Keys to the Game: No. 16 Iowa State

Wills Layton

Just when it seemed like the Longhorns’ season was going to crumble, a game-winning drive against Texas Tech saved the season. Texas is still in a position to make the Big 12 Championship with a little help from West Virginia. All Texas needs to do is win Saturday’s home matchup against No. 16 Iowa State and next week’s away game at Kansas. If West Virginia can beat Oklahoma in the season finale, Texas will find itself in Arlington on Dec. 1. Beating the Cyclones will be the first step. Here are the keys to the game:

Ehlinger keeps firing on all cylinders

This season has shown fans what a developed Sam Ehlinger looks like. Since the easily forgotten Maryland game, Ehlinger hasn’t thrown an interception, setting a Big 12 record for most pass attempts without one (280), passing West Virginia alumnus Geno Smith’s previous record of 273. Ehlinger has also orchestrated several game-winning drives this season, most notably against Oklahoma in the Red River Showdown.

If the Longhorns hope to not only beat an extremely pesky Iowa State team, but also contend for a New Year’s Six bowl, they’ll have to lean on Ehlinger to guide them through big games with tough opponents.

Establishing the run game, playing tough in the trenches with regard to the offensive line and getting wide receiver Collin Johnson healthy would be a good start in supporting Ehlinger. If the team can continue to move the ball on offense, scoring will not be a problem against the Iowa State defense.  

Shut down Brock Purdy 

Iowa State does not often steal recruits from schools like Alabama, but that is exactly what they did when Brock Purdy chose the Cyclones over the Crimson Tide, UCF and Texas A&M. Purdy has since gone on to be an exceptional quarterback, leading Iowa State to a 6–3 record and a high ranking.

But he is still a freshman, and freshmen make mistakes, as most Texas fans know, after last year’s bevy of late-game errors by Ehlinger. The Texas defensive line could be tough for Purdy to handle, as long as defensive end Charles Omenihu continues to wreak havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Additionally, the Texas secondary has been shaky as of late, giving up 111 points over the last three contests. If the defense can perform and shut down Purdy, considering David Montgomery, the Cyclone’s starting running back, is suspended for the first half, the Longhorns can get out to an early lead.

Continue to improve on special teams 

This particular point is harped on quite a bit, but it continues to be true as the season winds down. The difference-makers in many close games will always be the special teams. Fortunately for the Longhorns, there is plenty of talent on that side of the ball this year.  

Last week, Cameron Dicker made field goals from 52 and 46 yards out, both of which were critical in determining the outcome in Lubbock. Ryan Bujcevski has been increasingly consistent as the season continues, and against Tech, this gave the defense more room to work with.

If the Longhorns are going to go as far as fans hope, they are going to have to win close games. With Texas’ last six games coming down to a one-possession score, it will need its special teams play to make up the difference against quality opponents.