The Longhorn defense has been called many things throughout the past three years. Lights out isn’t one of them – until now.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and his Longhorn defense had no interest in entertaining Iowa State fans with a close game Thursday night. Iowa State fans throughout the stands at Jack Trice Stadium expressed clear frustration, and it was just the second quarter. Their frustration wasn’t caused by sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele – who earned the start under center – or the rest of the Longhorn offense.
It was Texas’ defense and the number on the scoreboard that gave Iowa State nightmares: 17-7. It wasn’t a blowout by any means, but the Cyclones, who averaged over 40 points going into Thursday night’s matchup, didn’t expect to be held to a mere seven points.
Orlando and the Texas defense have not looked the same since giving up 51 points to Maryland in the season-opener. They’re almost unrecognizable compared to opening day.
“They learned a very valuable, a very costly, but a valuable lesson in that Maryland game,” Herman said. “You can’t play great defense if you’re evaluating and if you’re gauging or tip-toeing. You’ve got to stick your foot in the ground and go … and our defense for the last three weeks has been doing that.”
The Longhorn secondary put together another dominant performance, led by junior safety DeShon Elliott. Elliott followed up his two-interception game at USC with yet another stellar performance. This time, the junior put together another two-interception effort, including a timely pick in the second half to shut down any Iowa State momentum.
Elliott also finished with six total tackles and one sack. But he wasn’t the only player in the secondary who had an impressive night. Junior cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Holton Hill blanketed Iowa State wide receivers all night and finished with a combined 13 tackles. Boyd also got an interception of his own at the end of the first half, allowing Texas defense to pitch a first half shutout.
“I thought obviously that the defensive performance was phenomenal,” Herman said.
“To hold a team to 10 yards on the ground and to get the turnovers and fourth down stops in their stadium is pretty impressive.”
Iowa State managed to get on the board in the third quarter, bringing the rowdy crowd at Jack Trice Stadium back to life.
But that’s all junior linebacker Malik Jefferson and the Longhorn defense allowed. Texas’ linebackers – Jefferson, senior Naashon Hughes, junior Anthony Wheeler, junior Breckyn Hager – all got to the quarterback once Thursday night.
“You’re not gonna play elite football and win consistently if you don’t play great defense,” Herman said. “We’re starting to look like a team that not only believes that but goes out and performs that.”
As time winded down in Ames, Iowa, the Longhorns celebrated another stellar defensive performance at Iowa State’s expense. The win wasn’t pretty, especially with Texas’ inconsistent offense, but it didn’t have to be — not with the way Orlando’s defense played on Thursday night.