GAME NOTES: The Big 12 Conference slate gets underway for a pair of undefeated teams this weekend, as the 17th-ranked Texas Longhorns come calling on the Iowa State Cyclones. Both teams were idle last week, giving them ample time to prepare for this matchup.
Texas is 3-0 on the young season, having disposed of Rice (34-9), BYU (17-16) and UCLA (49-20) in succession. It marks the fifth straight year and ninth time in the 14 years under coach Mack Brown that the Longhorns have opened the season with at least three consecutive wins. It is a great start for a team that had a disappointing 2010 campaign in which it went just 5-7 and won only two of its eight conference games. Unfortunately the fast start hasn't come without a price as starting QB Garrett Gilbert recently underwent surgery on his right shoulder and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Despite the team's impressive beginning, Brown knows his team still has work to do to make a run at the Big 12 title.
"Not a lot of people thought we'd be 3-0 at this point", Brown said after the UCLA game. "We played a tough non-conference schedule, but the 3-0 start is a statement of improvement. Now we'll have 7-10 days to get ready for Iowa State, which is good because we aren't nearly as good as we need to be."
Speaking of the Cyclones, they returned 16 starters from last year's team that went 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big 12, and they are perfect this season as well, having topped the likes of Northern Iowa (20-19), Iowa (44-41, triple- OT) and Connecticut (24-20), all in narrow fashion. The Cyclones are 3-0 for the first time since 2005, and their last 4-0 start was back in 2000.
Texas leads the all-time series, 7-1, but Iowa State picked up that lone win last year in Austin, defeating the Longhorns in a 28-21 final. UT was ranked at the time, marking the first road win for the Cyclones over a member of the Top-25 since beating Oklahoma in Norman back in 1990.
With Gilbert on the shelf, Case McCoy is the man entrusted with running the UT offense, and the brother of former Longhorn great Colt McCoy has the full confidence of his coaches and teammates. McCoy was an efficient 12-of-15 for 168 yards and two TDs in the Longhorns' 29-point win over UCLA the last time out. Tight end D.J. Grant proved to be his favorite target on the day, catching six balls for 77 yards and three TDs, although one of his scoring grabs came on five-yard toss from WR Jaxon Shipley in the third quarter. The Texas ground attack was also in top form, as Malcolm Brown rushed for 110 yards and a TD on 22 carries, and Fozzy Whitaker turned his eight totes into 63 yards and two scores. In all, the 'Horns churned out 284 yards on the ground, averaging nearly six yards per carry, and finished with 488 total yards, compared to just 317 for the Bruins.
In addition to limiting UCLA's yardage total, the 'Horns also proved to be an opportunistic bunch by coming up with four turnovers (three INTs, one fumble recovery). Safety Kenny Vaccaro and linebacker Emanuel Acho both logged double-digit tackles in the game, combining for 23 stops, three QB hurries and a sack. UCLA converted just three of its 13 third-down tries, the Longhorns allowing just 26 percent of all third-down conversion attempts to be successful this season. After three games, the UT defense is among the national leaders in yielding just 15 points and 258.7 total yards per contest.
Iowa State QB Steele Jantz has enjoyed a a solid season thus far, throwing for six TDs and running for two more in leading his team to its first 3-0 start in half a decade. Jantz, who also has six INTs to his credit, rallied his team from behind for the third time in as many games against UConn, throwing for 200 yards and a TD with three picks, and the bulk of his passing yards went to wide receiver Darius Reynolds, who finished with a career-high 128 yards on just four catches. Reynolds caught two TD passes for the second consecutive game, and the Cyclones won the game despite a slew of turnovers and being outgained narrowly (343-341).
Texas LB Jordan Hicks is keenly aware of what it will take to win this game, "Well, definitely stopping Steele Jantz. He's good at extending the play. We have to get after him a little bit and be able to contain him and stop him."
The Cyclones permitted UConn just 112 yards on 42 rush attempts (2.7 ypc), and they came away with three turnovers and a pair of sacks. In addition, the Huskies made good on only 5-of-17 third-down conversion attempts. The leading tackler for Iowa State is linebacker Jake Knott, who has shown a real nose for the football in averaging 11 tackles per game. He was on that number in the win at UConn, and Jeremy Reeves joined him in double figures with 10 stops. Both forced fumbles and broke up a pass as well.
So far this season, ISU is scoring just shy of 30 ppg, but yielding 26.7 ppg. The Cyclones have a done a decent job against the pass (206.3 ypg), but three sacks total and only four QB hurries means additional pressure up front would help lower that number for sure.
Iowa State has shown resiliency to this point in the season, winning each time out in come-from-behind fashion. Unfortunately, the Cyclones will likely suffer their first defeat as the Longhorns, even with an inexperienced quarterback, are clearly the more talented team, and have the extra incentive of revenge after losing at home to ISU last year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas 31, Iowa State 13