a 4th and 1 pop pass that went for 66 yards against a defense that completely sold out to the line of scrimmage.
Another completion to Helm and a six-yard run by Baxter set up a shot play to Mitchell that drew a pass-interference penalty and another solid gain by the Texas freshman running back as Worthy left the field with an apparent injury. On a 3rd and 1, Baxter picked up the yard to gain and moved the chains again with a second-down catch. The first-down play with Baxter on the sideline disrupted the rhythm with a run stuff and a tackle for loss on an ill-advised screen pass to eventually force a 42-yard field goal by Auburn.
After an 18-yard pass to start the drive by Iowa State, an illegal formation penalty negated a 13-yard gain, leading to a sack and a failed fourth-down attempt needing 17 yards that put the Cyclones on the verge of a loss.
A personal foul on Iowa State ensured Texas was even closer to a win all but secured by Baxter on a 14-yard run and then confirmed for sure on a 4th and 1 effort to send the game into victory formation for the Longhorns in the 26-16 win.