Longhorn defense dominates the Cyclones, 17-7

DeShon Elliott (Joe Cook/IT)

DeShon Elliott (Joe Cook/IT)

AMES, IA – Following an extended break with the bye week, Texas head coach Tom Herman and the Longhorns entered Jack Trice Stadium facing the challenge of stopping an offense that had scored 40 points in each of its first three games. The defense answered the challenge, limiting Iowa State to just seven points, 10 rushing yards, and 256 total yards in a 17-7 victory in Herman’s first Big 12 conference game.

Texas forced three Iowa State turnovers, including two interceptions by junior safety DeShon Elliott. The defense made Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park’s evening incredibly difficult, forcing him to move out of the pocket and away from defenders time after time. Park showed an inability to throw on the run, and was sacked four times on the evening. His only touchdown pass and Iowa State’s only score came as a result of a short field following a shanked Michael Dickson punt late in the third quarter.

Sophomore Shane Buechele played under center for the first time since the season opening game against Maryland. Behind an offensive line with two backups at tackle, including freshman Derek Kerstetter, Buechele managed an efficient 19-for-26 evening with 171 yards, one score, and one interception. He delivered balls to 11 different targets, completing a game-high four passes to sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey.

Even though Buechele’s stat line looks decent, he was constantly forced to run to make a play. Buechele carried the ball 13 times for 53 yards, with several of those runs of the scramble variety. Buechele chose to take several big hits throughout the course of the evening rather than sliding to avoid contact.

“It depends on down and distance,” Buechele said on sliding versus not sliding. “If it’s first and ten, I’m going to try to get down but if I need a first down, I’m going to try and go get it. It’s something I’m still working on from last year and this year. I need to know my body type compared to other people and be smart with my body.”

It has been difficult for Buechele to do something that goes against his personality, but it’s something he is trying to improve on.

“I think it’s just competitive nature and trying to get as much as you can,” Buechele said. “Also, you have to be smart. Football is a tough game. I just have to be smart in those aspects of the game.”

His favorite target, sophomore Collin Johnson, had extra attention paid to him by the Cyclone defenders and only brought in two catches on the evening. Buechele’s lone touchdown came in the second quarter when he found freshman running back Toneil Carter over the middle. The ball was delivered perfectly, but Buechele took a massive hit from his blindside while getting it to the freshman.

Texas once again struggled to run the football behind an offensive line struggling with multiple facets of the game. No Texas back averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Junior Chris Warren and sophomore Kyle Porter combined to rush for 2.6 yards per carry on 23 attempts. Warren’s longest run of the evening was an 11 yard rush into the end zone to open the scoring up in the first quarter.

“It’s difficult as a play caller when you’re making one yard or two yards,” Herman said. “You want to say ‘forget it, let’s throw it every snap.’ That’s not the answer either. I thought the patience and persistence by the offense was good. We’ve got to be better and more consistent throughout the course of the game.”

The Texas defense forced the Cyclones to also give up on the running game early. ISU running back David Montgomery came into Thursday’s game averaging more than 100 yards a game. He only ran nine times for 34 yards, and only had three rushes for three yards in the second half.

Park was unable to take the game over and threw three interceptions, two to Elliott and one to junior Kris Boyd. After the game, Elliott gave all the praise to those in front of him.

“Our d-line, 100 percent credit to them,” Elliott said. “Without them, we can’t do anything. With them playing so well it makes us able to make plays on the ball. Without our d-line, we can’t be great.”

Junior kicker Josh Rowland, who Herman referred to in his postgame press conference simply as “the kicker,” scored Texas’ only second half points. With Texas holding a touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Rowland sent a line drive 49 yards through the uprights. Rowland also had a steady performance kicking off, as all four of his kicks resulted in touchbacks.

“The kicker, he’s been nails in practice,” Herman said. “Until issues in games become habitual, we’re going to go with what the guy has done in practice.”

Following three straight strong defensive performances, Herman noted how much his team has grown since the first showing when they gave up 51 points.

“We’re going to lean on our defense for the whole time I’m here,” Herman said. “Obviously, we’re going to want to make sure that if a team, especially in the Big 12, is finding rhythm offensively, that we can go toe-to-toe with offenses in this league. We will. We’ll continue to go back to the drawing board and find ways.”

The defense, now the strength of the team, has been able to make up for the offense’s shortcomings in the past few weeks. Herman made sure to note while it could be easy to change the play calling, that doesn’t fit the identity he wants his team to have of a strong running game.

“It’s difficult as a play caller when you’re making one yard or two yards,” Herman said. “You want to say ‘forget it, let’s throw it every snap.’ That’s not the answer either. I thought the patience and persistence by the offense was good. We’ve got to be better and more consistent throughout the course of the game.”

Even though there is a lot to build on, Herman made it extremely clear after the game that they would enjoy completing a difficult task.

“We’re going to celebrate this win,” Herman said. “Winning college football games is really hard, really hard. Winning on the road in conference on a Thursday night is even harder. We’re going to celebrate it tonight. We’re going to wake up and go to class tomorrow. We’re going to relax on Saturday and on Sunday we’re going to come in and go to work to go 1-0 again next week.”

Texas now has an extended week to prepare for Kansas State. That game will kick off on Oct. 7 at 6 p.m.