Disheartening to see the one unit of the team we've come to expect anything from under perform and not play to their standard. They didn't play with intensity throughout the game, didn't force turnovers, and caved late to allow a crucial 4th touchdown (though they held ISU to 26 total yards on their next four possessions).
Although statistically the defense wasn't that bad in aggregate (ISU had 68 plays for 335 yards, 4.9 yards per play - acceptable on its face), and the offense pulled their typical act with four turnovers and zero support for three quarters (including enabling two short field TDs of 40 and 37 yards, respectively), the Longhorn defense crumpled in the red zone like Michael Spinks against Tyson.
Iowa State was 4 of 5 in the red zone, all four scores touchdowns. That can't happen. And two of those 6s came on drives of 80 and 89 yards. We dominated them completely on 75% of their possessions and caved on the remainder. That's weird. And it suggests to me some issues between our ears and the cohesion of the team itself.
Our red zone generosity explains why Iowa State was able to create 28 points out of an output that typically would get an offense 17.
Consider this amazing statistic:
ISU had 16 possessions.
On the 4 drives they scored four touchdowns (37, 40, 80, 89) they ran 31 plays for 246 yards. 7.9 yards per play.
On the other 12 drives they ran 37 plays for 89 yards. 2.4 yards per play. Including 9 possessions that went 3 and out.
That's an incredible divergence in performance - not really how offense is typically distributed in a football game. Basically, when things were going well for us our defense completely dominated. When Iowa State made a big play to continue a drive or converted a couple of 3rd downs, we collapsed. Shades of OU and UCLA.
Iowa State schemed for our personnel very specifically and it showed on the field. Automatic runs when Kheeston wasn't in the game, recognizing Earnest as a starter and attacking him, and exploiting the safety position relentlessly (both in coverage individually and what our lack of ability at safety forces us to do in terms of scheme predictability for our corners/linebackers) were all part of Tom Herman's game plan and hats off to him for earning his paycheck.
Some of the stuff Iowa State did formationally was very specifically targeted at Gideon and Scott and highlighted our inability to use Blake as anything but Deep Guy Who Must Be Shielded or Freelance Blitzer Who Doesn't Blitz Well. I'd bunch receivers on his side of the field every time to dictate coverage and run rub plays underneath or clear out our corners and then hit a RB or TE in the flat. Which ISU did. Gideon also had a toe dive whiff tackle after which he did not celebrate. Breaking down at the goal line twelve yards from a runner is also not desirable.
Christian Scott has poorer lateral movement than Gideon and though he will come up and hit you (8 tackles), he's a bad complement to Blake's skill set. Basically, we're starting two strong safeties, and one of them supports the run like a corner. Neither can man up and our coverage options are narrow. Earl Thomas covered up a lot of deficiencies.
Vaccaro played hard and better than his counterparts and the 3rd ISU TD was mostly on Scott, not him.
Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams played better games than I perceived watching it live. Williams was avoided completely and Brown was too except for the 40 yard Arnaud prayer where Curtis mysteriously lost the ball. Chykie was Chykie - allowing a red zone score on a nice play where ISU dialed in our coverage like they were in our headsets - but again, to place blame on the corners for ISU's key TD plays in the red zone forgives a total absence of safety play. We ask a lot of these guys.
Earnest had his worst game as a Longhorn despite leading us in tackles. He was targeted in the running game and ISU made sure to keep our bigs covered, satisfied that they could still get a 4-5 yard run even if Earnest was unblocked. I guess Norton was too hurt to play, because this was a game where he could have really helped us out a lot.
The total absence of Jordan Hicks is inexplicable. Hurt? Being disciplined? Forgot the playbook?
Robinson had a nice interception, but was otherwise quiet for his standard of play.
Kheeston Randall played fine, but this was his first game where I saw him content to be blocked on some occasions. Not blown off the ball, by any means, since I've yet to see that happen, but just content to lock up and watch. Kind of like how you'd expect a seasoned starter to play in a Wednesday live scrimmage. In fact, that description holds for a few of our starters on Saturday. I thought Okafor was OK despite giving up 60 pounds inside.
Sam Acho played well and Eddie Jones did too, but we got lost between choosing containment or mounting a pass rush. Pick one. Arnaud hurt us with his legs when we didn't honor pass rush lanes and when we took a chance with some free form rush, we didn't get it done enough by inflicting big negative plays. Both guys hustled and had some nice pursuit tackles.
What can I say? This defense is the team's only hope and if they don't play their absolute hardest, we will lose every game on our schedule, except perhaps Florida Whatever.
This is a joyless football team with very little motivation for the game and that has infected the defense too. As evidenced in the statistical drive breakdown above, they also have a bit of front runner in them. It's as if they've realized that if the offense and our staff are going to keep mailing it in, why bother?
I saw this same phenomenon play out back in 1991 when we paired a high quality defense with a spectacularly bad offense and eventually, the guys on the defense just started playing for each other - damn the losses, damn the offense, forget the scoreboard.
That team went 5-6, but the defense never really quit and they played to their standard finishing the year ranked as a Top 10 defense. They kept their own scoreboard tallied by bent face masks and broken quarterbacks. Maybe it's time some of those guys come and talk to this defense.
If the coaches and the offense won't make this a team, create your own. Play hard, set a unit standard, and have fun. We'll appreciate you, no matter the final record.