If Texas were ever in need of a winning streak, it’s now. Fresh off their bye week after a 31-21 win over Kansas State, the Longhorns now head to Ames, Iowa, to face Iowa State. Although few people have called this game a must-win for head coach Mack Brown, it surely is.
On paper, this appears to be a favorable matchup for the Longhorns for several reasons. First, the tangibles: Texas has been awful against the run this year, evident to anyone who witnessed its debacle against BYU. Up to this point, the Longhorns have yielded 1,041 rushing yards in four games, an average of 260 per outing. But luckily for Texas, the Cyclones don’t feature a ground-and-pound, bruising running style. In fact, they have only run for 406 yards through their first three games, averaging just 3.6 yards-per-carry. Add this to Texas’ most recent outing, an impressive defensive performance in which it held Kansas State to 115 rushing yards, and Longhorn fans can breathe easier.
Factoring in sophomore running back Johnathan Gray and the plethora of secondary runners the Longhorns have, it’s clear they hold the advantage when it comes to the run game. Gray has been nothing short of spectacular, averaging more than five yards-per-carry while topping 90 yards in each of the past three games, including last week’s 141-yard, two-touchdown performance. As a team, Texas has run for 842 yards, a 210 yard-per-game average, while the Cyclones have allowed nearly 180 per contest.
Things get murkier when analyzing both teams’ passing attacks, especially with junior quarterback David Ash out with a recurring head injury. If senior quarterback Case McCoy gets the nod, expect the Longhorns to keep it conservative. McCoy has been efficient but hardly explosive this year, sporting a 63 percent completion rate but averaging less than six yards per attempt. If he can generate any sort of downfield attack against the Cyclones, who have given up six passing touchdowns through the air, the running lanes should open up for Gray and company.
On the other hand, Cyclones’ quarterback Sam Richardson is the key to his team’s success. In addition to throwing for more than 750 yards and seven touchdowns in three games this year, he has run for 111 yards. But he should face some tough sledding against a Texas secondary that boasts talented corners junior Quandre Diggs and senior Carrington Byndom. Although the Longhorns have only recorded two interceptions this season, they could add to that total against Richardson, who has thrown three.
And then there are the intangibles of this matchup. The Longhorns are 8-1 all time against the Cyclones under Brown, their sole loss coming in an embarrassing 28-21 defeat in 2010. Texas hasn’t just beaten the Cyclones, it has blown them away. Its average margin of victory has been more than three touchdowns, with the Longhorns scoring more than 37 points on six separate occasions.
This history, combined with Brown’s perfect record in Ames, has all signs pointing toward a Texas victory on Thursday night.