Live coverage: Texas falls 30-7 to Iowa State, loses fourth-straight in embarrassing fashion

Nathan Han, Sports Reporter

In its icy white uniforms, Texas will play Iowa State in front of a sold-out Jack Trice Stadium to try and end a three-game losing streak.

The 4–4 Longhorns take on the 5–3 Cyclones in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday night, and they desperately need a win to stay afloat after blowing three consecutive second-half, double-digit leads.

Texas hasn’t lost four games in a row since 2010. Texas hasn’t ever lost three games in a row to Iowa State. And with a loss, even bowl eligibility comes into question: the Longhorns would need to win two out of their last three to even go to a bowl if they fall to the Cyclones. Not exactly the “Texas football” standard.

So, this game has program-defining implications, but when it comes to the Longhorns, it’s rare when a game doesn’t seem to be do-or-die.

It’s time for Texas football.

Looking forward (Final, 10:13 p.m.)

Saturday’s loss to Iowa State had an element of everything that’s gone wrong for the Longhorns this year.

There was the inability to stop pressure even on three-man rushes against Arkansas in Week 2, the complete 180 on defense from the first and second half against Oklahoma in Week 6, the continuous three-and-out after three-and-out that doomed Texas in Week 7 against Oklahoma State and the hopelessness that settled in around the program during the fourth-quarter collapse to Baylor in Week 8.

It was a humiliating defeat: first four-game losing streak since 2010. First three-game losing streak ever to Iowa State. And the worst second half margin in a season that includes a multitude of second-half collapses: the 27-0 Iowa State second half dominance tops even the 35-10 collapse against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

So when Texas heads back to the drawing board, hoping to claw their way back into bowl eligibility with three more games left on its schedule, and tries to once again figure out why the team can’t put together a decent second half, it’s time to consider the fact that maybe the Longhorns just aren’t that good.

Maybe the defense has been buoyed by unforced takeaways in first halves, including two air-dropped gifts from Gerry Bohanan against Baylor, one from Spencer Rattler against Oklahoma and even a fumble from Cyclone wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson in the first half of this game. Maybe the offense is just reliant on explosive plays from Xavier Worthy and Bijan Robinson to get anything going: the Longhorns only had two drives of more than five plays Saturday. They only had one drive of more than seven plays.

Maybe Texas just isn’t good. Maybe it’s time to rebuild. But that’s certainly not what head coach Steve Sarkisian was hired for in January, and definitely not the job he thought he was taking when he left Alabama to come to the Forty Acres.

Pulling the plug (4th quarter, 3:02, 9:57 p.m.)

There will be plenty of time next week to talk about whether head coach Steve Sarkisian made the right decision at quarterback when he inserted redshirt freshman Hudson Card in for redshirt junior Casey Thompson in the first quarter.

So, instead of making a declaration right here and now, let’s just take a moment to look back at what occurred before Thompson’s benching:

Thompson’s first real decision and pass of the night came on a third-and-8, where he tried to throw the ball to the completely covered redshirt freshman Kelvontay Dixon. On the next drive, he missed wide-open junior wideout Marcus Washington for what would’ve been a solid chunk play on a similar third-and-long situation after being sacked on first down, just overthrowing the open man after rushing the throw.

On his fourth and final drive of the night, Thompson scrambled for eight yards on another third-and-long but was just one yard short of the first down. He finished his night 2-6 for two yards passing and will likely want those two throws to Dixon and Washington back.

In the week heading up to the game in Ames, Iowa, Sarkisian seemed to signal that he would stick with Thompson throughout the rest of the season. But something Sarkisian saw in those six throws made him pull the plug on his redshirt junior quarterback. It just remains to be seen what it was.

Some rare good news: junior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown is back in the game after being slow to get up with a right leg injury.

It starts up front (4th quarter, 7:23, 9:44 p.m.)

There isn’t any better play to symbolize the issues with the Texas offense in the second half than the last one, which ended with a Bijan Robinson fumble.

But it wasn’t the turnover. It was inability of six Texas blockers to stop just three Iowa State pass rushers from pressuring Card that showed why Texas just can’t get anything going on offense.

With the Cyclones playing the drop-eight coverage that fans will remember from their nightmares of the Week 2 Arkansas game, Texas should’ve had ample time to throw. But tight end Cade Brewer ended up on one defensive end and committed a holding penalty in that matchup. Junior guard Junior Angilau committed another holding penalty on a double time on the other defensive end.

Neither even ended up mattering. But missed assignments and just plain old poor pass protection has doomed the Longhorns all season long. And when head coach Steve Sarkisian turns on the tape after the game to try and figure out what went wrong, he’ll find out what Texas has known all season long since Week 2: this offensive line just has not been good enough for Texas.

The bigger issue might be recruiting players who can be good enough. Texas only has two offensive line commits in its 2022 class so far.

Pick your poison (4th quarter, 15:00, 9:22 p.m.)

It’s easy to look at the two big plays that have led to the last two Iowa State touchdowns, a 49-yard touchdown pass from Cyclone wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson on a trick play and a lofted 23-yard play action pass to tight end Charlie Kolar, and wonder where the Texas defense was.

But with the effectiveness of the Iowa State run game in the second half, even if Texas isn’t committing more bodies to stopping the run, the Longhorn defenders are still thinking about trying to limit Iowa State running back Breece Hall.

That’s opened up those plays based off faking a run play.

Texas needs a stop badly to start the fourth quarter if it wants any chance to get back into this game. That starts with goal No. 1: limiting Hall and getting back to the stellar run defense that helped limit the Cyclones to only three points in the first half. But as the Longhorns have learned in this second half, selling out to stop the run can also come back to bite you.

Sputtering out (3rd quarter, 6:18, 9:10 p.m.)

Head coach Steve Sarkisian’s “All gas, no brakes” mantra doesn’t make much sense if the Texas offense can’t ever get its engine started.

Even with a new quarterback at the helm in Hudson Card, the Longhorns are facing the same problem they experienced in the second half of the last three games. Backed up deep in opposing territory, with the opposing crowd screaming its head off, Texas just can’t get a first down and move the chains.

On the the first three Texas drives of the third quarter, the Longhorns started at their 20, their 4 and their 19-yard lines. In each drive, they didn’t get any further than six yards. Nothing Sarkisian calls in those situations is working for Texas. Against Oklahoma State and Baylor, the head coach tried to pass on early downs with play action but found his team in several third-and-10s after incompletions. Against Iowa State, Sarkisian is trying to pound the rock with sophomore running back Bijan Robinson on the early downs.

But it’s just not working: in four run plays on first or second down in the second half, Texas has only gained five yards.

When the early down plays aren’t successful, the Longhorns are left in third-and-long limbo, where its tackles can’t contain the pass rush to allow receivers enough time to get open.

Sarkisian kept emphasizing getting over the hump for his team in last week’s press conferences. But Texas just can’t seem to get over the hump of getting that first first down.

Defensive inertia (3rd quarter, 8:40, 8:56 p.m.)

Making adjustments for the defense in the second half has been a topic of conversation for Texas for a couple of weeks. And to be fair to the Longhorn defense, it’s hard to dissect film and make changes on defense when the Texas offense goes three-and-out as often as it does.

But this game against Iowa State will be the biggest test yet of whether or not defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who spends his Saturdays not on the sideline but with a birds’ eye view of the field from the press box/suite area, can make the necessary adjustments to stop the Cyclones, who seemed to come out of halftime with a few tricks up their sleeve.

In the first half, Texas elected to drop eight players into coverage more often than it ever did in its first eight games. Kwiatkowski was able to dial up the conservative defense due to the play of his defensive line on early run downs and in generating pressure with only three rushers. But sophomore defensive end Alfred Collins and junior T’Vondre Sweat were both slow to get up after diving at the feet of Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy on the last drive.

The Longhorns held Iowa State at midfield due to a false start from an opposing offensive lineman. With the way the offense is looking right now, they might need to stop the Cyclones over and over again, as well as make the right adjustments, to come out of Ames, Iowa, with a win.

Hall’s Healthy (3rd quarter, 11:20, 8:44 p.m.)

It’s not Texas if a first-half lead doesn’t disappear.

Cyclone star running back Breece Hall broke off a massive 47-yard touchdown run on a speed option play to put Iowa State up 10-7 in the first drive of halftime.

The play was emblematic of all the issues Texas had with run defense against Baylor: playing the speed option and preventing the cutback.

Sarkisian said the Longhorns’ defensive ends had to make better decisions against the option run play after the Baylor game. Hall’s score looked eerily similar to the backbreaking Abram Smith 32-yard touchdown last Saturday, where several Longhorns took poor angles to the ball and opened up room for Smith to plant his feet and go the opposite direction of the run play.

Texas will have to try to limit Hall, who did not play in the final minutes of the second quarter after suffering a big hit from Overshown, but came in and looked perfectly healthy after halftime. The Longhorns gave the ball right back to Iowa State after a third-and-out on their first drive of the second half.

D-line comes online (Halftime, 8:24 p.m.)

The story of the first half for the Longhorns? The impressive play of the defense.

The unit has gotten better on each and every Iowa State drive, after a crucial red zone stop for a field goal on the first Cyclone drive of the night. And the biggest X-factor for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski is the play of the defensive line.

The scheme Kwiatkowski plays relies on his big defensive tackles to win their one-on-one matchups in order to truly unlock its potential. Before Saturday’s game, Sarkisian said improvement from the defense sometimes just come down to winning those one-on-one battles and being better than your opponent.

That’s what the defensive line has done so far in the first half against Iowa State: the line has just been better than the Cyclones’ offensive line. Even with the Longhorns dropping back eight defenders into coverage on several plays, they’ve been able to generate pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s the starters Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo shedding double teams or the backups T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy exploding off the line. On run plays, the tackles held their gaps to allow linebackers and safeties to make plays and get deep into the backfield, and several defensive lineman also made plays of their own: sophomore defensive end Alfred Collins pushed his man five yards into the backfield for an impressive tackle for loss on one play.

Texas fans will wonder if this is just another one of the Longhorns’ first-half performances that turn sour in the second half. But if the defensive line can keep up its play throughout four quarters, the Cyclones are in for a long night.

Injury update: Iowa State running back Breece Hall did not play in the rest of the second quarter after a big hit from Texas junior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. The star Cyclone had only 17 yards on seven carries in the first half, but his potential absence in the rest of the game could be huge.

Mixed bag (Halftime, 8:12 p.m.)

Texas finally got on the board.

Sarkisian dialed up a beauty of a play on a critical third-and-goal to get the extra four points and not settle for the field goal. With the Cyclones stuffing the line of scrimmage with big bodies in their goal line package, the head coach elected to go with a shovel pass to wide receiver Xavier Worthy. The 160-pound freshman sped around the Iowa State defense and stretched the ball over the pylon to put the Longhorns up 7-3.

But Texas wasn’t able to continue the momentum of the 14-play, 78-yard drive. Two missed throws from redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card will loom large if the Longhorns lose tonight.

On the first play of the seventh drive, Card overthrew Worthy, who was wide open after using his speed to spring free on a deep route. On the first play of his next drive, Card missed high on Worthy, this time on a curl route, and the pass floated in the hands of an Iowa State safety who just couldn’t hold on for the pick.

Oh, by the way, on the touchdown, freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy tied the Texas freshman wide receiver touchdown record with his eighth of the year. One more, and Worthy will pass former wideout Roy Williams. He needs 149 more yards to pass Williams on the freshman receiving yard record.

Enter Josh Moore (2nd quarter, 6:15, 7:45 p.m.)

With both teams 0-4 on third-down conversions, junior wide receiver Joshua Moore came in clutch for the Longhorns on a key third-and-7.

Moore, who didn’t play in the first quarter after a reported “heated argument” with head coach Steve Sarkisian on Wednesday, entered the game on the Longhorns’ first drive of the second quarter, and caught the ball on a shallow crossing route. He used his speed to turn upfield for a much-needed 24-yard gain and the first third-down conversion for any team on the night.

The junior pass catcher struggled against Baylor, committing three mistakes that were crucial in the loss: a dropped touchdown pass, fumble and a pass glancing off his fingers for an interception.

But Moore is one of Texas’ most explosive weapons. He proved it last year when the wide receiver led the team in receiving yards.

His big third-down play gave Texas life on what would have been yet another third-and-out — Texas is currently driving on a 12-play, 75-yard drive and is knocking on the Iowa State door with the ball at the Cyclones’ 3-yard line.

Holding the fort (2nd quarter, 11:29, 7:37 p.m.)

If you had the under for Saturday’s game, the start of this game looks great.

With the way both teams are playing, Texas is fortunate to only be down 3-0. The Longhorns have just 45 yards of total offense compared to the Cyclones’ 163 yards, including 123 yards through the air from Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy.

But the Texas defense has held down the fort despite struggling against play-action and allowing 5.8 yards per play. On the last drive, a holding call turned an Iowa State first down into Texas territory into a long second-and-16.

Sophomore safety Jerrin Thompson made several key plays, coming off the bench for the starting Schooler. Thompson had a key pass break-up on a slant route that almost turned into an interception. Later in the drive, he delivered a big hit onto Cyclone tight end Charlie Kolar to force a drop and take away a potential first down.

It’s Hudson Card time (1st quarter, 2:11, 7:19 p.m.)

Texas can’t get anything cooking on offense. So head coach Steve Sarkisian inserted redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card in the fifth drive of the game.

In four drives, the Longhorns fumbled on the first drive before going three-and-out in the next three drives. The biggest culprit was poor first and second-down play: Texas is falling behind on the chains and forcing long third-down plays that Sarkisian said the offense needs to avoid.

In the second three-and-out, redshirt junior quarterback Casey Thompson uncharacteristically missed an open receiver (junior Marcus Washington) on third-and-10 after rushing the throw. He was 2-6 with only two yards passing before being replaced by Card.

The redshirt freshman started the first two games for the Longhorns before Thompson took his job in Week 3. Now, it’s time for Card to get his opportunity to return the favor.

Bend, but don’t break (1st quarter, 7:09, 7:04 p.m.)

The Longhorns came into Saturday’s game with a struggling run defense matching up against an Iowa State offense averaging over 200 yards rushing per game with All-Big 12 junior running back Breece Hall.

So far, it’s been a “good enough” game for the Texas run defense, who held up in the red zone on a short field to hold the Cyclones to a field goal. On the second Iowa State drive of the night, sophomore linebacker Jaylan Ford made a splash play, knifing through the Iowa State offensive line to force a loss of three yards that would prove crucial on a fourth-down turnover-on-downs stop.

But the Longhorns need to prove that they can hold up when it comes to stopping the run the entire game. In losses against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, the run defense struggled in the second half after performing well in the first.

Earlier in the drive, a potential interception just went through the hands of senior safety Brenden Schooler. The super senior has had a busy night so far, with three tackles on three straight plays, and received the start Saturday after sophomore Jerrin Thompson started the past several games.

Striking first (1st quarter, 14:34, 6:44 p.m.)

In five of its last six games, Texas scored a touchdown to get on the scoreboard first. Four of those touchdowns came on after the Longhorns received the opening kickoff for the opening drive of the game.

But after receiving the kickoff, Longhorn sophomore running back Bijan Robinson fumbled the ball on the second play of the opening drive. The Cyclones will take over at the 39-yard line with a short field to score.

Before the season, head coach Steve Sarkisian said he scripts a certain number of plays on offense before the game. The offensive play caller didn’t say how many. Those scripted plays have certainly worked out well for Texas so far this season, including on the run that sprung Robinson free for a 15-yard gain. But the running back fumbled for the first time this season to ruin the Longhorns’ history of successful first drives.

One note to watch as the game gets going: junior wide receiver Joshua Moore, who reportedly got into an argument with Sarkisian on Wednesday, did not play in either of the first two plays of the night.