It’s quite simple for No. 15 Texas: Don’t lose. A loss for the Longhorns in either of the two remaining games means elimination from a spot in the Big 12 Championship. While Saturday’s game might be about Texas’ graduating seniors, the underlying message remains the same.
Iowa State isn’t a timid opponent, either. The No. 16 Cyclones have a reputation of taking down ranked teams, having upended then-No. 6 West Virginia at home this season and earning top-five wins against Oklahoma and TCU last year. The stakes couldn’t be any higher at this point in the season for both teams, and neither stands as an outright favorite going into Saturday.
If Texas wants to give its seniors a win in their home finale, here’s what needs to happen:
Texas wins if …
… it contains the quarterback. Ever since quarterback Brock Purdy got under center, the Cyclones have ripped off five straight wins. He poses a threat with both his arms and legs, having tossed 13 touchdowns and run for over 252 yards and two more scores on the ground. The Longhorns have had trouble with running quarterbacks, allowing running back-like numbers to signal-callers in the past five games. If Texas can contain Purdy to the pocket, it could force out some freshman mistakes that could turn the game in the Longhorns’ favor.
… it sticks to the game plan. At too many points in this season, the Longhorns built themselves a sizable lead heading into the fourth quarter. In games against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, they’ve let double-digit leads fizzle in a matter of minutes. Part of this can be attributed to Texas playing to run out the clock rather than do what it did all game. If the Longhorns can stick to what’s given them success over the first three quarters, they can avert an upset threat from the Cyclones and pick up a crucial win.
Texas loses if …
… it can’t get the early stop. In eight of Texas’ ten games, the Longhorns have allowed a score on their opponent’s first drive. On top of this, Texas has continually deferred to the second half on multiple occasions this season, opting for an extra possession in the second half rather than a chance to draw first blood. While head coach Tom Herman’s trust in his defense hasn’t changed this season, his unit hasn’t done much to garner it. Another part of the defense’s puzzle has been in its inability to put pressure on the quarterback. The Longhorns’ senior defensive front has had trouble getting sacks, only notching 17 on the season as a unit. If Texas can’t get pressure or force a turnover, it’s going to be a long night for an already banged up defense.
… can’t run the ball. In games where the Longhorns fell behind early, they never fully established the run game. Contests with Maryland and Oklahoma State had quarterback Sam Ehlinger throwing the ball often instead of handing it off to running back Tre Watson or the budding Keaontay Ingram. When Texas has run the ball this year, it has consistently found success. The duo holds the potential to break a big run when there’s a hole. If the Longhorns don’t bury themselves early, they’ll have a chance to establish the run and some play action to open up the passing game. If not, it’s going to have to be a lot of Ehlinger throwing behind an offensive line that gave up five sacks last week in Lubbock.