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AMES, Iowa — Save the style points for teams that hope to impress the College Football Playoff selection committee.
The 2017 Texas Longhorns aren’t in any position to view the aesthetics of a win because they aren’t elite. For now there is no such thing as an ugly win.
This group will take a 17-7 mudder at Iowa State over a moral victory at USC any day of the week and twice on a Thursday night.
Remember, the last time the Horns visited Jack Trice Stadium, they scored the same amount of points as a dead man. This time they came out as a plus-10 on the road and with the way things have gone in the conference lately, that’s saying something because even teams like Baylor that aren’t expected to make a bowl game have given the conference big dogs all they can handle.
Chalk this one up to a great game plan from defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who decided that he wasn’t going to play it safe and lay back against Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park. He brought heavy pressure the entire night with linebackers Malik Jefferson, Breckyn Hager and Naashon Hughes taking full advantage of a good push provided by big burlies Poona Ford and Chris Nelson in the middle. The pressure from all angles allowed the defensive backs to play aggressive man-coverage on the outside.
Herman was actually in full-praise mode for his defense before he stopped himself. Seems he wanted to send a message to those of us who might not view a win over Iowa State as impressive because of the offense’s obvious struggles.
“Let me back-track a little bit,” Herman said. “We’re going to celebrate this win. Winning college football games is really hard. Winning on the road in conference on a Thursday night is even harder and we’re going to celebrate it tonight.”
Translation: We don’t care what the critics say about how we won this game. A win is a win is a win, especially when the guys in the locker room haven’t experienced a winning season since Herman was the offensive coordinator at Ohio State.
Are they challenged offensively? Sure they are. When you put up 126 yards in the final two quarters and average only 3.2 yards per play, there is cause for concern, especially in a league that’s known for its powerful offenses. This is the Texas you may see for a while and that’s a scary proposition because it will place an inordinate amount of pressure on a surging defense that’s given up only 34 points over its last three games.
Trust me, Herman is far from happy with what he’s seeing on that side of the ball. Iowa State did a great job of taking away Collin Johnson and won some battles in the trenches to bog down Texas’ run game. And the Horns left some plays on the field. Buechele missed on a couple of throws he normally makes in his sleep and the coaches picked the wrong time to get creative with a botched trick play at midfield.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck still hasn’t found his groove as a play caller and part of it has to do with the lack of a constant presence at quarterback. First it was Buechele in the opener. Then he got hurt. Then it was Sam Ehlinger. Now we’re back to Boo Jr.
Then there’s the injuries up front. Connor Williams, Elijah Rodriguez and Patrick Hudson are on the shelf and have been replaced by Tristan Nickelson and true freshman Derek Kerstetter.
As for the guy behind center, here’s hoping Herman decides on a starter and sticks with the decision. Buechele looked solid if not spectacular, completing 19 of 26 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown to running back Toneil Carter, who has curried some recent favor because Herman believes he has more big-play ability than Kyle Porter and Chris Warren III, who started strong but ended up dipping down from 3.8 yards per carry at USC to 2.8 against the Cyclones.
Most coaches understand the psychology that goes along with coaching a team even harder after a win because the players are able to take criticism more readily after experiencing success. Herman and Beck will go at them even harder, but will also point to the positives we witnessed in Ames, including that 13-play drive that chewed up the final 7 minutes and 35 seconds of the game.
Vince and Colt don’t play here anymore, so style points went out long ago in these parts.
More points than the opponent will do just fine.