There were 130 snaps taken in No. 15 Texas’ 24-10 win over Iowa State on Saturday night. Here are five that ended up making a big difference:
1. An early stop
Texas won its eighth coin toss of the season, but the Longhorns once again deferred their decision to the second half. Since the UT defense had allowed eight first-possession scores this season, that pregame decision by Tom Herman may have put a few fans on the edge of their seats.
Iowa State picked up a first down on its first drive, but the Longhorns stepped up on defense. Senior linebacker Anthony Wheeler sacked freshman Brock Purdy on a third-and-9 at the Iowa State 39, and Corey Dunn then recorded the first of his evening’s six punts. Iowa State gained 12 yards over six plays on its game-opening drive. Over its previous five games, Texas had surrendered 296 yards and 31 points on its opponent’s first possession.
2. Draw it up
The first-drive struggles of the UT defense had somewhat overshadowed the first impressions made each week by the offense, which had turned its first possession into points on five of its 10 chances. Texas upped that success rate to 54.5 percent on Saturday. On its first drive, Texas needed nine plays to drive 80 yards for a touchdown.
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The possession was capped by quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s seven-yard touchdown run. On the play, he dropped back to pass and waited for left tackle Calvin Anderson to pull his block. With the 300-pound Anderson now plowing a path in the middle of the field, Ehlinger sprinted up the middle for the score.
The touchdown run was Ehlinger’s 10th of the season. The drive’s second snap was also a 35-yard catch by Collin Johnson, who had missed the previous game with a knee injury.
3. Lengthy run
Texas held a 14-3 lead when it got the football at its 20 with 3:15 left in the first half. The Longhorns would add Cameron Dicker’s 22-yard field goal just before halftime as Ehlinger drove the team to the Iowa State 5.
The key highlight on the 11-play drive was a 39-yard run by senior Tre Watson, which moved UT from the Texas 34 to the Iowa State 27. The run was the longest this season for a Longhorn, eclipsing Keaontay Ingram’s 31-yard gain against Oklahoma. When asked about the run, Watson credited the offensive line and said “They opened it up and I just hit it. A-gap, really.”
Watson, a graduate transfer from Cal, finished the evening with a season-high 93 yards. He ran the ball 14 times.
4. Relief appearance
Setting up Dicker at the end of the first half did come at a cost as Ehlinger injured his shoulder on a scramble just before the kick. With Ehlinger’s return designated as questionable, Texas turned to junior Shane Buechele after halftime. An experienced back-up with 19 starts on his résumé, Buechele had replaced an injured Ehlinger in a victory over Baylor earlier this season.
Buechele completed all 10 of his pass attempts on Saturday. His biggest throw was caught by Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who turned what should have been a first-down reception into a 27-yard score after he broke a tackle and beat two additional Cyclones to the end zone.
5. Farewell, seniors
A late punt return and penalty set up Iowa State’s only touchdown with 1:33 left, and a Texas fumble on the subsequent drive further delayed the celebration for the second-largest crowd in school history (102,498). The Longhorns, though, were able to thwart a Cyclones comeback.
On a third-and-10 attempt at the Iowa State 43, backup quarterback Kyle Kempt was hit by UT freshman Joseph Ossai. The sack forced a fumble, and senior Charles Omenihu pounced on the football. With 1:09 left on the clock, Texas then knelt twice and ended the game.
The fumble recovery was the final play at Royal-Memorial Stadium for Omenihu, who leads the Longhorns with 7.5 sacks. Additional senior standouts on Saturday included Watson and linebacker Gary Johnson (seven tackles, one sack). Senior defensive backs Kris Boyd, Davante Davis and P.J. Locke III each broke up a pass.