Following a 17-7 win in Ames on Thursday, let’s take a look at how the defense and special teams graded out against the Cyclones.
The game ball should go to the entire defensive line. For as impressive as they have been the first 3 games, they completely dominated the Iowa State offensive front. Poona Ford had another outstanding game and there is little doubt that he will be playing on Sunday’s next year. Chris Nelson and Charles Omenihu both played well and I was particularly impressed with how well both played the run. Texas had Jacob Park uncomfortable in the pocket all night, and were consistently getting pressure without having to bring extra men. The entire unit understands not only their own responsibilities, but what the linebackers are doing behind them. They are forcing inside runs outside, and forcing outside runs back inside to where their help is located. Malcolm Roach had a relatively quiet night, but he flashed several times and was disruptive rushing the quarterback. Taquon Graham and Gerald Wilbon both provided quality snaps throughout the game.
The linebackers all look to be settling into their roles nicely. Malik Jefferson had another great game and had a huge 4th down sack in the 4th quarter. Naashon Hughes had perhaps his best game of the season, getting a sack and tipping 2 passes. Anthony Wheeler had a solid game in the middle, recording 4 tackles and helping limit Iowa State to 10 total rushing yards. Gary Johnson saw the field, but he did not really make an impact. He will be an important player the next several games with how the opposing offenses will play. Breckyn Hager played often in pass rush situations and had a sack. There are still times where linebackers become lost when are asked to drop back and play zone. Prior to Iowa State’s lone touchdown, a pass crossed right in front of Jefferson’s face and he reacted too late. Teams will continue to work the middle of the field and see if they can exploit some coverage bust. It’s hard to be upset though after the Texas defense held the Cyclones to 7 points and dominated the entire game.
Entering the game, I was worried about Texas defending a quality QB in Jacob Park and 2 talented wideouts in Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler. The Texas secondary responded and held Park to a 50% completion percentage and picked him off 3 times. Deshon Elliott added 2 interceptions to his season total and is playing about as well as anyone on the defense right now. Elliott added a sack and played very well against the run. Fellow safety Brandon Jones left the game briefly with an injury, but returned and played reasonably well. I would like to see him continue to improve in the pass game and become more instinctive, because the physical tools are there. Holton Hill lead the defense in tackles and looked very good in coverage. Early in the game, Hill was beat on a quick pass in the flat for a third down conversation. Iowa State ran the exact same play on 4th down in the 4th quarter, and Hill recognized it and jumped the route, forcing the QB to hold the ball and allowing Jefferson to get the sack. Kris Boyd continues to have some learning moments, but he had his most consistent game of the season on Thursday. Boyd was responsible for Lazard for most of the night, and held him in check while adding an interception at the end of the first half. PJ Locke had a good game and did not hear his name called much, which is a good thing. There are still times when there are breaks down and receivers get open in the secondary, but the overall defensive back performance is night and day to where it was against Maryland.
Texas played its most complete special teams game of the season. Joshua Rowland connected on a big 49 yard field goal to put Texas up by 10 and also had a touchback on all 4 kickoffs. Michael Dickson averaged 46.9 yards per punt, including a 61 yarder. Dickson would have had an even higher average if not for a shanked punt that set up Iowa State’s only touchdown.
Texas only had 1 kickoff return for 14 yards and did not register a punt return. Anytime a team goes on the road, the special teams play needs to be solid. The Longhorns were able to win the kicking and punting game, and it is one of the main reasons they were able to escape Ames with a win despite an inconsistent offense and 10 penalties.