<Mack Brown Voice> “Weird things happen in Ames at night.” </Mack Brown Voice>
There was plenty of weirdness to go around in this one, but enough of it broke the Longhorns’ way to see Texas board the plane with a 10-point victory and a 1-0 mark in the Big XII.
This Shooting From the Hip will be more from the hip than normal - due to an improvidently-scheduled charity committee meeting and the need to traverse most of Austin afterwards, I essentially caught the second and fourth quarters of this one. But that was enough to form some strong opinions on both sides of the ball, so let’s hit it.
Texas fought its own OL for the bulk of this one, but I’m just not sure what we are trying to accomplish or who we want to be on offense.
There were some nice individual calls - the Shane Buechele draw on 3rd and 11 against ISU’s typical bail-eight-guys-back look on the game-sealing 4th quarter drive was particularly solid - but overall the run game suffers badly from odd emphasis and dubious design. Continually relying on 11 personnel and calling (from what I saw) maybe two Pin and Pull runs on the night is mystifying, Armanti Foreman may still be in the midst of one of his interminable jet sweeps, running a reverse with stretch blocking when you’ve got a solid run/pass rhythm going in the first quarter is just...aaaaggghhhh, and why you’re willing to to put Buechele through the QB run wringer in Ames but didn’t feel the need to get some Inverted Read or QB Power/Counter going with Sam Ehlinger in a winnable game against the #5 team in the country kinda beggars belief.
I’m going to hold off on giving Beck both barrels until I’ve gotten to see this entire game on a re-watch, but going from run game abandonment to bludgeoning your head against a brick wall with minimal attempt to architect your ground game to maximize personnel is a lateral move at best.
Buechele soldiered through a game where it seemed at times like Herman was planning on resolving the QB conundrum by purposely getting him killed. He was on early even though it never seemed like he had his Spring Game zip - if his shoulder was 100% entering this game, I’m not sure it’s 100% right now. The Read Option and Inverted Read were featured pretty prominently, and Shane’s decision-making and running were acceptable-not-great (his pull when Toneil Carter had a clear corner was maddening) but he certainly left it all on the field.
We didn’t seem willing to take a deep shot on first down against a beatable secondary all night, instead finding ourselves searching for targets on 2nd and 3rd and long as the Cyclones dropped eight dudes in coverage. His TD throw to Toneil Carter on a circle route while taking an Abe Lincoln/guy who sat in front of Pee Wee Herman-caliber shot to the back of the head was absolutely nails - at other times he looked a little slow on the trigger, but the folks confidently pronouncing that he was missing obvious reads against eight dropping defenders must have had access to some live A22 footage that I never managed to find. Maybe running the Buechele game plan for Ehlinger against USC and the Ehlinger game plan for Buechele against ISU wasn’t the ideal change-up?
The runners battled some dire blocking and bad design - Warren ran tough early, Porter came alive on the last drive and it was largely ugly in between. The WRs also got an incomplete - just about everyone got their hands on a ball or two but no one came close to blowing up, and it was disheartening not to see us devise some more opportunities for Collin Johnson. Of course, throwing him 50/50 balls any time he was single covered against USC didn’t really represent “devising opportunities for Collin Johnson” either, so maybe it’s just something we aren’t capable of doing.
The OL got Shane hit and the runners dumped in the backfield for a good chunk of the night. Derek Kerstetter had an up-and-down night on the right side but acquitted himself reasonably well for a true freshman making his first start on the road. Tristan Nickelson got abused by some marginal edge players at times, and the interior again struggled to get movement for the bulk of the contest.
Glad to walk out of Ames with a win, but this side of the ball still has more questions than answers.
Ho, fuck - that’s more like it.
Concerns about defensive slippage following an outstanding road effort against USC proved unfounded as Malik & Company absolutely took it to Trailer Park and the rest of the Cyclone O. Number 46 stalked Park with tremendous efficacy all evening, terrorizing him on blitzes and running him down from spy drops when he tried to break the pocket. Questions about Park’s ability to function when moved off his spot were pretty definitively answered as he served up a trio of bad-ball picks against a lone TD when he was on the move.
David Montgomery is a dangerous runner, but he ended up looking more cautious and ineffective than Bernard Montgomery at Falaise as the Longhorn D continually decimated the Cyclones’ offensive front. A couple of Pin and Pull runs got absolutely detonated when linebackers came downhill and took the fight to the pullers, and the ISU coaches pretty much gave up on the notion entirely in the second half as Montgomery finished the contest with a scant nine carries.
The Longhorn secondary largely left its early-season shakiness behind in clamping down on some stout Cyclone skill players. DeShon Elliott will once again dominate the headlines after hauling in a pair of picks, and it was also nice to see him avenge a second-quarter shot to the Lil’ Kraken by nearly cracking Hakeem Butler’s spine in half on an end zone breakup. Holton Hill was a stud, handling plenty of one on one work against Butler and Alan Lazard with aplomb, and his quick reaction to smother the motion man on fourth down was key to snuffing out the Cyclones’ last real scoring threat. Kris Boyd fought through a couple of adverse moments to make big plays when singled up on Lazard on the boundary, and PJ Locke played his best game of the season with tight coverage and sound run force work on the edge.
The Cyclone O may have been a touch over-rated coming into this one, but they’ll put up a good number of points in Big XII play this season. Giving up a lone touchdown on the road - which likely wouldn’t have happened if not for Michael Dickson’s lone shank of the night - is stellar work by any measure.
This defense is shaping up to be a real bulwark - and the way things are shaping up on the other side of the ball, they’ll need to be.
Dickson’s aforementioned shank shouldn’t obscure an all-around fantastic night, as he continually boomed punts that kept Iowa State pinned deep and on the back foot. The specialist specialness didn’t stop there, as the much-maligned Josh Rowland kept finding the end zone on kickoffs and sent my jaw to the floor with a 49-yard field goal. It’s possible that Iowa State was so stunned that we even attempted that kick that they declined to rush the damn thing, but I’ll take it.
Things weren’t special all the way around, though, as Texas managed one more penalty on fair-caught punt returns in one game than you want to see all season and has yet to decisively win a return battle in any contest this season. There are some dumb, dumb plays and holds happening out there which have to be driving the coaching staff bananas, but Herman’s ballyhooed emphasis on the third phase needs to start bearing fruit in a hurry.
The Bottom Line
1-0 in Big XII play is 1-0 in Big XII play, and all the Longhorns’ (realistic) season goals are (kinda) realistically still in front of them heading into the K-State game. It will realistically take a major turnaround on the offensive side of the ball to make those goals a reality, but Todd Orlando’s bunch gives this team a puncher’s chance to punch any opponent on the schedule in the mouth and steal a victory.
Here’s hoping they’re up to the task.