The Texas Longhorns coaching staff doesn’t believe in moral victories, but there were definitely some positives to take away from the double-overtime loss to No. 4 USC to close out non-conference play. The defense played better than fans have seen in the last few seasons, and the passing game shows signs of life outside of play-action passes.
With an extra week of practice, the ‘Horns had a chance to get healthy — to an extent — and work out some remaining kinks before taking on Iowa State. A Thursday night road game is no cakewalk, so Texas must execute in several areas to pull to .500 on the year and start conference play with a win.
Tackles for Loss
It may be an understatement to say that David Montgomery is a tough runner. Since taking over as the Cyclones feature back against Oklahoma in 2016, he has almost refused to go down in the backfield. In his 122 carries since that game, the sophomore back has only lost 16 yards on the ground, while gaining 713. The Texas defense struggled to bring defenders down in the backfield for the first two games of this season, only managing the feat five times. That changed against USC, as the Longhorns finished the game with nine tackles for loss, totalling 41 yards. Linebackers Anthony Wheeler and Malik Jefferson led the charge, finishing the game with 3.5 and two tackles for loss, respectively. Creating disruption in the backfield will force Iowa State into long passing situations, where Todd Orlando’s defense made its money against the Trojans.
Both teams’ success seems to stem from winning in the ground attack, both offensively and defensively. In the Cyclones’ only loss this season, they allowed Iowa’s Akrum Wadley to rush for 118 yards, while in their two wins, the highest rushing total was Northern Iowa’s Trevor Allen – who finished with 87 yards. Texas has been on the opposite end of that trend, as their two losses against Maryland and USC have been without a 100-yard performance, rushing for a team total of 98 yards and 68 yards in those two contests. Fans are well-aware of the performance of Chris Warren III in the win over San Jose State, racking up 166 yards on 16 carries. After holding the Trojans’ Ronald Jones, II and Stephen Carr to 75 yards combined two weeks ago, the Texas defense will have to find a way to slow down another dynamic runner. The aforementioned Montgomery has made his mark as the Cyclones’ most-consistent offensive threat, hitting the 100-yard mark in four of his last six games.
When you’re going into a hostile environment, the last thing a team wants to do is make it harder on themselves. This season, Texas has had a penchant for doing just that, regardless of the location. Texas ranks No. 117 in the nation in penalty yardage, averaging 86 yards per game, however that number is inflated due to the massive 117 penalty yards Texas racked up in the season-opening loss to Maryland.
With either Shane Buechele playing his first action in three weeks, or Sam Ehlinger going into Ames for the first time, Texas cannot afford to put its quarterbacks behind the chains and risk stifling any offensive production.
Even though the concept of a must-win game seems clichéd at this point, a loss against Iowa State would put the Longhorns in an unenviable position, a 1-3 record to start Tom Herman’s career at Texas.