AMES, Iowa — Every Texas fan should hear the child-like excitement in the voices of some of these Longhorns, especially the defensive players.
After all, they’ve spent two years slogging through some hard times defensively. September started with an awful loss to Maryland. Now, after three stout defensive performances, October looks awfully interesting.
“We’re pointed up,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said.
UT’s defensive veterans were practically giddy after a 17-7 win on Thursday over Iowa State at a relatively subdued Jack Trice Stadium.
The Cyclones, who came in averaging 41.3 points per game, managed only 10 measly rushing yards. Safety DeShon Elliott had two more interceptions, and Kris Boyd snagged one, too. Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park completed only 24 of 48 passes, got sacked four times and was running for cover practically all night long.
“Yeah, at one point, I could see his hands shaking,” said linebacker Malik Jefferson, who shot out of a cannon on a critical fourth-down sack. “I didn’t know if it’s because he was nervous or something. But I could literally see his hands shaking. Wow. I don’t know.”
The Longhorns (2-2, 1-0) have problems on offense, to be sure. Frankly, it’s hard to pinpoint if its simply a mediocre run game, an inconsistent passing attack, spotty blocking or the play-calling. It’s likely a mixture of everything. But for the moment, a team searching for an identity has found one — on defense.
Iowa State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) was 3 for 12 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth down. For the season, opponents are now 0 for 7 on fourth down against the Texas defense.
Texas allowed 51 points in the season-opening loss to Maryland. Since that disaster, Texas shutout San Jose State and knocked fourth-ranked USC back on its heels. The Horns have now held three straight opponents under 100 yards rushing, a first since 2010.
Ever since Maryland, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has stressed that players cannot be hesitant. They cannot sit there and analyze what’s happening. Just go, get after it, he preaches.
“They learned a very costly but valuable lesson in that Maryland game,” coach Tom Herman said. “You can’t play great defense if you’re evaluating and thinking and gauging or tiptoeing. You’ve got to stick your foot in the ground and go and trust the other 10 guys are going to be there right behind you.”
That’s what amplified the Jefferson sack on fourth-and-4 from midfield. He simply saw an opportunity and took off. “I give it all to Breckyn (Hager),” Jefferson said. “I can’t tell you what exactly happened because it would spoil it. Maybe at the end of the year. But Breckyn made that play for me.”
Essentially, Hager cleared out the blocker so Jefferson had a clear runway. “I think that guys get out there and realize that we can make a mistake but just go full speed,” Jefferson said.
Cornerback Holton Hill had a team-leading eight tackles. Taken collectively, Texas had four tackles for loss, seven pass break-ups and six quarterback hurries, according to the final statistics.
“They brought a lot of pressure in the first half of the game, and had more guys on the line of scrimmage than there were blockers,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said.
Hill started the season with two interceptions, but now Elliott has four — two in the last two games, including a pick-six against USC. “Everybody is competing for the ball, running full speed to the ball,” Hill said. “I’ve got to go back to practice this week and go hard and maybe get some next weekend.”
The Texas defensive players are providing cover for their offensive brethren. Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele was back at the controls after missing two games with a bruised throwing shoulder. He completed 19 of 26 passes for 171 yards and threw one touchdown to Toneil Carter.
Practically everybody got a touch as 11 different receivers caught passes. Lil’Jordan Humphrey led the way with four catches for 36 yards. The longest pass play of the night was his catch-and-run for 28 yards early.
Still, Texas fans will gnash their teeth after looking at those rushing totals. Chris Warren III had 16 carries for a team-high 44 yards. He had five carries on the opening drive and punched it in from 11 yards out, adding fuel to the notion that he’ll get better as the game wears on.
Kyle Porter got 17 carries for 39 yards. Carter got four chances for 14 yards. Nobody could really get it going behind UT’s rebuilt offensive line. Freshman Derek Kerstetter, once fitted for a redshirt this season, started at right tackle. The line had four holding penalties in the third quarter alone.
It spoke volumes that Australian punter Michael Dickson finished with 328 yards on seven boots compared to the 312 total yards mustered by his offensive mates. Dickson’s lone 17-yard shank gave Iowa State great field position, which the Cyclones turned into their only score.
But the Longhorns deserve credit for closing it out in crunch time. Texas took over at its own 34-yard line with 7:35 remaining. Porter, Carter and Warren all took turns churning out a 13-play drive that went 40 yards and drained the clock to zeros.
Overall, Herman said he’s not going to let anyone ridicule this as an “ugly win.”
“Do we know we have things to work on? Absolutely,” Herman said. “We’ve got a lot to work on offense. But we’re sure as heck going to celebrate winning, because it’s too hard to come by.”
It sure beats the alternative. Last time Texas came to Ames, the Longhorns got spanked 24-0. Ugly or not, this represented a clear step in the right direction.
“We finally understand who we are,” Jefferson said.
Right now, they’re a team that’s 1-0 in Big 12 play.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
The post Texas 17, Iowa State 7: Defense gaining traction as Longhorns win Big 12 opener appeared first on Hook ‘Em.
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