It was another ugly win for Texas in a season full of them, bringing the Longhorns within a victory of returning to the Big 12 Championship Game. Texas did almost everything wrong in a 26-16 win over Iowa State. The Longhorns have their sights set on returning to the title game for the first time since 2018.
Texas (10-1, 7-1) looks like a completely different team than the squad that went 8-5 last year. But it hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been pretty. The wins have been one clunker after another, and yet Texas finds itself on the verge of a dream season. It culminates next week with a home game against Texas Tech.
Texas got its latest ugly win despite committing almost every conceivable mistake possible against Iowa State (6-5, 5-3). The Cyclones battled to the end despite having one of the weakest offensive units in the Big 12. They capitalized on numerous Texas errors to keep the game close until the bitter end.
Keep On Kicking
The game MVP turned out to be Bert Auburn. The junior kicker went three for three on field goals of 39, 50, and 42 yards. He has made 14 consecutive field goals after struggling earlier in the season. Auburn misfired against Rice, Alabama, Baylor, and Kansas. He got himself on track against Oklahoma and has been perfect ever since.
Auburn has hit 23 of 28 attempts this season and is arguably the best kicker not nominated as a semifinalist for the 2023 Lou Groza Award. He set a career-high with his 50-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first half. Having a dialed-in kicker might be the best news of all for a team with a penchant for close games.
Texas had two touchdowns taken off the board because of penalties in the first half. What could have been a 20-6 halftime advantage was instead 6-3 thanks to the plethora of errors. The Longhorns’ knack for self-inflicted setbacks buoyed the Cyclones’ hopes for an upset on Senior Night.
A holding penalty on Kelvin Banks nullified a touchdown pass from Quinn Ewers to Adonai Mitchell early in the second quarter. Texas was trailing 3-0 at the time and was struggling on offense. Auburn salvaged that possession with his first field goal of the night. Another illegal block wiped out Xavier Worthy’s punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter. The game was tied 3-3 at the time and the Longhorns’ frustration was clearly mounting. Auburn again bailed them out with a clutch kick.
Shaking Off the Rust
Ewers shook off the rust to deliver the ugly win for Texas. He cleaned up his game after throwing an interception last week against TCU. Ewers hit 22 of 33 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers against Iowa State. He connected with seven different receivers while looking poised in the pocket.
Ewers threw touchdown passes to Jordan Whittington and Gunnar Helm. The scoring pass to Whittington capped a nine-play, 91-yard drive in the third quarter. Ewers broke Texas out of its offensive slump and stretched the lead to 13-3 when the game appeared in doubt.
The Longhorns sacked Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht three times thanks to Byron Murphy II, Alfred Collins, and Ethan Burke. Texas’ defense shut down Iowa State’s running game. The Cyclones rushed for nine yards on 21 attempts.
Becht hit 24 of 32 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns. Jerrin Thompson intercepted a Becht pass and the turnover led to a Texas score and a 23-9 lead. Thompson’s pickoff was one of the few mistakes Becht made all night. The freshman quarterback traded touchdown passes with Ewers in a wild fourth quarter. Burke sacked Becht late in the fourth quarter to effectively end the Cyclone’s rally.
Texas returns home from its ugly win for the regular season finale against Texas Tech (6-5, 5-3). The Friday night game is a grudge match for Texas after last year’s 37-34 overtime loss to the Red Raiders. Tech gets one final shot at knocking off Texas before the Longhorns leave the conference.
The Red Raiders bring a three-game win streak to Austin. They beat TCU, Kansas, and UCF behind the performance of sophomore quarterback Behren Morton. Senior running back Tahj Brooks has run for at least 100 yards in the last four games. Unlike Iowa State, the Texas Tech offense has been doing damage this season. The Red Raiders are not as stout defensively but still rank in the top half of the conference statistically. It makes for a dramatic Black Friday clash as Texas vies for its first Big 12 title since 2009.
Photo courtesy: Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK