Much has changed in these past two months. After only stringing together four wins last season mixed with all the offseason drama the Iowa State Cyclones were projected to finish tenth in the Big 12 Conference. That is not how things unfolded. Matt Campbell and the Cyclones currently sit in a four-way tie for second place with a 5-2 conference record (6-4 overall) after taking down BYU 45-13. While Iowa State has persevered through most of the season’s obstacles, their toughest ones are yet to come. This Saturday at 7 p.m. in front of a packed Jack Trice Stadium, the Cyclones will kick off against the conference-leading and seventh-ranked Texas Longhorns (9-1, 6-1 in the Big 12) coming off of their 29-26 victory over TCU.
A win here does not only provide Iowa State with bragging rights for eternity with Texas moving to the SEC next year, but it puts the Cyclones in control of their destiny as well as sending off the seniors the right way.
“Ever since I got here it was Iowa and Texas. [Texas], much like Oklahoma, they get all the big five-star recruits and they have all the nicest stuff in the world and they just think that their…don’t stink,” Cyclone senior offensive lineman Jarrod Hufford said. “They’re just humans, that is how I see them, and they are just people with a high ego that needs to be checked.”
Texas has the resume and talent to earn themselves that ego Hufford and so many Cyclone fans would love to diminish. The Longhorns are 3-1 versus ranked opponents this season including an impressive 10-point victory on the road against the then third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. This is a team that has proved itself time and time again. The Longhorns are the real deal and have great talent across the board.
Despite losing their star running back, Jonathan Brooks (1,139 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns), the Longhorns still possess some of the conference’s best offensive weapons. Filling in for Brooks is a standout freshman CJ Baxter, who has rushed for 390 yards and 3 touchdowns this season. His best game came against Kansas State when he rushed for 90 yards and one touchdown. It is important to note the Wildcats rank second in the conference in rushing yards allowed per game (119.0) and Texas ran for 230.
If Iowa State, who ranks third in rushing defense (124.7) manages to slow down the Longhorn rushing attack, they will then have to worry about the arm of Quinn Ewers and his abundance of wideout weapons. This is a cause of concern for a Cyclone secondary that has been without their star safety Jeremiah Cooper who has yet to play a snap in November. Campbell is positive about the health status of Cooper.
“Cooper is certainly trending positively… he is a lot more likely to play than less likely to play,” Campbell said on Tuesday.
Campbell mentioned as well that Wednesday’s practice will be a major telling point on whether he gets the green light or not.
TJ Tampa, Malik Verdon, and Beau Freyler will have their hands full regardless if Cooper suits up or not. Ewers currently sits with 2,232 yards passing and 14 touchdowns along with only 4 interceptions and has the best receiver the Cyclones will see all year long at his disposal. Xavier Worthy ranks third in the Big 12 with 757 yards and 4 touchdowns. Not far behind him lands Adonai Mitchell who leads the team with 9 touchdowns with 637 yards receiving.
There are many factors that Iowa State will need to be perfect at to pull off the upset. Go punch for punch with the Longhorns, cause turnovers, keep the home run plays at bay, and continue to be perfect in the RedZone (24 of 24 in conference play). Nothing looms larger than the play of the offensive line and the protection of Rocco Becht.
Pressure is something Becht has not felt consistently this season. Iowa State leads the conference with only 9 sacks allowed this season. The most they have allowed in a single game this season was only 2 against Oklahoma, Cincinnati, and Kansas, but they have yet to face a defensive front as physical as the Longhorns. Texas leads the Big 12 with 26 sacks.
An emotional game with bragging rights, championship, and playoff implications on the line comes down to this weekend in Ames. A place Texas has not favored in Jack Trice recently losing three of the last four matchups.
“It is going to be one heck of a farewell present,” Hufford said. “They are going to come in here on senior night in the dark and I don’t think they really know what is going to be coming for them.”
Everything is on the line for both teams. If Iowa State wins they will continue to shock the world and set themselves up for a win and you’re in battle in Kanas State. For Texas, they need a win to find a way into the College Football Playoffs. I think even with the hostile environment, the Texas Longhorns use their physicality and experience to take down the Cyclones 35-21.