Aaron Wimberly

Junior QB Sam Richardson

Richardson enjoyed one of the best games of his career last season against the Longhorns, passing for 262 yards and two touchdowns while adding 83 yards on the ground. The junior will be hard pressed to replicate those numbers against an improved Texas defense this year, but he has been playing extremely well this season. In addition to passing for 1,354 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first six games, Richardson leads Iowa State with 283 rushing yards on 71 carries. He’s thrown at least two touchdown passes in each of his last four games, and, last week, he recorded a career-high 351 passing yards against Toledo. He’s passed for 412 yards and four touchdowns in two conference games this season, but the Texas defense will be his toughest challenge yet. 

Junior RB Aaron Wimberly

After turning in an impressive junior campaign in 2013, Wimberly took a step back in the first half of this season. The senior rushed for just 158 yards on 52 carries in his first five games of 2014, and he’s yet to rush for even 40 yards in a game this season. That being said, he still lead the Cyclones with three rushing touchdowns, and he’s made himself a factor in the passing game with 10 receptions already. Wimberly torched the Texas defense for 117 rushing yards last season, a game in which he scored one touchdown on the ground and another through the air. He’s struggled mightily this season, but the Longhorns know from last year that he is capable of much more.

Freshman WR Allen Lazard

Lazard has been one of the brightest spots for the Iowa State offense this season. In the absence of redshirt junior wide receiver Quenton Bundrage, who’s out for the year with a torn ACL, Lazard has stepped up to lead the Cyclone receiving corps in the first six games of the season. The true freshman has hauled in 21 passes and two touchdowns so far and leads Iowa State with 304 receiving yards. He’s coming off of the best game of his career, as he recorded a career-high eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown last week. At 6 feet 5 inches and 221 pounds, Lazard creates matchup issues for opposing defensive backs. 

Senior TE E.J. Bibbs

Bibbs has been one of the Cyclones’ most consistent playmakers so far this season, leading the team with four touchdown receptions while hauling in at least three passes in each of the last five games. The 6-foot-3-inch, 264-pound senior tight end is the ideal red zone target for Richardson. He turned in a solid performance against the Longhorns last year when he registered three receptions for 43 yards. Bibbs had one of the best games of his career in his last conference game, against Oklahoma State, recording a season-high six catches for 69 yards and two scores.

Quarterbacks

Case McCoy relieved David Ash in each of the last three games, completing 63.2 percent of his passes without an interception. With Ash unavailable, McCoy will have to play well to keep freshman Tyrone Swoopes from taking his redshirt off. Sam Richardson nearly led the Cyclones to an upset win over rival Iowa with 260 yards and three touchdowns while running for 111 yards this year.

Advantage: Iowa State

 

Running Backs

Iowa State has the worst rushing attack in the Big 12 but junior Aaron Wimberly busted out with 137 yards against Tulsa, the first 50-yard rushing performance by a Cyclone this season. Johnathan Gray ran for a career-high 141 yards against Kansas State and Malcolm Brown had his best game of the year. Daje Johnson returns, making the Texas running game even more versatile.  

Advantage: Texas

 

Wide Receivers

Sophomores Quenton Bundrage and Tad Ecby -- the only two Iowa State receivers with at least 10 receptions this year -- are leading the Cyclones youth movement while senior Justin Coleman is averaging 24 yards per catch. Sophomores Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson provided depth filling in for an injured Mike Davis, combining for 150 yards in the win against Kansas State. Jaxon Shipley has been consistent, catching at least five passes in every game this season.

Advantage: Texas

 

Offensive Line

Junior center Tom Farniok and senior guard Ethan Tuftee lead a struggling offensive line that has surrendered 11 sacks in three games and kept Iowa State from running the ball effectively. Texas used double tight-end sets against Ole Miss but didn’t need any such help to run it against Kansas State. Tackle Josh Cochran is still out with a shoulder injury but guard Mason Walters returns and sophomore Kennedy Estelle has played well as Cochran’s replacement.

Advantage: Texas

 

Defensive Line:

Like Texas, Iowa State has struggled to stop the run, allowing 446 rushing yards in its first two games before holding Tulsa to 84 rushing yards last week. The pass rush still needs improvement, and senior defensive end Willie Scott is still seeking his first sack of the year. Texas gave up 310 rushing yards per game in its first three contests before making 15 tackles for loss, forcing three fumbles and registering three sacks while holding Kansas State to 115 yards on the ground.

Advantage: Texas

 

Linebackers

Losing Jordan Hicks, who averaged nine tackles per game, is a tremendous blow to the Longhorns linebacker corps. Steve Edmond will sit out the first half after being ejected for targeting in the second half against Kansas State. Sophomores Peter Jinkens and junior Tevin Jackson will have to elevate their play to make up for the losses. Senior Jeremiah George has made 25 tackles in the last two games, an admirable effort filling in for 2012 All-Big 12 linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. Junior Jared Brackens has also played well with 25 tackles and two sacks on the year. 

Advantage: Iowa State

 

Defensive Backs

Senior safeties Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington have yet to allow a single receiver have for more than 100 yards. Iowa State will face the best receiving corps it’s seen this year and will want to limit a Texas team that passed for 387 yards against the Cylcones last year. The Longhorns secondary got toasted by junior receiver Tyler Lockett, who made 13 catches for 237 yards .But things are beginning to fall together for the secondary as sophomore corner Duke Thomas settles into his role as a starter.

Advantage: Texas

 

Special Teams

Senior kicker Anthony Fera missed his first field goal of the season, a 45-yarder against Kansas State, who started inside its 20-yard line four times. The Longhorns have yet to pose a threat in the return game. Cyclones freshman Cole Netton missed two field goals of 40 yards or more against Tulsa, but Aaron Wimberly is a solid return man with three kick returns of at least 30 yards this season.

Advantage: Iowa State

Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly fights for yards in a loss to Iowa. After running for 137 yards in a win over Tulsa last Thursday, the Cyclones' first victory of the year, Wimberly was named the team's starting running back. 

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Aaron Wimberly only got less than one-third of the carries at Iowa Western Community College last year. So far, the junior has only gotten 26 percent of the carries this year.

But that’s about to change.

“He’s our guy,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “Aaron is the starter going into Game 4 and will get the bulk of
the carries.”

Until this point, it has been running back-by-committee. He’s split carries with three seniors – James White, Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson.

“There are a number of reasons that played into a lack of running back snaps [for Wimberly],” Rhoads said. “Some had to do with the game plan, knowledge and experience.”

Three games in, though, Wimberly has taken advantage of his opportunities and rocketed to the top of depth chart.

“He’s got a step of quickness on the others right now,” Rhoads said.

After getting just two carries in the Week 2 loss to Iowa, Wimberly, a 5-foot-9-inch, 173-pound tailback, burst onto the scene last week. He made the most of his first career start, rushing for 137 yards on 19 attempts in Iowa State’s first victory, helping Wimberly earn Big 12 co-offensive Player of the Week honors.

“I was waiting for my opportunity,” Wimberly said. “I got an opportunity that game and took advantage of it.”

And even the man gunning for his job was impressed.

“The way he gets up the field, you can’t replicate that,” Jeff Woody, the backup running back, said. “That type of one-cut burst is tough to stop. He can move.”

That one-cut style is what drew Rhoads to Wimberly, a heavily sought after recruit who led Iowa Western to an NJCAA National Championship in 2012 by rushing for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns – the same team that featured Texas’ last opponent, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters.

“He is one of those guys you don’t need to spend a lot of time with in the evaluation,” Rhoads said. “You saw the speed, the ability to hit a small hole and very little wasted movement and motion. He is very much a simple one-cut guy.”

With Wimberly, who has yet to be tackled for a loss after 29 carries, running the ball, the Iowa State offense opens up – something it has had trouble doing in recent years.

“Sam [Richardson] is a great QB, but it’s hard to throw when they put six guys in the box and drop everybody else,” Woody said. “Having that successful running game pulls people back in the box more which helps Sam open the play book more.”

Rhoads agrees.

“There are number of things you can’t do without successful run plays,” Rhodes said. “There were a number of successful three- or four-yard runs in [the Tulsa game] that created play action and a 36-yard run later. You cannot be one dimensional and be successful unless to you got a world of talent on the O-line, a first-round draft pick slinging it around and a corps of star receivers. We don’t have that.”

Moving from the JUCO ranks to FBS and from third-string to starter would cause many athletes get caught up in the hype. But Wimberly still responds to reporters with “sir” and deflects attention away from him.

“I have to thank the O-line and wide receivers because they blocked really well for me,” Wimberly said after the Tulsa game when asked about his breakout performance.

And when the lights turn on Thursday night, Texas knows they have to watch out for him.

“Wimberly has tremendous speed,” Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said. “He was a big guy in the Tulsa game.  He changes who they are offensively.”

He’s ready for a bigger workload. He’s ready to prove himself. And he’s ready for the ESPN spotlight.

“It’s a big stage for me,” Wimberly said. “(The) national championship was big, but this is real big because it’s (in prime time). Everyone’s watching.”