Texas knew what opportunity was ahead of it before its top 25 game with Iowa State. If any Longhorn didn’t, it was unavoidable in pregame when the video board showed Oklahoma State topping West Virginia.
In the game they played Saturday instead of watched, the No. 13 Longhorns suffocated the No. 18 Iowa State Cyclones even with quarterback Sam Ehlinger not playing in the second half. The Longhorns’ defense and consistent running attack secured a 24-10 win, and an opportunity for Texas to play in the Big 12 championship with a win Friday at Kansas.
Though fans in Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium prior to the venue’s 500th game who saw the events in Stillwater play out were excited, Texas head coach Tom Herman had to make sure he kept his team’s focus on stopping Brock Purdy and defeating the conference’s best defense.
“I said the big picture doesn’t matter, never has in this program,” Herman said about his pre-game speech. “And the big picture certainly won’t matter if we don’t win this game. So they were aware of it, but I think we got them dialed back in very quickly.”
That was clear on the first defensive possession. Iowa State gained a single first down, but was forced to punt after linebacker Anthony Wheeler sacked Purdy and set the tone for the Texas defense the rest of the game.
Iowa State was without star running back David Montgomery in the first half. He was ejected for fighting in ISU’s previous matchup with Baylor, which carried with it a one half suspension in the next game.
Without Montgomery, the Cyclone offense relied heavily on Purdy making throws to Hakeem Butler. It struggled to produce outside of that.
“The guys executed great,” Herman said. “Their confidence never wavered, which was a credit to our coaching staff, a credit to the leaders on that team, Chris Nelson and Anthony Wheeler, Gary Johnson, Breckyn Hager, Charles Omenihu, their confidence never wavered and you can’t play great defense if you don’t have confidence.”
Iowa State notched a field goal on its second drive after Texas marched 80 yards on nine plays and capped its drive with a Ehlinger score.
For the rest of the half, Iowa State struggled to move the ball in any fashion. Purdy was 6-of-17 in the first half with heaves to Butler serving as the main source of offense, and ended 10-of-23 for the game.
Texas, however, was efficient and often looked to Lil’Jordan Humphrey if they weren’t intent on running the football. Tre Watson, Keaontay Ingram, and Ehlinger combined for 148 rushing yards in the first half, including a 39-yard run by Watson.
Ingram and Watson for the game combined for 160 yards on 26 carries.
“I definitely thought I was going to get out,” Watson said on his 39-yard run. “I had a hip bump earlier in the game, so it kind of restricted me a bit. No excuses, got to bounce back.”
Ingram contributed in the passing game, hauling in a 19-yard pass from Ehlinger where he followed blockers clearing a path for him into the end zone.
Both Watson and Ingram were also on the injury report with hip injuries, however both were able to finish the game. Breckyn Hager, BJ Foster, Kris Boyd, Zach Shackelford, all suffered dings as well but were able to play through them.
Not all the injury news was positive as late in the first half, Ehlinger scrambled on 3rd and 14 with seconds remaining on the clock. As he reached the five yard-line, ISU safety Greg Eisworth delivered a big hit to Ehlinger’s right side.
Ehlinger favored his shoulder, which was previously injured this season, and jogged into the locker room prior to Cameron Dicker’s 22-yard field goal.
He never returned to the game. Herman explained that Ehlinger suffered a contusion of the AC joint. He mentioned the injury felt different than the AC sprain Ehlinger previously suffered this year. X-rays were negative and Ehlinger will get an MRI Sunday.
In his stead once again was junior Shane Buechele. Buechele was perfect passing, going 10-for-10 for 89 yards.
His only touchdown pass was late in the third quarter to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who once again had a phenomenal night. Texas ran an odd formation with six offensive linemen, two tight ends and Humphrey as the only receiver. Iowa State double covered one of the tight ends, leaving Humphrey all alone.
“I saw LJ one-on-one,” Buechele said. “One-on-one with LJ is always fun.”
That 27-yard touchdown pass gave Texas a three-score lead, and even a Cyclone team with David Montgomery couldn’t manage more than a lone touchdown when the game was already out of reach.
Texas won the 500th game in DKR in front of an energetic crowd of 102,498, won on senior night for the first time since 2013, and will clinch a spot in the Big 12 Championship game with a win in Kansas.
“I’m extremely happy that we have an opportunity to go 1-0 versus Kansas,” said Charles Omenihu, who recovered a fumble to totally seal the game. “That’s our main goal right now, and that’s what I’m focused on right now.”
His head coach said something similar.
“We’re 0-0 against Kansas, a team that I was told by Craig Way I guess scored 50 points in Norman, Oklahoma,” Herman said. “A team that is going to give us their best shot.”
Texas hasn’t been in a situation where it was playing for the conference title since 2013, and hasn’t been in the Big 12 championship game since 2009.
A win in Kansas gives them an opportunity in Herman’s second season.
“We understand that to win any game in this conference we need to give that opponent our best effort,” Herman said. “It’s a short week. We’re not going to be any less banged up so we have got to heal, but we have also got to prepare for a team that’s going to be playing on their senior day, and obviously had a great performance today.”