Texas 27, Iowa State 6: Longhorns back at home, back in the win column
By no means has Charlie Strong fixed all of Texas’ problems. Far from it, really.
In the first half Saturday night against Iowa State, the offense had two pass interference penalties and lost a fumble. After the break, the defense, which ranks 115th nationally, had one player flagged for taunting.
Those who have mentally moved on from Texas’ third-year head coach won’t be swayed by the 27-6 victory over the 1-6 Cyclones. But the Longhorns snapped their three-game skid with a third-quarter offensive burst and a critical fourth-down defensive stop.
And perhaps the best news of all? Strong improved to 1-14 at Texas when trailing at halftime. That zero is now a thing of the past.
With six games remaining, Texas (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) could still go either way this season. Hold on tight, because it should be one wild, unpredictable ride. “We’re going undefeated,” defensive end Breckyn Hager said.
Asked why he believes that, Hager said, “Because we’ve got no choice. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get there. We’ve got our hardest games at home. You see how we play at home, the excitement and energy. You see how our defense plays, and we’re gonna step it up.”
In pre-game meetings, Strong told his players that they control their own destiny. It’s all about being the best each and every day. “And just live in the now,” Strong said. “We can’t go back. We lost three games. We can’t go back to those games. It’s all about the present. “Just live in the present and let’s take care of our business.”
Last season, Texas looked plain dreadful in an embarrassing 24-0 loss on Halloween night in Ames. Strong said his players blamed the wet grass. “They’re like, ‘Oh, it’s slippery.’ OK, so we’re going to worry about the grass?,” Strong recalled on Monday.
No need to blame Royal-Memorial Stadium’s artificial turf. Or the humid October night. Or the 13 inductees of the UT Men’s and Women’s Hall of Honor that were feted during pregame. Or the terrific UT alumni band that performed at halftime.
The Horns stopped themselves early. Jake Oliver’s pass interference penalty ruined the first drive. D’Onta Foreman fumbled on the second. A false start slowed the third, Jacorey Warrick’s pass interference call damaged the fourth and Tristan Nickelson’s illegal man downfield penalty scrambled the fifth.
Finally, on Texas’ sixth drive of the night, the Horns collected a 21-yard field goal. It was the first time UT had scored against Iowa State since Nick Rose’s game-winning kick in 2014 with 3 seconds left.
Talk about a dud of a start. Texas trailed 6-3 at halftime. The golf-clapping amongst the 96,851 fans was courteous at best.
When the second half began, it must’ve felt like the biggest 30 minutes of Strong’s professional life. On UT’s first drive, dueling facemask penalties wiped out Armanti Foreman’s 37-yard touchdown catch. No worries, though. On the next play, Buechele stepped into the pocket and found Jerrod Heard racing into the southeast corner for the score. Texas took a 10-6 lead, and the building had life.
“Penalties just killed us,” said Buechele, who finished with a season-high 296 passing yards. “We had to put our foot on the gas and run with our tempo. Once we’re executing, we’re hard to stop.”
The defense appeared to force an Iowa State punt when Hager sacked Joel Lanning on third-and-9. But cornerback Kris Boyd, a talented but emotional sophomore, got flagged for taunting. Iowa State kept possession and moved to the Texas 25. That’s where the defense rose up.
With Poona Ford leading the charge, Iowa State’s Mike Warren got stuffed on fourth-and-1. Strong was seen pumping his fists and chest-bumping DeShon Elliott.
Strong really went wild moments later when Devin Duvernay went streaking down the Texas sideline for a 75-yard touchdown catch. And the coach was jumping for joy when D’Onta Foreman broke through the line and dashed 18 yards for another touchdown, giving the Horns a 24-6 lead late in the third quarter.
Foreman finished with 136 yards, his seventh straight 100-yard game, as the Horns piled up more than 500 yards for the fourth time this season.
“Our destiny’s in our own hands, and we’re just continuing to get better each and every day in practice,” said Duvernay, who also had a 63-yard touchdown catch against Oklahoma. “We believe in each other, and we’re going to keep believing.”
The defense has been maligned all season, but the unit pitched a shutout for the final three quarters. That alone qualifies as progress. Strong walked off the field with UT students chanting his name.
“We’re playing for a lot of reasons right now, and the main reason is for ourselves and for the future,” Heard said. “What we’ve got to do is keep going up and win out.”