2017 Game IV: Iowa State (2-1, 0-0) vs. Texas (1-2, 0-0)
Date: Thursday, September 28th
Time: 7:00 P.M. CST
Location: Jack Trice Stadium
Line: Texas -6
Television: The Mothership - ESPN
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Texas SB Nation Websites (Yes they have two) – Burnt Orange Nation
AND Barking Carnival
It is the Big 12 opener for Iowa State, as they play under the lights on ESPN, and welcome Texas to town for what will prove to be a huge stepping stone for this program.
A name we should find familiar – Tom Herman, is donning the burnt orange as the new CEO for the Longhorns, and brings with him a talented roster, yet a team with a lot of head scratches after their first three games.
Coming into the year I circled this game right away (and so did a lot of fans) with a Thursday night prime time matchup, and a sore taste in our mouths from a similar evening in 2013. Another Big 12 apology letter on the wall.
All that aside, marking down W’s and L’s, I had projected either a win against Iowa OR Texas which was required for ISU to make a bowl game. Both teams enjoyed 12 days off to rest up their injured players, and now we begin the journey that is Mad Max: The Big 12 Conference Schedule.
Hold onto your butts folks.
When we last left off….
Iowa State took care of business, throttling an inferior MAC opponent in Akron, and won going away 41-14. Even with that margin of victory, the coaching staff (and players for that matter), were not happy in their efforts.
“We just ain’t happy with this win. And if we play that game against Texas we lose. We got to want to be perfect. At Iowa State – nothing is given to you – that’s why I love this place.” – Quarterback Jacob Park
Clearly the team has bought into “The Process.” This tells me two things:
1) This team will be well-prepared
2) They don’t give a rat’s ass whose logo is on the opponents helmet
In recent years when far superior and more talented teams came to play against the Cyclones, they lost before the game even began.
I truly think this team can play with anyone, no matter the circumstances or location. That’s the power of a good coach in Matt Campbell.
Compare this to your elder brother by 10 years in 1-on-1 basketball. The Longhorns lead the all-time series 12-2, yet little brother has grown up and thrown a few punches, winning in Austin in 2010, and blanking the Longhorns 24-0 in 2015.
The Fighting Tom Hermans could not have started off the season on any lower of a note. Texas lost in a shootout to lowly Maryland in week one by a score of 41-51, and everyone in the Lone Star State was calling for the Defensive Coordinator’s head.
The Longhorns came back to beat powder puff San Jose State 56-0, and then brought their A-game for what was quite honestly the best game of the year so far versus USC. Albeit losing in double overtime to the #4 team in the country, Texas displayed an overwhelming amount of grit and determination, and their defense played with their hair on fire.
This week in his press conference Tom Herman did throw his old team a bone.
“There will be zero taking of this (ISU) football team lightly. I don’t know why there would be with the history that they have against us and against any big opponent that comes into Ames.”
After ISU, the Longhorns have luxury of playing all three of the best teams in the Big 12 - Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Buzz, your girlfriend, woof.
Iowa State Offense
Iowa State is off to its best offensive start in school history, all thanks to one man – Jacob Park. The gun-slinging, long-haired quarterback is on pace to break multiple single-season school records, and is averaging over 300 passing yards per game.
What is most impressive is his ability to get the rid of the ball, and quickly. The front five has done a fantastic job of protecting the pocket. Add in Park’s ability to make quick decisions and the confidence behind his rocket arm – and ISU is fourth in the country by allowing only one quarterback sack.
First Key to Victory – Protect Park
It will be so important for the offensive line to contain Texas’s pass-rush, as they blitz more than the Cookie Monster likes cookies, and have a stellar front-seven on defense. Julian Good-Jones needs to be on the same page with Park and his buddies calling out signals and understand different schemes that come their way.
Running back David Montgomery aka the DM Train is chugging along breaking tackles ala Earl Campbell. The true sophomore is third in the conference in rushing yards per game, and continues to lead the nation in broken tackles. Needless to say, his holes will not be very big against the Burnt Orange, so we will rely heavily on Mr. Montgomery’s ability to run through and around tacklers.
Texas carries with it taller-than-average cornerbacks – even “Horton Hears a Who” character Holton Hill, who stands 6-foot-3. The Longhorns secondary versus ISU’s wideouts will be one of the best matchups to watch.
With the pressure applied up front, I see more dump-offs and shorter passes to keep the sticks moving. Therefore a heavy dose of the “M” position, known as Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones. Both can turn a screen pass into a 40+ yard gain, and have the speed to break one.
That also means plenty of targets for David Montgomery, who has turned into a threat in the passing game, corralling five balls each in the last two games. Look for Hakeem Butler to take advantage of mismatches in the pseudo tight end role, and as always – Allen Lazard on 3rd downs.
Second Key to Victory – Take Advantage of Opportunities in the Red Zone
If there is one knock on the offense thus far, it has been their inefficiency to put 6s on the board in the red zone. Iowa State’s play-calling inside the 20 has been lackluster, and they will have to convert in said situations if they want to win. Most teams load up the box to stop the run, but ISU needs to do a better job of finding those mismatches with Lazard with the jump ball, and dare I say it – the tight end in the seams.
Maybe, just maybe, we will see this guy for the Joel-Dozer package.
The Longhorns have turned around their season around, but no change has been more noticeable than on the defensive side of the ball. After allowing 263 rushing yards to a Big Ten basketball school (Maryland), they dominated the interior against USC, allowing only 71 yards on the ground with a salty 1.9 yards per carry. Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando (carryover from Houston with Herman) runs a hybrid 3-4/3-3-5 scheme, leveraging beef for speed, and disguises the blitz as well as anyone.
Leading the way up front with one of the best names in college football is Poona Ford. The 305-pound nose-tackle eats offensive linemen for breakfast and is the focal point of success for this unit. Next to Ford is another Pre-Season All-Big 12 selection in Malcolm Roach.
Texas leads the Big 12 in multiple defensive categories – third down defense, defensive touchdowns, and red zone defensive efficiency.
They have two of the surest tacklers in the conference, and a future first-round NFL talent in their second line of defense. The man who will be playing on Sundays is Malik Jefferson. Only a junior, Jefferson was named a Pre-Season All-American, and has lived up to the hype thus far, leading the team in tackles. Anthony Wheeler is the Longhorns’ second stud linebacker, as he totaled 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks against USC a week ago.
Cornerback Holton Hill already has more touchdowns on the year than Texas’s starting running back. Hill has two interceptions brought back for touchdowns, and a blocked field goal for six. Another name to mention is safety DeShon Elliott. Earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors, Elliott had two interceptions and a pick-six versus USC.
The Verdict – ISU by a Nose Hair
This Texas defense is fierce and destructive, but ISU has too much momentum going for them with Tom Manning and company. Texas loves to utilize their speed on the edge, and put pressure on their corners to cover the boundaries, and ISU can take advantage.
Maryland beat Texas with the outside run, and mixed it up with motions to the outside and pulling guards up the middle. They utilized multiple option routes in the passing game, and found mismatches with their outside receivers downfield.
Iowa State will have to keep Park’s jersey clean, and spread the field for Montgomery to gain yards around the edge. Using Texas’s aggressive blitzing scheme to their advantage, I see the Cyclones taking control with a few bombs deep to Mr. Butler and Lazard.
Iowa State Defense
If I were to tell you after three weeks that the Iowa State Cyclones would lead the Big 12 in sacks, tackles-for-loss, AND interceptions, you would say, “Josh, we need to have an intervention.”
The defensive line - our greatest weakness going into the season, is now our best strength. Ray Lima and Vernell Trent have continued to amaze, and, while he has played, Kamilo Tongomoa has blown up the line. That vertical penetration will go a long way in slowing down the Texas rushing attack.
Coordinator Jon Heacock needs to continue to dial up the blitzes and force the upper hand. He has sat back too often on third downs – and it shows, as ISU is in last place in conference in third down defense. The front four does a great job of contain in the running game, but has yet to get much pressure on its own in the pass rush.
The linebackers have improved every week, and no one more so than Joel Lanning. Lanning had a stellar game against Akron, leading the team in tackles, and also had 1.5 sacks and an interception. Look for Marcel Spears, Jr. to rack up the tackles in this one, as Texas likes to control the tempo with the run game.
The secondary has been a small blemish thus far, and is also fighting injuries. Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya sat out last week, but has practiced and appears to be ready to go. Cornerback D’Andre Payne tweaked his hamstring in the Akron game and is probable to play. In his absence, De’Monte Ruth played his best game as a Cyclone and is a serviceable option.
Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck has shared reps between his quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger the entire week, and it appears if Buechele is ready to go (sat last two games with shoulder injury), he will get the nod.
Ehlinger showed toughness and drove the Longhorns down the field for a touchdown in the waning moments against USC, but also had four turnovers. Both have strong arms and nimble feet to get outside the pocket, so ISU will not have to worry about game planning one against the other.
The running back conundrum has been a game of musical chairs, as Kyle Porter and Chris Warren III are listed as either/or on the depth chart. Warren has more experience, and is a load to take down at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. He leads the team with 212 yards and an impressive 8.2 yards per carry.
We will see multiple Longhorns take snaps in different packages, and look out for former QB Jerrod Heard (now a WR) to come in for the wildcat formation.
Texas has one of the best wide receivers in the conference in 6-foot-6 Collin Johnson. The sophomore leads the team in all categories and is a dangerous deep threat, averaging 23 yards per catch. He totaled 191 yards in the USC game and is third in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game.
The offensive line took a huge blow, as Pre-Season All-American left tackle Connor Williams suffered a knee injury and is out for the season. Going into the season, Texas returned 81 starts among their starting-five, but will have to fill that void on the QB’s blindside, moving right tackle Tristan Nickelson over to that spot.
Third Key to Victory – Stops on THIRD DOWN!
ISU has done a fantastic job of forcing teams into 3rd and longs throughout the season, but has not gotten off the field on third downs. I have noticed too many times we sit back with multiple players in coverage, and completely abandon the pass rush.
If ISU is going to win this game they have to force the upper hand and get pressure on the quarterback.
Verdict – Texas
Texas wins this sheerly on the fact that Tom Herman is making offensive play calls. The “Mensa Member” is a wizard when it comes to drawing up plays and creating mismatches. The safeties will again have to play error-free, with play-action passes and option routes with receivers downfield.
Having Kamari Cotton-Moya back can pay off huge dividends, but I also think our backups are talented enough to make plays in the secondary.
The conference’s two best punters will have a showdown – as Texas aussie punter Michael Dickson is one of the best, and Collin Downing is having a magnificent season so far.
The Longhorns also have one of the best return teams, leading the Big 12 in punt return average. Their return defense on the other hand is pitiful, allowing nearly 36 yards per kick return and only four touchbacks. I foresee Johnnie Lang supplanting Mike Warren in that role and changing field position in a heartbeat.
Both kickers are serviceable, and Garrett Owens has been good thus far, albeit a 25-yard miss against Akron.
Verdict – EVEN
ISU has done a good job of containing the return game and have a playmaker in Trever Ryen and Allen Lazard back on punts.
This game may come down to who makes the field goal at the end – and I am confident in Owens’s ability to do so.
Winning Scale from 1 to 10
For this week, if we were to compare a guy getting the hottest girl in the bar – with 1 being the Hunchback of Notre Dame and 10 being Matthew McConaughey , I give ISU’s chances of winning at a 7.
For Iowa I put our chances at 7.5. We match up well against Iowa, but Texas has thoroughbred horses, and the Hawks have donkeys.
I see this game as a shootout, and it will be important for the offense to help out the defense in this one. Texas leads the Big 12 in time of possession, and it has been evident in 2nd and 4th quarters our defense shows lapses.
The offense can and will sustain drives, and I see Park having another solid game, with the DM train getting the ball out in space.
But it won’t be enough, as Texas just has too much firepower and talent across the front for me to give this one to the good guys. Give us your predictions in the comments below.
Iowa State 35