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Texas report card: Eagles, the defensive line lead the way in Horns’ deflating loss to Iowa State

Texas’ three-game winning streak came to a bludgeoning stop that hurt in several ways: It effectively ended all hopes of making it to the Big 12 championship game, it was the final home game at Royal-Memorial Stadium for seniors like Sam Ehlinger and Ta’Quon Graham (and likely NFL draft-eligible juniors like Samuel Cosmi and Joseph Ossai), and the 23-20 heartbreaker was a battle between two evenly-matched top-25 teams that the Longhorns easily could have won.

Still, a loss is a loss. And the grades are the grades for the Longhorns:

Texas Longhorns wide receiver Brennan Eagles (13) misses the ball as Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Lawrence White IV (11) defends against  during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, November 27, 2020; Austin, Texas, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Quarterbacks: C+

In presumably his last home game, Ehlinger was good, just not good enough. Some of the regression can be attributed to scheme and nagging injuries, but the critical sack for a four-yard loss on third-and-10 at the end of the game forced Cameron Dicker into a 58-yard field goal kick to force overtime. That was an unacceptable play from a four-year starter and a senior leader. Ehlinger was 17-of-29 for 298 yards and a touchdown; he also led the team in rushing with 65 yards and another score on 15 runs.

Go figure: Ehlingher’s 298 yards moved him into exclusive company in UT history. He now has 11,002 career passing yards, one of only two Horns quarterbacks in that club. Colt McCoy threw for 13,25 yards from 2006-09.

Season average: B-

Running backs: C

Bijan Robinson was most effective during the first quarter, but as the game went on, he simply couldn’t find the space that he found on the first few drives. He had 10 carries in the first quarter but only six more after that. He finished with 54 yards, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Roschon Johnson had 26 yards on four carries and Keaontay Ingram missed another game with an injury.

Go figure: Robinson, who has started four straight games, has had 77 offensive touches but has not yet scored a touchdown this season.

Season average: C+

Wide receivers: C+

Brennan Eagles (five catches for 142 yards, the best receiving game of the season so far for Texas) was one of the few players on offense to grade out above a C. He was tremendous for much of the game, beating Iowa State deep and making tough over-the-shoulder catches downfield. No one else managed more than 50 yards, however. Jordan Whittington, finally back from a hip flexor injury, was the only other receiver with more than two catches. Jake Smith was second on the team with 47 receiving yards.

Go figure: Joshua Moore’s last three games — one catch against Oklahoma State, no catches against West Virginia, one catch against Iowa State.

Season average: C+

Tight ends: C-

It was another forgettable game for Texas tight ends — outside of Jared Wiley’s touchdown catch. The seven-yard score was his only catch of the game, as the Longhorns featured more empty sets with four or five receivers than bunch sets with multiple tight ends when not on the goal line. Cade Brewer managed two catches for 14 yards; one of those was on a failed fake punt attempt.

Go figure: Wiley’s seven-yard touchdown in the third quarter was the first of his career.

Season average: C

Offensive linemen: C-

This group, specifically the right side of the line, is not at a conference championship level. Right guard Denzel Okafor, one of three players signed by Charlie Strong that was honored on senior day, and right tackle Christian Jones continue to be the weak spot for the offense. The running game averaged 4.1 yards per carry, but much of that was due to Ehlinger’s ability to freelance when the pocket broke down. The sack numbers would be much higher if Ehlinger wasn’t so good in those situations. The bad news for Texas is that left tackle Samuel Cosmi is likely destined for the draft instead of returning for his senior season.

Go figure: Texas has had at least 140 rushing yards in seven of the eight games this season.

Season average: C

Defensive linemen: B

The defensive line was fantastic against the run and made Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy uncomfortable for much of the game despite recording just one sack. Breece Hall, who entered the game as the nation’s top rusher, failed to eclipse 100 yards in a game for the first time this season. He finished with 91 yards on 20 carries. The Cyclones averaged a pedestrian 3.7 yards per run. Texas’ line did the dirty work that allowed Longhorns linebackers and safeties to sweep up. Nose tackle Keondre Coburn recorded Texas’ only sack.

Go figure: Coburn’s sack was his first of the season.

Season average: B

Linebackers: B-

The two-man linebackers group of Juwan Mitchell and DeMarvion Overshown continues to impress, especially considering their respective improvement from the first month of the season. Mitchell, a junior college product, was second on the team with 10 tackles. Overshown, a former safety, was third with eight. He also broke up a pass and recorded one of Texas’ two quarterback hits.

Go figure: Mitchell has had three games this season with 10 or more tackles.

Season average: B-

Defensive backs: C-

The Longhorns had no answer for Iowa State’s passing attack when the Cyclones found ways to isolate their big tight ends on Texas’ physically overmatched cornerbacks and safeties. Caden Sterns led the team with 13 tackles, but he doesn’t look like the play maker fans saw when he was a freshman. Purdy had 312 yards and one touchdown. He completed 25 of his 36 passes and wasn’t intercepted. D’Shawn Jamison was fourth on the team with six stops. Chris Brown was fifth with five.

Go figure: Sterns, who’s tied for second on the team in tackles this season, set a career high with his 13 stops; he had 12 tackles twice before — against Oklahoma State in 2019 and against TCU earlier this season.

Season average: C