Following a long layoff due to a bye week and cancellation due to Covid, the Longhorns will return to the field on Black Friday to host Iowa State. The Cyclones currently sit at the top of the conference standings with a 6-1 record, while the Longhorns sit at 4-2 and control their own destiny if they win their final 3 games. On the surface, it appears to be a game between two teams who are very evenly matched. Let’s take a look at what to expect from the Cyclones:
Entering 2020, the prevailing thought throughout the Big 12 was Iowa State would go as far as QB Brock Purdy would lead them. The junior was entering his 3rd year as the starter and was coming off a strong 2019 that saw him throw for close to 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns. While Purdy has put together a good 2020 season so far, it has been the running game that has carried the Cyclones to their 6-2 record. Running back Breece Hall burst onto the scene as a true freshman last season and has been the most productive ball carrier in the Big 12 this season. Hall already has over 1,100 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns and is averaging a whopping 6.5 yards per carry. He has busted several long TD’s so far and shows a great feel for letting plays develop.
When Iowa State does throw the ball, they will focus on getting it to WR Xavier Hutchinson and TE Charlie Kolar. Hutchinson leads the team with 41 receptions, but the real challenge for the Texas defense will be slowing down Kolar, who is a matchup nightmare at 6’6 and had 5 catches to go along with a touchdown against the Longhorns in Ames in 2019. In addition to Kolar, Purdy is also not afraid to target fellow TE Chase Allen. The Cyclones will run a lot formations featuring 2 and even 3 tight ends. Matt Campbell and his offensive staff do a great job at isolating their tight ends and forcing linebackers and safeties to cover their big body pass catchers.
Along the offensive line, the Cyclones have done a good job replacing several starters off of last year’s team and they have helped pave the way for the productive season Hall is having running the football. Similar to many teams the Longhorns have faced this season, Iowa State does not take a ton of deep shots and emphasizes the short passing game, which helps their offensive line hold up and slow down the opposing defensive line.
The Iowa State defense against the Texas offense will be the key matchup to follow throughout the game. Last year, the Cyclones defense dominated the Longhorns for long stretches until the 4th quarter, when Texas was able to find some success in the passing game. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is able to generate a lot of pressure with 3-man rushes due to the talent Iowa State has along the defensive line. DE JaQuan Bailey has 6 sacks on the season and is a future NFL player. Fellow DE Will McDonald is the team leader in sacks and Christian Jones will have his hands full trying to slow down whoever Heacock wants to throw his way.
The biggest injury news entering Friday’s matchup centers around LB Mike Rose. Rose is questionable for the game with a lower body injury and if he were to miss the game or be limited, it would be a huge blow for the Iowa State defense. Rose leads the team with 4 interceptions and 63 tackles, but his impact is felt far beyond the box score. He has started every game of his career and is the glue of the defense.
Texas is most likely to find success through the air on Friday afternoon. The Cyclones defensive backs are probably the weakest of the 3 groups on defense, but a lot will depend on if Sam Ehlinger is able to connect on throws he has been missing the last few games. The Longhorns should welcome back Jordan Whittington from injury and Joshua Moore is expected to be at 100% following a shoulder injury, so the opportunities will be there for Texas to stretch the field.
A big concern for Texas fans will be how the Longhorns will respond after 20 days without playing a game. Texas can not afford a slow start where they fall behind by double digits. The Longhorns have shown flashes offensively of taking a step forward, but they will need to show consistency. If Sam Ehlinger and the offensive staff cleaned up whatever was ailing the passing game over the last month, there is a good chance the Longhorns can walk out of DKR with a victory on senior day, but there is no denying how good Iowa State has looked. Matt Campbell is a coach of the year candidate in the Big 12 and will Iowa State ready to play.
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