Texas’ week following its 27-24 win over then-No.16 Kansas State has been up and down. On one hand, the Longhorns are still in the hunt for a Big 12 Championship Game berth and are inching closer toward having a healthy roster for the first time since Week One. On the other hand, key injuries on offense partnered with back-to-back road games sets them up for a rough end to the season.
Injuries becoming less of a concern
Texas is beginning to find its stride on defense now that key defenders are coming back into the fold. The Longhorns had the luxury of having sophomore safeties Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster back against Kansas State to complement senior safety Brandon Jones in the secondary.
“A guy like Brandon Jones I thought played better,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “Because he’s probably not worried about some of the younger kids that he’s probably got to get lined up and talk to him and do all that he can just relax and focus on his job.”
With the return of both safeties and junior defensive back Chris Brown being cleared to play with a cast, the Longhorns are finally entering a stretch where health won’t be the downfall of the defense. Even those who aren’t fully healthy are still finding a way to help the team.
“I’m very proud that a lot of these guys are probably still banged up,” Orlando said. “They’re going out there because they know that their teammates, this program and this institution need them.“
Keeping focus away from the cold
Much has been made about the change in temperature the Longhorns will experience on Saturday. They’ve practiced outside this week in anticipation for the chills as the predicted high on game day is 38 degrees. However, Orlando doesn’t feel that the change will be as drastic a factor as anticipated, citing it as a mental block.
“It’s usually been in between the ears to be honest with you,” Orlando said. “I mean, unless it’s like Arctic weather. To me, it’s, if you’re worried about that, and you can’t play football, you shouldn’t be playing football.”
As far as focus goes, Orlando’s defense will have bigger issues than the cold. Texas was able to keep an opponent under 30 points for the first time since Week Three against Rice. Iowa State, however, is led by sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy who will be trying to keep the Cyclone’s season alive going into the final stretch.
Offensive line will be key
Just as the Longhorns were getting healthy on the defensive side of the ball, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Junior Angilau went down with an MCL sprain against Kansas State. A starter lost at arguably the most important position on a team should be a hard loss, but Texas has been preparing for these situations. In place of Angilau will be junior offensive lineman Denzel Okafor who has been prepared for moments like these.
“The good part is we rep him a lot at practice,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “We throw them in there just to keep those guys for emergency purposes, and Herb (Hand) does a great job with all that.”
Okafor has had years in this system and has the trust of the offensive unit, especially because it falls in line with Beck’s philosophy.
“You need to build that camaraderie, but when you do that and you just play five all the time and the other guys (aren’t) in there and you got to put them in there, there’s a gaping hole,” Beck said.