Iowa State travels to Austin this weekend still in search of their sixth win in 2012. Head coach Paul Rhoads called Texas "the hottest team in the Big XII" earlier this week and it's hard to argue with him. Can the Cyclones roll into Austin and win on the road for the third time this season, or will they be forced to win in Lawrence for the first time in 11 years to reach bowl eligibility?
Stadium: Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX
Game Time: 11:00 AM
TV: Longhorn Network - National, ABC - Iowa and Omaha
The game against Oklahoma went about as well as most realistic fans expected. Oklahoma looked shaky in the early going and two second quarter turnovers could have put the Sooners in the hole. However, miscues by Iowa State's offense kept them from putting more than two field goals on the board and a quick strike by Oklahoma before halftime seemed to break the spirit of both the Cyclone defense and the crowd in Jack Trice Stadium.
Now Iowa State heads to Austin to face a Texas team that found its groove again last week with a win in Lubbock over a ranked Texas Tech squad. Mack Brown's additional involvement with the defense seemed to have worked as the Longhorns held the Red Raiders to 112 yards rushing and Seth Doege to under 60% passing.
As I look at the stats for this game they seem incredibly misleading. Tech still rolled up 441 yards on the Texas defense but when watching the game I never felt they were a legitimate threat to take over the game. Texas run blitzed constantly to stop Tech and left their secondary on an island against a very good Tech receiving corps. This game came down to who controlled the line of scrimmage and Texas did it on both sides of the ball. Not a good omen if you're expecting Iowa State to win their sixth game of the year this weekend.
When We Last Left Off...
Despite a strong early defensive performance Iowa State still allowed Landry Jones to throw for four touchdowns and over 400 yards in a 35-20 loss. Durrell Givens' two interceptions were turned into field goals (including a career long 51-yarder by Edwin Arceo), but the Iowa State defense failed to come up with another turnover the rest of the way and clearly looked tired and less physical as the game wore on.
As previously mentioned, Texas rolled into Lubbock, contained Texas Tech, and came away with a 31-22 victory for their first road win over a ranked opponent since beating Nebraska in Lincoln in 2010. Johnathan Gray ran for 106 yards on 5.3 yards per carry in his first career start but the story was quarterback David Ash who threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns on only 19 attempts.
Iowa State vs Texas: A History
We all know about the 2010 game as Iowa State's first victory in the series, but here are the last five match ups between the two schools. Texas holds an all-time edge of 8-1.
2011: Texas 37, Iowa State 14
2010: Iowa State 28, Texas 21
2007: Texas 56, Iowa State 3
2006: Texas 37, Iowa State 14
2003: Texas 40, Iowa State 19
The saving grace in these scores is the fact that Paul Rhoads has only been a coach in two of those games. In those games the average scoring is 29 points for Texas and 21 points for Iowa State. The long-term history of this series matters very little this year.
A Look at Iowa State's Offense vs Texas
For the first time in quite awhile I have very few quibbles with the play calling on the field last Saturday. I still believe that Shontrelle Johnson (9 touches: 7 rush, 2 receiving) and James White (4 touches: all rush) need to be touching the ball more, but there is hope given Shontrelle's 33 yards receiving on only two receptions. You need to get the ball into playmakers' hands to win and with the receiving corps again having a case of the dropsies it's imperative to get the running backs going.
Steele Jantz only completed 50% of his passes last week, and at times threw wild balls that had no chance of being caught by anyone, but also threw very catchable balls to multiple receivers that were subsequently dropped. The worst of which was Jarvis West's drop inside the 10 yard line that would have set the Cyclones up for 3rd and short after the first turnover of the game.
This is another game where the Cyclones need to establish an identity against a defense that ranks 100th nationally in total defense, 107th against the run, and 63rd against the pass.
Earlier I mentioned how last week was Texas' first road win over a ranked opponent since 2010. The week after that win was when Iowa State rolled into Austin and beat the Longhorns up and down the field. That 2010 Longhorn defense came into the game still highly regarded and with a rush defense that was in the top 10 nationally. After 120 yards and two touchdowns from Alexander Robinson the Cyclones walked out of Austin with their first victory over Texas and first road victory over a ranked opponent in 20 years.
Needless to say paper doesn't win games, and that concerns me greatly right now. In the last few weeks the Texas defense focused on simplicity and stopping one part of the opponents' offense. You can throw the defensive rankings out the window because I have no reason to think that this defense won't continue to improve on Saturday.
A Look at Iowa State's Defense vs Texas
Jake Knott is not the end all, be all of the Cyclone defense but you could tell in the 3rd quarter last week that the Cyclones needed another leader on the field. As Oklahoma began to impose their will at the line of scrimmage the Cyclones failed to come up with a rally time and time again. Knott's injury unfortunately has the potential to unwind an otherwise solid defense if the players cannot rally together and each do more heavy lifting than before.
Texas is going to run the ball. We all know that. With Malcolm Brown potentially healthy enough to play the Longhorns are going to have their options in the backfield against an Iowa State defensive line that had possibly their worst performance of the year last week.
Since conference play began the Cyclones are giving up 4.0 yards per carry and 156 yards on the ground. That ranks ahead of only Kansas (196 YPG), Baylor (214 YPG), and Texas (235 YPG). Despite the 8-12 man rotation on the defensive line the wear and tear of a long season is beginning to show up front. Compounding this is that Jake Knott is not there to be a tackling machine and we may have a problem against an offense that is beginning to turn the corner in its physicality. All without taking into account the multiple looks and misdirection that offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin likes to throw at opponents.
The only thing worse than the rushing defense right now is the passing defense for the Cyclones. Ranked 9th in the conference the passing defense is only ahead of West Virginia and behind Baylor in the amount of yards given up through the air in Big XII games. David Ash isn't going to throw the ball 40 times on Saturday, but if the defensive backs cannot keep up with their men, and the defensive line cannot generate a pass rush then big plays are abound. Texas receiver Mike Davis had catches of 25, 54, and 75 yards last week with two of those going for touchdowns.
A Look at Iowa State's Special Teams vs Texas
Edwin Arceo is hitting his stride in the kicking game but I still have a world of concern is he leaves kickoffs short against the Longhorns. Otherwise the special teams units have been solid. Kirby Van Der Kamp continues to prove his worth for the Ray Guy Award after dropping three punts inside the Sooners' 10-yard line last week.
WRNL Lead Pipe Prediction (2-7):Aaron Horne drops a ball. Way to screw up your status as Preview Favorite.
50/50 Prediction (2-6):Quenton Bundrage catches the first touchdown pass of his career.
Reason for Impromptu Dumpster Burning (5-4): Getting a repeat of that, Garrett Gilbert disaster from 2010 would be pretty awesome.
What We Are Drinking When We Aren't Drinking Natty (AKA Cyclone
Jukebox Beer Pick of the Week)
For a beer you can find both in Iowa and in Texas I would turn to Shiner and its various assortment of beers. Shiner Holiday Cheer was released this week, and while it isn't holiday season yet, it's a good beer to have in the fall while watching football.
Games aren't won on paper. I've said that plenty of times in this preview over the years, and for the first time in quite awhile I feel that this is actually something that doesn't play to Iowa State's advantage.
Texas is playing its best football of the season right now. They're physical, they're executing on offense, and their defense has focused more on fundamentals than scheme the last two weeks. They're hosting an Iowa State team that is improving, but at the same time holding on for dear life these last few weeks of the season. Injuries are mounting on defense and the offense is still too inconsistent to mount a consistent threat.
This is where the shoe drops on this season. Unfortunately the lynchpin in determining if this is 2010 Part Deux or a more frustrating version of 2011 will be next weekend's game in Lawrence.
Iowa State 17
PS - Leave your predictions. I was the optimist last week while many of you felt that Oklahoma would blow the doors of the team. I'm anxious to see how everyone feels this week.