The Texas Longhorns will look to improve to 2-0 in Big 12 conference play Thursday night when they head to Ames to take on the Iowa State Cyclones.
Texas' season has not gone as many expected, after suffering upsets at BYU and at home against Ole Miss. But the Longhorns bounced back in Week 4 with a much-needed 31-21 win over the Kansas State Wildcats.
Running back Johnathan Gray rushed for a career-high 141 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats. The Texas defense held K-State's running game to three yards per carry, compared to the seven yards per carry the Longhorns gave up to BYU and Ole Miss.
The win over the Wildcats may have silenced the critics for Texas' bye week, but a lot of questions remain unanswered for the Longhorns as they roll through conference play.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones look to continue the momentum gained from last Thursday's 38-21 upset of Tulsa with another Thursday night upset over the 2-2 Texas Longhorns.
Can Texas extend its record to 10-1 against Iowa State? Or will Cyclones end their 10 straight Big 12 opener losing streak by rolling over the Longhorns?
Let's take a look.
When: Thursday, October 3, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa
Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300
SiriusXM Satellite radio: XM 117; Sirius 202; Internet 969; Spanish 970
Spread: Texas -7.5, per VegasInsider.com
Last meeting: November 10, 2012, Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
Last outcome: No. 19/17 Texas 33, Iowa State 7
Run the ball
As of Monday, starting quarterback David Ash's status for Thursday's game is day-to-day. Ash suffered a concussion against BYU in Week 2 and sat out the second half of the game against Kansas State because of concussion-like symptoms.
With Ash's status up in the air, the Texas offense will need to build its game plan around running the ball.
The good news for Texas is Iowa State has allowed 177.3 yards on the ground on average to its opponents, including 228 yards rushing to Northern Iowa in the Cyclones' 28-21 loss. One can only assume the Longhorns offense, primarily the running backs, are better than the talent on FCS Northern Iowa's depth chart.
Don't overlook the Cyclones
The amount of talent on Texas' roster exceeds that of Iowa State, but the Longhorns cannot afford to overlook the Cyclones like they did in 2010. Iowa State is 10-2 in its last 12 Thursday night games and will be seeking its second win of the season to improve to a 9-2 series record against Texas.
Mack Brown said Monday Texas is "not a team that can go into a game not ready to play, have turnovers and still win." Texas' focus has to stay on Thursday night's game and not wander off to Oklahoma, the Longhorns' following opponent.
Test the Longhorns run defense
Texas' opponents have rushed for 1,041 total yards and have averaged 260.3 yards on the ground against the defense. The Longhorns may have held their last opponent to 151 yards on the ground, but their ability to stop the run is not determined by one game.
Until Texas shows it can consistently shut down a running attack, expect the Longhorns' opponents to continue to test the run defense.
Make Texas miss
The Longhorns' already struggling defense took a big hit when junior linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Hicks' injury puts Texas back in a familiar situation. When he went down in the Longhorns' third game last season, the Texas defense went down with him and subsequently finished the year as the worst statistical defense in school history.
If Iowa State picked up anything from the Longhorns game tape following Hicks' injury last season, it should know Texas struggled to make tackles. Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has chosen redshirt freshman Tim Cole to replace Hicks, but Cole has played very few snaps at linebacker this season.
For the Cyclones to have a chance in this game, they will need to make Texas miss on defense and not let up for the entire 60 minutes.
Wide receiver/running back Daje Johnson
Daje Johnson has been sidelined since the third play of the Longhorns game against BYU. But Texas could have good news on Johnson's injury front. The sophomore speedster is expected to play Thursday night.
Johnson's speed and ability to make defenses miss is a weapon Texas needs on its offense, especially with David Ash's status unclear. If things go as planned and Johnson is released to play Thursday night, expect to see No. 4 get the ball plenty of times.
Running back Johnathan Gray
Sophomore running back Johnathan Gray is coming off of a career-high 141 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Kansas State. After the game, Gray said Major Applewhite allowed him to opportunity to get in a rhythm, which attributed to his success.
"Running backs have to get in a rhythm," Gray said September 21. "Our offensive line did a great job to open the holes and the coaches gave me the opportunity to gain yards."
The combination of Gray and Johnson could be lethal for opposing defenses.
Running back Aaron Wimberly
Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly is coming off of a breakout performance in his first career start for the Cyclones. Wimberly rushed for a career-high 137 yards against Tulsa. He will likely be a key performer against the Longhorns' struggling run defense, which is ranked 117th out of 123 against the run and (as mentioned earlier) has allowed its opponents to average 260.3 yards.
Quarterback Sam Richardson
Sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson has performed exceptionally well in his first three games of the season. Richardson ranks 31st out of 300 in total offense and has an average 289.8 yards per game.
"Sam is a guy like Colt (McCoy)," Mack Brown said Monday. "He can escape, he can throw, he's accurate, tall and manages the game well."
Richardson's go-to receiver has been sophomore Quenton Bundrage, who is averaging 14.3 yards per reception and has racked up three touchdowns in the Cyclones' first three games of the season. The Texas secondary will need to keep its eyes on the Richardson-Bundrage duo.
Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom on stopping Iowa State's run game (Texassports.com):
It will be difficult. We'll make sure we have all of our keys right and our gaps filled.
Texas wide receiver Kendall Sanders on Iowa State's defense (Texassports.com):
We're going to have to bring our A game. It's going to be a Thursday night and they're going to be excited and pumped. We're going to get the best game from them.
Running back Jeff Woody on the difference he has seen on Texas' defense (Cyclones.com):
In the more recent games, [the defense] was playing with a lot more confidence and had a swagger about them. The biggest thing I noticed was not really an assignment or technique change, but it's how hard they are playing under the new coordinator.
Quarterback Sam Richardson on playing Texas (Cyclones.com):
Anytime you're playing against the Longhorns you want to play your best and give it all you've got. Once you beat them, it's a pretty big deal.
Texas owns Iowa State, leading the all-time series at 9-1. The Longhorns sole loss to the Cyclones came in 2010, a season that can best be described as a burnt orange dumpster fire.
The Longhorns' 2-2 record is not the start the team was hoping for, but continuing Big 12 conference play undefeated will likely help Texas rebuild its two-loss image.
The Longhorns' two-deep has recently been hit with the injury bug. As of Tuesday morning, quarterback David Ash (head), wide receiver Mike Davis (ankle) and tight end Greg Daniels (foot) will continue to be evaluated and are all considered day-to-day for Thursday's game.
Injuries typically hurt a team's chances on the road, but even if the Longhorns are forced to play backups, Texas should have no problem taking down Iowa State. The Cyclones are 1-2, with one of the losses against FCS Northern Iowa.
If Texas cannot beat a team that lost to an FCS opponent, then all hope is lost for Mack Brown's Longhorns. But the likelihood of that occurring is slim to none.
Prediction: Texas rolls Iowa State and extends its Big 12 record to 2-0.
Texas 42 Iowa State 21
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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