The Longhorns face the Cyclones this Saturday.
You naturally ask: What hope does a large ungulate have to defeat a powerful weather pattern?
Technically, none. But that is the beauty of college football - a land in which Ducks routinely slaughter Bears and the most powerful team in the land is an alternating rising and falling of the sea, dyed reddish. This is one of many reasons for my love of college football - the possibility of animal face offs. Every Saturday, answering the age old question of whether a Rainbow could defeat an Agricultural Worker or whether a Spartan could defeat a Tree.
Longhorn fans have little enmity for Iowa State. The Cyclones have an appealing coach, their team plays hard and is good for one major upset a year, and Iowans are generally a tubby, pleasant lot cheerfully poisoning us all with corn syrup. So be nice to Tom and Helen from Des Moines this weekend, won't you? And when they ask for "catsup" instead of salsa for their chips, don't spill it on their acid washed jeans.
Probably the most interesting thing about the 5-4 Cyclones is that they've faced a very trying schedule and have been proven essentially unblowoutable. Is that a word? Well, now it is.
They cruised over a very respectable 7-2 Tulsa by 15 in their opener, took advantage of the Greg Davis experience at Iowa to win the CyHawk abomination trophy, and throttled Western Illinois 37-3.
In conference play, the Cyclones played Texas Tech about as well as we did in Lubbock for three quarters, eventually succumbing 24-13 after Tech won the 4th quarter 10-0.
They then smacked TCU in Ft. Worth and lost by only six at home to outstanding Kansas State. Scrappy ass team. And one of Barking Carnival's most esteemed analysts began to project them as a 9 win team.
Until they then suffered a puzzling, decisive setback at Oklahoma State, 31-10. With the Cowboys dominating them even more than the score indicates.
Iowa State rallied to whip Baylor (holding them to 21 the week after the Bears scored 50 on us) and then lost a very competitive game to OU 35-20 (OU pulled away late).
My point is simple: they are kind of unblowoutable, mostly because of a scrappy defense and a team ethos of playing to the whistle on every snap. So the Texas -10 point Vegas line, while not nuts, strikes me odd.
Iowa State isn't very good on offense. In fact, they're downright poor. Manny Diaz has a chance to extend our current six quarter streak of average defense if he can manage to keep up the behaviors that got us there. For the third straight week, he'll get the easier task than Harsin. A pleasant respite from the dark days of October.
The awesomely named Steele Jantz will get the start, but he may not get the finish if he doesn't play well. The Iowa State QB battle may be two bald men fighting over a comb, but it's impressive that the Cyclones have been so scrappy while getting so little from the position. Jantz is averaging only 6.1 YPA (for comparative purposes, Ash is over 8.5) and he has nine interceptions in only 228 passing attempts. But he is somewhat accurate in the short passing game compared to Barnett. Jantz is an improviser and that can mean good things for Iowa State when the opponent defense lose contain or doesn't tackle well and great things for the opponent when they do.
We could also see Jared Barnett, who has put up similarly poor numbers (5.5 YPA, ouch, 48% completion percentage).
Both guys can run and are mobile enough to hurt the defense, which is something Texas has struggled with all season. Not only because of our more general run struggles, but because Diaz doesn't seem to quite get (or teach) the option game from an assignment standpoint, and we have terrible formational recognition (3rd and 3, they go empty set, it's a QB draw, dude).
Most of the carries go to Shontrelle Johnson (89-371-2tds, 4.2 avg) and James White (62-333-2tds, 5.2 avg). They're both small, shifty guys (5-8, 190) and we need to tackle well. These are solid FBS RBs, nothing special, but both are fully capable of dropping 125 on us if we revert to old bad habits.
The Iowa State WR corps has been woefully inconsistent and rank only above Kansas with respect to other Big 12 units in Scipio's Great Unit Ranking Matrix. There's no reason at all for them to have a passing play > 25 yards or for them to win 3rd and 6+ outside of a fantastic throw and catch. If they do, it's nothing but schematic failure or Longhorn defenders half-assing it. This group has real difficulty getting the ball downfield, with the exception of Josh Lenz.
TE Ernst Brun bears watching (18-200-4tds) and is a preferred red zone option. Account for him on 3rd and intermediate and inside the 20.
Solid group with a ton of experience. They'd get more praise if they had better skill players around them to make the passing game go and make their row easier to hoe. Arguably the best unit on the offense.
The loss of starting LB Jake Knott is a big one. While AJ Klein still remains and is a guaranteed all-conference performer, Knott was a 245 pound run-stopping monster with fantastic instincts who provided a ton of physicality, reliability, and ball hawking (2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions).
Iowa State is not a big defense on the edge -
SLB Deon Broomfield - 6-0, 200 pounds
CB Jeremy Reeves 5-7, 185
CB Jansen Watson 5-9, 185
DE Willie Scott 6-2, 240
DE Roosevelt Maggit 6-3, 245
If Texas doesn't challenge that in the running game and the passing game, we're leaving some points on the field.
The middle of the Iowa State D is to be avoided - at least until the 4th quarter or simply to keep them honest. Iowa State forces turnovers, understands their scheme, plays percentages, hits hard, allows only 56% touchdowns in the red zone, but they're not physically overwhelming. And they tend to get ground down by the 4th quarter after giving offenses headaches for the three previous.
Iowa State plays a number of guys and they stick within their scheme of containment and block occupation to free the LBs, but have trouble getting pressure with only four. The NG McDonough could be a problem for Espinosa if Dominic doesn't bring his lunch pail.
They essentially play a base nickel, so it's big AJ Klein - who is fantastic - paired with 5-11, 225 pound Jeremiah George. George lacks the physicality or experience of Jake Knott, but he's quick, instinctive, and a nice little player. We'd take him.
I like both of Iowa State's safeties. Washington and Givens are both big, physical guys (around 210 each) who can run, cover ground (6 combined ints), and will hit you (81 combined solo tackles). Their corners, listed above, are little scrappy guys with good quickness and a low base that can be disruptive when they get into your pads and are generally asked to hold up rather than make plays. Neither has an interception on the season. Oklahoma State provided a very nice blueprint of what you can do to them if you can put enough threats on the field to force their corners into consistent one-on-one match-ups instead of team coverage concepts. I'd like to make those corners tackle a lot in the running game and then put them into deep isolation play actions situations on 1st down. I don't think they'll hold up.
Texas should win this game, but any notion that this contest is a gimme is completely delusional. Iowa State is better than their Big 12 record suggests, they've traded punches with teams better than we are, and they're not going to be intimidated. We're not exactly dominant, either. However, if our new defensive sanity is an actual trend and not a blip and we show some capacity for adjustment against the zone read, an underpowered Iowa State offense is going to have a tough time getting to the number they need for victory.
Try to keep a dry eye when we line up in the Wishbone and DKR flashes up on the Jumbotron.