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Iowa State Cyclones vs. Texas Longhorns Preview

Is the third time the charm? ISU gets to play the depleted Longhorns and soon-to-be-fired Charlie Strong.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State heads down to the lone star state for a battle royale against the underachieving Texas Longhorns.

2016 Game VII: Iowa State (1-5, 0-3) vs. University of Texas (2-3, 0-2)

Time: 6:00 p.m. CDT

Location: Darrell Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

Capacity: 102,315

Line: Texas -13.5

Television: Longhorn Network, and can be streamed on if in Iowa

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Game Notes/Release

Texas Game Notes

Texas SB Nation Website – Burnt Orange Nation

AND Barking Carnival

When We Last Left Off

Another great three quarters, another collapse in the fourth, but the great thing is this team is continuing to improve. While ISU lost a heartbreaker to Oklahoma State 38-31, there were a ton of positives to spin for this season.

Joel Lanning looked impressive throwing and running the ball, and the play-calling from first-time offensive coordinator Tom Manning has been spot on. He has taken advantage of gaps in the defense and found a way to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands. The only knock is that Mike Warren didn’t get enough touches, but Manning recognized a stacked defensive line that opened holes for the quarterbacks to run through, and Lanning benefitted from it, running for a season high in yards.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was a complete 180 from the Baylor fiasco, as our defensive line forced pressure and the linebackers and safeties wrapped up. That was a huge area of emphasis and it was corrected in the matter of a week.

Give this coaching staff credit, they know what they’re doing and are getting our players in the right spots. It’s just the talent and lack of depth has caught up to them late in games.

The Series

Texas leads the all-time series 11-2, with ISU winning the last meeting in dominating fashion, shutting out the Longhorns last year by a score of 24-0.

It was one of the most impressive feats ISU has mastered in a while, as they were in complete control on both sides of the ball. And Joel “LANRAM” Lanning made a Texas defensive back cry.

I’m guessing we will either see a rally from the Texas troops, or a complete collapse, as Charlie Strong is on the hottest of hot seats going into this game.

Texas Tidbits

Speaking of Charlie Strong, the former coordinator took over the play-calling duties for the defense last week, and yielded a mere 45 points to Oklahoma in a loss. In fact, so far this season the Longhorns have been dreadful on defense, allowing an average of 477 yards and giving up nearly 40 points on the scoreboard.

NCAA Football: Texas El Paso at Texas
It might be time for those burnt orange turtlenecks to be thrown away
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

While their defense has been as tasteful as a BEVO turd, the offense has picked up the slack, mostly behind the legs of running back D’Onta Foreman. True freshman Shane Buechele commands the controls at quarterback, and has lived up to his billing as one of the top freshmen recruits.

You think Iowa State has played a lot of freshman this year? Texas has put 15 on the field so far, as the Charlie Strong experiment is starting to lose its luster. I smell a getting-off-the-bus-Lane-Kiffin-sort-of-firing if Texas loses this affair.

ISU Offense

This offense has gotten better each and every week. The two-headed monster of Lanning and Jacob Park will most likely continue, but the play of Lanning has been a pleasant surprise. He led the team in rushing yards last week, and is a force when running downhill. His accuracy has improved to the point where I feel comfortable with him playing the whole game at this point.

Texas gives up an average of 180 yards on the ground, so look for the Cyclones to continue to exhaust their defensive front with multiple looks and lead-back runs with Mike Warren. He has to get more involved if this team wants to win games, and I could see him running for big yardage on Saturday.

First Key to Victory – Sustain Drives and Chew the Clock

This can be done multiple ways. The strength of ISU’s offense is utilizing their run game, keeping the safeties honest, and then attacking with the play-action pass and short-to-intermediate routes. There will be multiple holes in the defense, and I am positive that Manning and staff will take advantage of a hurry-up approach to catch the defense off kilter.

The biggest advantage that the Cyclones have is in the passing game. Take away the UTEP game, and the Texas secondary gives up over 354 yards per game through the air! Lanning and Park will need to keep their jerseys clean (Texas averages 3 sacks per game), and getting the run game going will help balance this attack. The offensive line gave up too much pressure last week, but a lot of that was because receivers weren’t open downfield.

Allen Lazard is getting back to full health. It sounds like Trever Ryen is doubtful to play, but his counterpart Deshaunte Jones can step up and bring another gear to this potent offense. Other names like Hakeem Butler and Carson Epps will continue to get open, and I’m positive (and so is @HashtagChrisss in this week’s Player to Watch) that Dondre Daley can step up big for the boys in cardinal and gold.

Texas Defense

This Longhorn unit has underperformed as former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford was demoted after just four games at the helm. According to the depth chart, Texas only has one senior starting on defense, so they are very inexperienced in that department. They run different versions of a 4-3 and 4-2-5 defense, and tend to employ a one-deep safety package, putting all the pressure on their corners to make plays. Somewhere, Allen Lazard is smiling.

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Day
Good luck with this man, Longhorns!
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Their defense is so bad that reading through the official University of Texas game notes, they have 14 stories displaying their offensive prowess and only TWO discussing the defensive strengths.

In the first four games, the defense only forced one turnover, and they’ve been gashed in the passing game, giving up 10 yards per completion. If there is one strength, it is their ability to get to the quarterback, and they still have to do it with a ton of blitz packages.

Leading the team in tackles for loss are Breckyn Hager and Paul Boyette, who play up front. Hager plays the “Fox” role, just another name for the weak-side defensive end/outside linebacker that Iowa State calls the “Leo”.

Leading the team in tackles are linebackers Anthony Wheeler and Malik Jefferson. Jefferson was tabbed as the Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and has under performed to his standards.

The one senior starting is safety Kevin Vaccaro, brother to NFL defensive back Kenny, and even his starting role is in question, as backup Dylan Haines corralled two interceptions last week against Oklahoma.

Verdict – Iowa State

The Cyclones win this matchup handily, as the chance at a big play downfield and a solid rushing attack can gash this young and inexperienced Texas defense. While Texas has a ton of speed, they lack in breaking down and making tackles, so ISU will have to get the balls to playmakers in space, ala Deshaunte Jones and Allen Lazard. OU’s Dede Westbrook torched Texas defenders for 232 yards and two long touchdowns last week. Look for Lazard to have a big day.

And let’s give the damn rock to Mike Warren.

ISU Defense

I was tremendously pleased with the play of our defense last week, mainly the front seven. The defensive line paved the way for our linebackers to tackle in space, and they were able to wrap up at the point of attack. Texas will feature a lot of designed runs with their “18-wheeler” package and will get outside the tackles with star running back D’Onta Foreman.

Second Key to Victory – Get Pressure Up Front

Texas knows they can run the ball, and it will be a huge task for ISU to disrupt their rushing attack. The defensive ends have to wreak havoc, and Demond Tucker has to be the man we all know he can be. It was announced that defensive end J.D. Waggoner is lost for the year, so look for more JaQuan Bailey and the ever-impressive Jhaustin Thomas to step up. I have been very impressed with Thomas’s play this season, as he has been a disruptor fighting through double teams and forcing pressure in the backfield.

The linebackers are a bit slow, but stepped up last week. Brian Mills and D’Andre Payne are two bright spots that have done a fantastic job at open-field tackling and getting to the ball in key third-down situations. I see a big day out of Willie Harvey and whomever the strong safety is in the tackle column.

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Iowa State
D’Andre Payne has been one of the best playmakers for the defense in 2016
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

I think this secondary is one of the best ISU has had in over a decade, and can eat up the short passing game of Texas. Kamari Cotton-Moya is projected to play, and it will be a big step up for this defense if he is healthy. If not, Evrett Edwards has been serviceable.

Texas Offense

Texas is one of the most balanced attacks in all of college football, as they are only one of seven teams to average better than 225 rushing and 250 passing yards per game. They brought in new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert in the offseason and have reaped the benefits with his up-tempo approach.

The Longhorns have increased their scoring output by 17 points, yards by 160, and plays by nearly 20 a game from a year ago, and it all starts with true freshman Shane Buechele. The gunslinger has been impressive thus far, completing 63% of his passes and throwing for 11 touchdowns on the year, but a lot of what he does is in the short passing game.

He has spread the ball out amongst his receivers well, completing the ball to five different receivers who all have at least 14 catches on the year. Their deep threat is Dorian Leonard, who averages over 26 yards per catch and two long touchdowns, but overall this receiving corps runs a very basic route tree.

Running the ball for Texas is Big 12 leader D’Onta Foreman, and this man is a beast. He has run for over 100 yards in every game he’s played in this year, and averages over 6.8 yards per carry! Foreman is utilized in a lot of misdirections and straight-ahead runs and has the speed to take it the distance at any time. He had his best game a week ago, running for a career-high 159 yards.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Texas
Feminine handshakes are a plenty in Texas
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When the Longhorns get in the red zone they bring in the vaunted “18-wheeler” attack, named for #18 Tyrone Swoopes. He is a one-dimensional threat, and was bottled up by Oklahoma last week as they played zero-coverage and stuffed Swoopes at the point of attack. This far, the senior is ultra-efficient when he comes in for short-yardage runs, as 45% of his carries have resulted in a first down or touchdown.

Verdict – Texas

The Longhorns are dynamic in both the passing and running games, and as I’m not so worried about the Cyclones ability to stop the pass, I am terrified of us being able to stop the run.

Special Teams

Texas carries with it Australian-born punter Michael Dickson and his tremendously large third leg. The sophomore is third in the country with a 48-yard punt average, and has only seen eight of his punts returned all year.

ISU will most likely be without Trever Ryen, so look for Allen Lazard or Deshaunte Jones back there.

I’ve got a feeling that kick-returner Kene Nwangwu is going to break one, and this just might be the game to do it. The track star has returned three kicks for 40-plus, and he can change the game at a moment’s notice with his blazing speed.

Cole Netten still has his streak going and punter Colin Downing punts for #PunterU. Enough said – Cyclones win this battle.

Verdict – Iowa State

Final Analysis

There has not been a team in the country that has improved as much as Matt Campbell’s Iowa State’s program from week one to now. This young team has bought into the system and the coaching staff has continued to put their playmakers in the right places.

Third Key to Victory – Finish the Game

It is finally time for the Cyclones to put all the past behind them and play a full 60 minutes. The offense will be able to run wild, and I’m confident in the defense to make enough stops to give the Cyclones the victory and send Charlie Strong to start packing his bags.

Final Score

ISU 41, Texas 40