Advantage: Iowa State
Signal-caller Sam Richardson brings some much needed stability to a Cyclone program that has had its fair share of quarterback issues. The redshirt junior is a strong pocket passer, but he is not afraid to take off running, as evidenced by his team-leading 283 rushing yards.
Tyrone Swoopes looked like a star at times in the Red River Showdown. The sophomore made quick reads, zipped tight spirals down the sidelines and made plays with his legs. He can still be frustratingly inaccurate, but his stellar fourth quarter performance should have Texas fans excited to see what Swoopes has in store for the future.
Malcolm Brown was given the brunt of the carries against Oklahoma, and the senior responded with some fantastic second efforts, which led to a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. Junior Johnathan Gray has shown flashes this season but has struggled to consistently run for decent gains.
The Cyclone backs have consistently underwhelmed this season. Redshirt junior DeVondrick Nealy and senior Aaron Wimberly combine to average 3.2 yards per carry, and their longest run on the season tops out at 16 yards. Head coach Paul Rhoads has expressed confidence in his backs and shifted the blame to his linemen.
Swoopes relied heavily on senior John Harris early on this year, suggesting that junior Marcus Johnson and senior Jaxon Shipley had fallen off. But the trio had its best game as a unit last week, with each receiver notching a reception of 32 yards or more and hauling in at least 90 receiving yards.
Redshirt senior Jarvis West is the Cyclones’ go-to option for big plays, but true freshman Allen Lazard has emerged as the most consistent performer for this unit. Lazard has already accrued a team-high 304 receiving yards, the 11th best mark in the nation for a rookie. Senior tight end E.J. Bibbs could win All-Big 12 honors, and his four touchdown receptions lead the team.
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline’s magic touch looks like it is slowly getting to the Texas front five. They did not appear phased by Oklahoma’s confusing 3-4 pass rushes, and they opened up wide running lanes against one of the toughest run defenses in the country. Penalties are becoming a real problem, however.
Senior center Tom Farniok is the rock in the middle of the offensive line. However, any head coach is quick to point out the offensive line has to be evaluated as a unit. Farniok’s cohorts have struggled overall. The Cyclones have ceded 13 sacks, and their rushers are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
Senior defensive end Cedric Reed has shown signs of life recently, but he needs to start getting to the quarterback if he wants to revive his draft stock. Defensive tackles — sophomore Hassan Ridgeway and junior Malcom Brown — have held their own against some of the best inside running teams in the country.
The Cyclone defensive line’s struggles have allowed opposing rushers to pick up 212 yards per game, but it makes up for some of that by getting solid pressure on the quarterback. Senior defensive end Cory Morrissey has already recorded four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
It’s hard to believe this unit is the same one that was embarrassingly inept against the run in Texas’ contest with BYU, as well as in most contests last season. Some harsh words from defensive coordinator Vance Bedford may have hit the mark. Senior outside linebacker Jordan Hicks has been particularly brilliant in recent weeks.
Senior mike linebacker Jevohn Miller is the best player in a unit that has struggled against the Big 12’s high-octane attacks. Miller’s 10.2 tackles per game are third best in the Big 12, but he will have to start making those a lot closer to the line of scrimmage in order to upset the Longhorns at home.
The Longhorn secondary has been shooting down opposing air attacks. Oklahoma threw for just 129 yards, and Bryce Petty, Baylor’s senior quarterback and supposed Heisman candidate, could only muster 111 yards through the air. The safeties have been shaky at times, but the corners — senior Quandre Diggs and junior Duke Thomas — have bailed them out with solid man-to-man coverage.
The Iowa State secondary has held opponents to 234.3 passing yards per game despite having faced some of the best offenses in the nation. The Cyclones have forced four interceptions in their last four contests, and cornerbacks — junior Sam Richardson and sophomore T.J. Mutcherson will be looking for more against the Longhorns’ short passing game.
Advantage: Iowa State
Redshirt senior Jarvis West can wreak havoc in the return game. West is averaging 23.6 yards per punt return, including an 82-yard score against Kansas State. Redshirt sophomore kicker Cole Netten is a consistent 15-for-16 inside 40 yards in his career and has yet to miss a kick this season.
Missed field goals are irritating, and junior Nick Rose has shanked them in bountiful numbers. Texas needs every point it can get when its offense is sputtering. Kick return touchdowns, field goal block returns for touchdowns and bone-headed kick catch interference penalties have cost Texas the chance to upset a few of the nation’s best teams.