Longhorn offense disjointed in last-second, 23-21 loss to Iowa State

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Texas’ offense produced more drives resulting in zero or fewer yards than drives ending in touchdowns in a 23-21 loss to Iowa State that eliminated the Longhorns from Big 12 Championship contention.

Two of those scoring drives came in the second half, the second giving Texas a 21-20 lead. The Longhorns had an opportunity to bleed the final few minutes of clock out as they had against Kansas State one week prior. UT put together a fourth gain-free drive for its eighth three-and-out, and put the ball back in the hands of a Cyclone offense that drove to the Texas 19.

With four seconds remaining, ISU kicker Connor Assalley nailed a 36-yard field goal to win the game.

“Obviously, a really, really poor performance by our offense in the first few quarters,” Texas head coach Herman said postgame. “We’ve got to really examine our gameplan in the run game and our execution. To not be able to run the ball the way that we thought we would be able to, that was the biggest difference.”

The problem side of the ball for most of the season for Herman was the defense. This time, it was the offense, his specialty, that struggled to do much of anything save for two remarkable drives.

The Longhorn offense took the field for the final time with 4:01 remaining in the game. Draining the clock was the goal, and it would be a difficult task considering how effective Iowa State was on defense most of the night.

Any success Texas had on offense came through the air. Ehlinger totaled 165 of his 273 passing yards on Texas’ two second half scoring drives, including 63 yards after his team was penalized into 2nd-and-35.

However, for the Longhorns to win they would need to run the football.

What was true most of the night held true once again. Running plays on first and second down gained nothing, and a third down screen to Devin Duvernay fell incomplete after ISU’s Jamahl Johnson batted it down.

Following the game, Herman stated he believed the prudent strategy was to run time off the clock and force Iowa State to use its timeouts, believing his team would gain yardage on the ground. He then said he believed the prudent third down playcall was to throw a screen, and credited Johnson for his play.

It wasn’t what Texas was expecting, even though it was a similar result to most of Texas’ efforts on the ground. One week after rushing for 214 yards versus Kansas State, Texas amassed 54 rushing yards on 26 carries.

“We pride ourselves on being able to run off the clock and keep our defense off the field and we weren’t able to do that when it came down to it,” Ehlinger said.

The final three-and-out created by the Cyclone defense gave Iowa State the ball back with 3:00 remaining in the game. Their offense received huge boosts from two defensive pass interference calls on Jalen Green and Caden Sterns, but the Longhorn defense held for a third down stop that brought Iowa State kicker Connor Assalley on the field for a 42-yard field goal.

However, penalties once again hurt Texas as Joseph Ossai was flagged for being offside, giving the Cyclones an opportunity to set up for a closer kick. Three plays later, Assalley hit the 36-yarder as time expired.

Texas’ defense performed admirably and held Iowa State in check for most of the game. Even though the Longhorns put together eight sputtering drives, Todd Orlando’s defense did get off the field at several key junctures.

The two notable lapses resulted in 14 Cyclone points. On ISU’s first drive, multiple Texas defenders fell for Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy’s pump-fake. Charlie Kolar was left wide open in the end zone for a two-yard score.

On the first play of the second half, Purdy escaped what looked to be a sure sack and heaved a ball for Deshaunte Jones. No Longhorn defender was near Jones and his jaunt to the end zone extended ISU’s lead to 17-7.

Still, it was an effort that kept Texas in the game despite a poor offensive showing.

“I thought our defense played admirably given all the three-and-outs, poor field position, and all of the things,” Herman said.

It took 29:13 of game time for Texas to even get on the scoreboard. Five of the first six Longhorn drives ended in a Chris Naggar punt. The only outlier was a six-play, 17-yard drive that began via a D’Shawn Jamison interception, and ended with Sam Ehlinger falling short of the yard to gain. The lone first-half score for the Longhorns was a highlight-play catch by Brennan Eagles for a 14-yard score.

With the result, Texas falls to 6-4 with a 4-3 conference record, removing Texas from Big 12 Championship contention. The expectations for the season included a return trip to Arlington, but the chances of that occurring nosedived to zero with this loss.

Still, two games remain and Ehlinger believes Texas will play hard even without the trip to AT&T Stadium as a possibility.

“I believe the guys in the locker room love each other enough to keep each other focused and keep working,” Ehlinger said.

Should that happen, Texas could very well win its next two games for eight regular season wins. If his belief doesn’t hold true, topping Baylor and Texas Tech could prove difficult.