The No. 7 Texas Longhorns walked into the corn fields of Ames, Iowa on Saturday motivated and on a mission. A win would put Texas firmly in the drivers seat to make it to Arlington for the Big 12 Championship game. A win would get a bad taste out of their mouths that has been there since their last trip to Ames that sparked the now-legendary rant by defensive line coach Bo Davis on the bus following the loss.
Needless to say, Texas went into the matchup alert and ready to go against the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday. But it is tough to shake that uneasy feeling of going into a place like Ames that has provided Longhorn fans with several unpleasant memories. Things started a little slow, but this one ended with the Longhorns putting the game away and assembling into victory formation for one last time in Jack Trice Stadium in a 26-16 win.
We have plenty to get to today, so let’s talk about what we witnessed up in the corn fields.
Too many self-inflicted wounds on the road
Allow me to get some of the unpleasant stuff out of the way first. Texas had a slow start to this game and single-handedly keep Iowa State in this early on. Here were four big plays that could have easily swung the game in the opposite direction:
- Left tackle Kelvin Banks is flagged for a hold that wipes a touchdown pass to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell off the board.
- Safety Kitan Crawford is flagged for a block in the back on a punt return that was returned for at a touchdown by Xavier Worthy.
- Worthy fumbled in the red zone on the heels of a nice run that would have put Texas in position to come away with points.
- On 4th and 1, the defense over commits against the run and allows Rocco Becht to throw a lolly-pop pass right over their heads for a 66-yard touchdown to Easton Dean.
Texas won the game in spite of these plays, but these plays kept the game much closer than it should have been. A lot of Texas fans probably had Nam flashbacks when these things kept happening, as it kept the Longhorns from pulling away from the Cyclones and potentially putting things to bed a lot sooner.
Texas didn’t let things get as tight as they did in previous weeks, but it definitely was some cause for concern in real time.
The defense was ELITE against the run
I asked Iowa State OL Jarrod Hufford about Texas coming to Ames one final time before leaving for the SEC. Hufford gave a spicy answer, and then added some more heat when answering @TravisHines21 follow-up question. pic.twitter.com/W0gXaGVzPj— Mark Freund (@MarkFreundTV) November 14, 2023
Listen, man. I am all for talking that talk when you are able to back it up. I get it that Iowa State has been a thorn in Texas’ ass in recent years and that they have notched some statement wins over the Longhorns under Matt Campbell. But even I was perplexed when I saw these comments early in the week from Iowa State starting left guard Jarrod Hufford.
This Texas team is nothing like the one that made the trip to Ames a couple years ago. This Iowa State team is nothing like the team that played in that game. A lot has changed. And I know this much. As a former offensive lineman that logged plenty of snaps in along the interior... if I knew I was going to have two future NFL players lined up over me for 50-plus snaps, the last thing I was doing was dumping gasoline on a raging inferno.
Hufford’s comments clearly spread like wildfire through the Texas program this week and they showed up to the yard with a giant chip on their shoulder. The Texas defense has been great against the run all year, but tonight they took to a different level. Iowa State’s offense mustered NINE total rushing yards against the Texas defense. NINE. As in not even a full first down on the ground. T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy were right in the middle of the action as usual and they left their mark on the contest.
T'Vondre Sweat is about to have Jarrod Hufford in hell for 60 minutes tonight pic.twitter.com/HMdBd0kSBq— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
That is an absolute ass kicking by the Texas defense and it made Iowa State funnel the entire offense through Becht, and while he played well, it made things a little more predictable for Texas defensively. When you are able to make an offense one-dimensional, you will take it every time.
Even with Becht having a solid game, the Cyclones only scored 16 points on the night. That’s a winning effort on that side of the ball.
CJ Baxter had a solid showing as RB1
This was one of the biggest storylines entering the matchup. Might have been THE storyline entering the matchup. Baxter got an expanded role in the offense this week after Texas lost Jonathon Brooks for the rest of the season to an ACL tear. Baxter entered Saturday’s matchup with some big shoes to fill, as Brooks has been the heartbeat for the Longhorn offense all season long.
I'm liking what I'm seeing from CJ Baxter pic.twitter.com/foiOkUQnOd— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
20 carries. 117 yards. 5.9 Yards per carry.
Baxter passed his first test with flying colors. He showed decisiveness and vision that we haven’t seen consistently this year. Iowa State’s defense is one of the best in the conference and they were flying down in run support all night long, but Baxter didn’t shy away and he earned his keep on Saturday. Baxter was also targeted several times in the passing game and recorded five receptions for a very modest 13 yards. Texas split him out several times in empty sets, so it is something to keep an eye moving forward as far as usage goes.
Texas is going to need Baxter to be this player every week moving forward. If Saturday was a sign that he is turning the corner it will be a huge development and it would allow Texas to remain balanced the way Steve Sarkisian prefers it.
Take a bow, young man. You earned yourself a game ball.
Quinn Ewers was solid, but...
Ewers was 23-of-33 passing for 281 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday and both touchdowns came on beautiful calls from Sarkisian.
Ewers had a solid night and didn’t turn the ball over in Ames. He played winning football and gave Texas a chance to come out of the game victorious. But... some of those sacks that took place on Saturday were on him. Ewers was sacked four times on Saturday, but at least two of them were on Ewers himself for holding the ball too long and being very indecisive about whether to run, try to keep the play alive, or just eat it.
While we have seen Ewers get brain lock at times during the season, I think it is clear that he is being way more cautious when it comes to trying to run post-injury. In situations where we would see him take off and run earlier in the year he is clearly now trying to hold the ball hoping something will come open. If he is going to do that, then he needs to get into the habit of putting himself in position to be able to throw the ball away instead of taking negative plays that can derail drives.
On top of the sacks he took, Ewers also was flagged for intentional grounding when he threw a ball into the middle of the end zone with no receiver in the area. Teams are going to come after him a lot as Texas plays into the latter part of the season, so he needs to prepare accordingly.
This team vanquished some demons in Ames
As I said earlier, this Texas team came in with a point to prove in this game. Not only does it directly effect their path to the postseason, but there are still plenty of players on the roster that were around for that previous trip to Ames that resulted in the now-infamous five-star players vs. five-star culture line.
If a frustrated and confused Sam Ehlinger didn’t effectively encapsulate the failures of the Tom Herman era after another heartbreaking loss, Iowa State RB Breece Hall certainly did.— Burnt Orange Nation (@BON_SBNation) November 27, 2020
"It’s five-star culture vs. five-star players." https://t.co/EpKPOfjK6M
When you combine that along with Hufford’s comments pre-game, it is very easy to see why Texas players are plenty spicy on social media following the win on Saturday.
Yea we got a ego fasho and we got culture and the talent too never be loud and wrong @JarrodHufford hope u had a good senior night though— Z A Y (@XavierWorthy) November 19, 2023
9 rushing that’s tuff— Tvondre sweat (@TvondreSweat) November 19, 2023
and Byron Murphy:
9 yards rushing … that’s all. Don’t write no check you can’t cash little guy— MURPH DAWG (@ByronMurphyII) November 19, 2023
Think these guys didn’t come into this game pissed off with a point to prove? With this being the last time these two teams will play each other as conference opponents, there was certainly a little extra something on this matchup. This time around, it is the Cyclones who will have to carry a bitter taste in their mouth for awhile. And there is no telling when Iowa State will an opportunity to get their lick back. That is certainly going to sting in more ways than one.
The Longhorns earned the right to talk on Saturday. If you don’t like it, then you should have beat them between the white lines when the whistles were still blowing.
Bonus: Jordan Whittington was rewarded for his hustle in Fort Worth
TOUCHDOWN JORDAN WHITTINGTON!!!— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
TEXAS LEADS 13-3 pic.twitter.com/NGXQy681mD
A week after making a season-defining play in pursuit in Fort Worth against TCU, senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington was rewarded with his first touchdown reception of the season. This was one of my high points of the night because Whittington is one of the unsung heroes of this team and despite him not lighting up the box score, he always manages to impact the game in other ways that aren’t as glamorous. He is the best blocker amongst the wideouts and he is always giving great effort even when the ball isn’t coming to him.
Guys like Whittington are glue guys for teams like this and they imperative to have, as they will make plays like we saw last week and this week when you least expect it. The touchdown reception on Saturday was Whittington’s first of the year. In 2022, Whittington only had one touchdown as well. The opponent? Iowa State in Austin.
Whittington came back for one more ride to help lead this team to some hardware. They are a step closer after Saturday.
DOUBLE BONUS: Bert Auburn notches another big game
BERT AUBURN CAREER LONG TO SEND US TO THE HALF WITH THE LEAD— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 19, 2023
HORNS LEAD 6-3 IN A SLUG FEST pic.twitter.com/pRC6HDkwzf
Sideshow Bert has leveled up, folks. Auburn drilled that 50-yarder in Ames and also knocked in two additional field goals to go 3-for-3 on the night. Auburn is now 10-for-10 on field goals over the past three weeks with makes coming from 49 (twice) and 50. He is making big kicks in big moments and has put all early-season issues well into the rearview.
Auburn may not have the biggest leg, but it doesn’t matter as long as he is putting them center cut through the uprights every time he is called about. Time to put some respect on his name if you haven’t already.
Yes, I said 10!!
The Longhorns have won 10 games for the first time since 2018 when they finished 10-4 with the Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. This is also the first time since 2009 that Texas has won 10 games in the regular season.
You thought darkness was your ally? pic.twitter.com/IHMYeOH8T2— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) November 19, 2023
This should be celebrated accordingly. As the past decade has shown us with this program, 10 win seasons are very tough to come by.
With that said...
The 24-hour rule is officially in effect. Celebrate with gusto, but after that it is time to focus on Texas Tech and getting win number 11. The Longhorns owe the Red Raiders one. And this time they come to Austin.