Quarterback Advantage: Iowa State
As it has been all season, Texas remains full of question marks at the quarterback spot. Sam Ehlinger looked promising in the Longhorns’ narrow road loss to then-No. 4 USC in Week Three. If a few more plays had gone his way, and he had actually completed the upset, there would already be talks of retiring his jersey.
Regardless, it is clear Ehlinger is still rough around the edges, as two touchdowns in Southern California came with two interceptions. If sophomore Shane Buechele is healthy this Thursday at Iowa State, Texas will likely go back to him. It remains to be seen if the time off will affect his on-field performance.
Iowa State redshirt junior quarterback Jacob Park is off to the best start of his career. And thanks to his strong three games, the Cyclones sit at No. 17 in the nation in the passing game with an average of 311 passing yards. Combine that with a deep receiving core, and Texas’ defense will need to repeat its strong performance against USC in order to contain this Iowa State gunslinger.
Running Back Advantage: Iowa State
Texas has a pair of excellent running backs in junior Chris Warren III and sophomore Kyle Porter. But when watching the Longhorns in action, it would appear that the coaches disagree. Warren carried the ball only four times against USC, while Porter added another five. The team’s top two rushing options combined for a measly 24 yards, leaving many Longhorn fans scratching their heads and questioning offensive coordinator Tim Beck’s play calling.
Iowa State has no problem with going to sophomore David Montgomery to pick up yards. The Cyclone running back racked up 127 rushing yards on 22 carries in the team’s last outing against Akron, and is averaging 5.7 yards per touch on the season. Texas’ defensive line should expect to see
Montgomery early and often in Thursday’s matchup.
Wide Receiver Advantage: Iowa State
Collin Johnson has been a consistent anchor in an otherwise inconsistent Longhorn offense. The sophomore wide receiver tallied seven catches for 191 yards against a potent USC defense and leads all Texas receivers with 366 yards in three outings.
But while Johnson is having a strong season, the remaining receiving core has been overwhelmingly average. Part of the decline can be attributed to the team’s rotating quarterback woes, but Texas is going to need more production if it hopes to outplay this Cyclones defense.
Iowa State has a number of talented and dependable options for Park. Through three games, the team features three receivers with at least 150 receiving yards, and their consistent play is a large part of the reason the Cyclones quarterback boasts a 8:2 touchdown to interception ratio.
Defense Advantage: Texas
The Longhorn defense looked stronger than it had all season against one of the best offenses in the nation at USC. Despite giving up 468 total yards, the defensive line connected on three sacks and applied enough consistent pressure to keep Texas in the game. It remains to be seen if they’ll bring the pressure again this Thursday.
The two defenses also have had a similar trajectory: starting the season with a poor showing before getting better incrementally with each game. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. leads the Cyclones with 27 tackles, while junior linebacker Malik Jefferson leads the orange and white with 27 of his own. Where Texas shines is its defensive backs, who collected two interceptions against USC and four on the season.