Saturday’s game between Texas and Iowa State at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium was so lightly considered at the beginning of the season that ESPN relegated coverage to the Longhorn Network, in essence throwing a bone to the Texas fan base and leaving those that don’t have access to that network in a bit of a lurch.
Instead of being a rote, end-of-season game, the dustup between the 15th-ranked Longhorns and the No. 16 Cyclones has real meaning, with the winner still in line for spot in the Big 12 championship game.
That scenario occurred only because Texas and Iowa State had played lights-out football for most of the season.
The Longhorns (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) have branded themselves as one of college football up and comers. They’ve found a way to win a series of down-to-the-wire games and climbed to as high as No. 6 in the nation this season.
Eight of Texas’ 10 games have been decided by seven points or fewer and in the final 30 seconds, the most for the Longhorns in a season since 1936.
Part of Texas’ resolve lies in the efforts of Texas’ 26-member senior class, which will play for the final time at home on Saturday evening.
“As tired as we are, as banged up as we are, now is not the time to try to take a deep breath,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “We have 12 days left in the regular season, then hopefully a couple of postseason games after that. These guys are fully aware of what this team is capable of doing, because they have seen what the other teams that they have been on have been like and the culture in that locker room.”
The Texas defense has taken a beating, both physically and in the way it has given up yards in the past four games, two of those losses. Herman said his team has played well when it counted the most despite allowing more than 500 yards in the past three games.
“We understand that as good of a plan as we have on defense, and as good of players as we have on defense, this stretch of five games has been ‘Murderers’ Row’ of elite offenses, not just in this league but in the country,” Herman said. “Our defense, you know, the last couple of games especially has been really, really banged up.”
As good as Texas has been, Iowa State has been every bit as impressive, reeling off five straight wins, including a 28-14 home victory over Baylor last week, after a 1-3 start.
Iowa State (6-3, 5-2) has had success when it sticks to its details on defense. The Cyclones debuted its bend-but-don’t break, dime-style defense against Texas in a 17-7 loss last season in Ames and it’s the rock that Iowa State stands on.
“When we’ve played well we’ve played with really good detail, and when we’ve played not to what our potential is, we’ve looked back on it and it’s detail,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “And detail in terms of alignment, assignment and defensively sometimes that detail can be in tackling.”
The Cyclones won’t have star running back David Montgomery for the first half as he serves a suspension after being ejected for his role in a melee last week in the third quarter in the win over Baylor.
“Nobody wants to play and lead this team more than David Montgomery,” Campbell said. “I have no more trust in anybody in our football program than David Montgomery. It was a reaction to a really tough situation. But lesson learned.”
The only other time Texas and Iowa State have met as ranked opponents in their previous 15 meetings was in 2002, when the No. 7 Longhorns beat the No. 17 Cyclones 21-10 in Austin.
Texas is 13-2 all time against Iowa State, including 7-1 in games played in Austin. The Longhorns have won two straight over Iowa State, including last season in Ames.