Once again, the Texas Longhorns are set to welcome a ranked foe with No. 16 Iowa State headed for the Forty Acres. With each tied for second in the Big 12 standings down the stretch, Big 12 title implications are at stake as Texas attempts to secure its first Senior Night win since 2013.
Can the Longhorns snap that slump against a Cyclones squad riding a five-game winning streak?
The Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to try to figure out how Texas can slow Brock Purdy, and what kind of defensive showing we may see on Saturday, among other things.
Saturday night will be Senior Night. This class may not have quite as many headliners as previous years, but which three seniors have been most impactful is Texas seemingly turning another corner this season?
Cody Daniel -- Co-Editor: Charles Omenihu, Gary Johnson, and Chris Nelson come to mind here, but I don’t think one could overstate the importance of Texas adding Calvin Anderson to solidify the left tackle spot this season. With how many close games Texas has played, the season could look much different without him.
Anthony Rizzo -- Contributor: The improvement of Charles Omenihu from his freshman year to his senior year was really impressive. Along with him, I’d go with Chris Nelson and Breckyn Hager as the other two true seniors from the Charlie Strong days. They’ve filled necessary needs along that defensive line and have made the most of their talent with little depth around them..
Will Covey -- Contributor: Of what’s left of Charlie Strong’s first full recruiting cycle, along with a couple of pieces added along the way, the three seniors that have had the most impact in my mind are Jerrod Heard, Gary Johnson, and Breckyn Hager. Their on-field production, professionalism, influence, and unmitigated love for Texas are characteristics I would attach to them.
Collin Parker -- Contributor: Cal transfer, Tre Watson has been put on the back-burner in terms of notional recognition, but the workhorse has been solid all season. Gary Johnson has also impressed so far, and, of course, Breckyn Hager. He’s been irreplaceable both on and off the field, and the emotional leader for this roster.
Last season, Senior Night saw several juniors suit up for their final game at DKR. Which juniors could be doing the same this time around?
Cody: The obvious answers are Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson. I thought Brandon Jones was more likely early in the season, but not quite as much anymore. I’d say Shane Buechele, who could become a transfer if he’s hoping to see the field before his playing days are done.
Anthony: Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey will both be NFL ready after this season. While they’d likely be day two picks, I think we’ll see the last of them at DKR on Saturday. No other juniors come to mind on being NFL ready but Shane Buechele will be a hot-transfer target for a team in need of a quarterback.
Will: I personally don’t see Texas taking as big of a hit as last year. However, I don’t think you need to look any further than our two leading receivers this season. Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey are likely candidates to turn down their last year in burnt orange and turn pro, which is possible why Texas has recruited wideouts heavily this recruiting cycle. I think you can make the case for Brandon Jones as well. And to entertain the idea, Shane Buechele.
Collin: To piggyback off of Will, I also see Humphrey and Johnson testing draft waters. With prototype build and catch radius, second or third round selections are almost expected from the duo.
Let’s talk about a true freshman: Brock Purdy is 5-0 and owns a passer efficiency rating of 192, which is better than everyone not named Kyler Murray or Tua Tagovailoa. From what you’ve seen, what can Texas do to prevent Purdy’s hot streak from continuing on Saturday?
Cody: For starters, Texas needs to have someone like Gary Johnson spy him and prevent Purdy from making plays with his legs. Other than that, some success with exotic and delayed blitzes to confuse and overwhelm him early would be ideal.
Anthony: The defensive line has struggled to get any pressure on the air-raid quarterbacks over the last three games. With that being said, Todd Orlando will have to dial up pressure on the true freshman.
Will: Texas has to keep him in the pocket a limit his ability to extend plays with his legs. Todd Orlando will have to get creative in order to rattle the freshman quarterback.
Collin: As of Texas’ previous three matchups, opposing quarterbacks have averaged an absurd 370 passing yards per game. The defensive backs are the blatant vulnerability. Mingling with a Big 12 championship appearance, expect more of an urgency in the secondary to, at bare minimum, slow Purdy’s production.
Texas has allowed receivers such as Antoine Wesley (TTU), Tylan Wallace (OSU), Marquise Brown (OU), and Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC) to have absolutely field days. Given that Texas has struggled with elite receivers this season, what kind of performance should we expect from Hakeem Butler?
Cody: Surprisingly, Butler is only averaging four receptions per game, but leads the nation with 22.7 yards per reception. With David Montgomery out for the first half, I’d expect Purdy to target Butler more often early, and ultimately, he’ll end with yet another 100-yard game.
Anthony: Another monster performance. Butler possess a mismatch against whatever Texas cornerback is on him. Getting Brandon Jones back will help the problem of tackling in space, though.
Will: Different week. Same story. This league has such an abundance of talented receivers and quarterbacks to throw them the ball. Hakeem Butler will have another great day against the Texas secondary. I anticipate Butler having 100-plus yards receiving with a touchdown sprinkled in there.
Collin: As previously alluded to, I would anticipate something better than past appearances from the secondary. Crossing the 100-yard threshold is painfully realistic for Butler, but a field day would be overselling it.
Todd Orlando’s defense, as a whole, has struggled as of late, allowing 500-plus yards in three consecutive games. Against this ISU team, what must Texas do to prevent the Cyclones from enjoying that kind of success?
Cody: Montgomery missing two quarters helps, but again, preventing Purdy from running wild on broken plays and double-covering Butler throughout would be a step in the right direction. And of course, getting off the field on third downs.
Anthony: Just as they did last week, force turnovers. Iowa State will have their success through the air but if Texas’ run defense can hold Montgomery in check, they’ll be in good position.
Will: Texas must have success on third down and tackle better in open space. If Texas doesn’t get off the field on third down, Iowa State has the kind of offense that can wear defenses down early and can have success making big plays later in the game.
Collin: Third downs will be crucial. In this marquee matchup, you want Sam Ehlinger and your offense to have the ball as much, and as long as possible.
Whether it’s something ISU excels at or something Texas struggles with, what could become the biggest issue for the Longhorns on Saturday?
Cody: ISU ranks 18th in passing and rushing defense S&P+, and the offense has taken new life under Brock Purdy. Texas will probably still find ways to produce points, but Iowa State is more than capable of doing the same if Texas can’t find a way to contain Purdy. This game will likely come down to defense and which unit can slow the other offense. Texas hasn’t shown much to speak of to that end as of late.
Anthony: By struggling to convert those clutch third-downs against a stout Cyclones defense. Ehlinger has been clutch time and time again but he’s yet to face a Big 12 defense like this. The offense will be tested more than ever in this one.
Will: The Longhorns’ biggest issue come Saturday will be the physicality of Iowa State on both sides of the ball. Historically, these are the kind of teams that Texas has struggled against. It’ll be interesting to see how both of our lines play as that will sure play a role in the outcome of this game.
Collin: Texas’ offense continues to play full throttle. Ehlinger and his receiving core all have big night on the stat sheet.
Prediction time: Does Texas improve to 4-1 against ranked foes this season with a win over No. 16 Iowa State?
Cody: Between Montgomery missing the first half, the secondary finally being healthy, and Texas riding the emotions of a Senior Night with Big 12 title implications, I think Texas escapes with a close win. Texas 34, Iowa State 31.
Anthony: I’m right with Cody and Vegas on this one. Texas wins 27-24 in a thrilling victory on Senior night to position themselves for a 9-3 regular season.
Will: Spoiler alert: This will end up being a one possession game throughout. Nevertheless, Texas will avoid losing two in a row at DKR to keep a birth to the Big 12 championship game alive. Iowa State 27 Texas 30.
Collin: As a fan, my opinion drips with program bias. Give me the Horns in yet another nail-biter. Iowa State 27 Texas 35.