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Championship or bust, Cyclones set for final meeting with No. 7 Texas

Jacob Rice
Matt Campbell waits with his team before entering the field for the Iowa State vs. BYU football game. LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah, Nov. 11, 2023

Cyclones prepare to say goodbye to their senior class and highly talented No. 7 Texas in the final matchup between the teams as members of the Big 12, and plan to halt the Longhorns’ top-tier offense.

After securing bowl eligibility with the win against BYU, Iowa State now has a chance at shaking up Big 12 standings with a win against the Longhorns who have dropped one game in conference play to Oklahoma.

In the final trip to Ames as members of the Big 12, Texas is looking to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive off the coattails of their talented offense. From top to bottom, the Longhorns have skill players at every position.

Although Texas outmatches Iowa State on paper, head coach Matt Campbell welcomes the opportunity for his young team to grab a statement win late in the season but knows they need to execute on every level to do so.

“It is Texas, it’s what they’ve been about and what they’ve stood for,” Campbell said. “What a great challenge for this young team to step into an arena with this kind of football team and we’ll have to have a great team game plan to win the football game.”

Iowa State continues to host one of the top defenses in the nation and is currently 24th among FBS schools in terms of total yards allowed. Through forcing stops on third downs, creating turnovers and holding their own in the red zone, the Cyclones have leaned on their defense to keep games close and create opportunities for their offense.

The aforementioned skill players for the Longhorns include receivers Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell who have combined for 1,394 yards and 13 touchdowns. Iowa State will have to focus on locking up the pair of star wideouts and avoid explosive plays, which its secondary has been known to give up from time to time.

While it is easy to focus on the highlight plays that both Worthy and Mitchell serve on a weekly basis, Iowa State’s defensive coordinator knows the Longhorns’ offensive success comes from more than just their talented receiver room and it will be a tall task to slow them down as a whole.

“That group of wideouts is the best group that we’ve seen as a whole without question,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “It’s a tremendous challenge but I think it’s a whole team thing for them. You’ve seen the offensive line grow, you’ve seen the quarterback grow and because of that now the tailbacks have grown and so has the wideout group.”

Iowa State’s biggest takeaway threat, safety Jeremiah Cooper, has been absent from the last two games due to injury, but according to Campbell is “trending positively” and he is “a lot more likely to play than less likely to play.” In his eight games played this season, the sophomore has snatched five interceptions which is tied for the second most among FBS defenders.

Jeremiah Cooper greets the Iowa State fans that made their way to Cincinnati after the Cyclones defeated the Bearcats 30-10 at Nippert Stadium on Oct. 14, 2023. (Tyler Coe)

Adding Cooper could be the answer the Cyclones need to slow down the talented receiver room and test former No. 1 overall recruit quarterback Quinn Ewers, who is set to start his second straight game after also missing a pair of games due to injury.

Defensively, the Longhorns host one of the better front sevens in the Big 12 with the most sacks in conference play (18).

Although Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht has made improvements since the start of the season, he and the rest of the young offense will be challenged by Texas’ talented defense. Although the team is on a four-game win streak, the Longhorns’ defense has shown weaknesses in spots which has contributed to the optimism for the Cyclones heading into Saturday.

Regardless, Becht knows Texas is riddled with playmakers on the defense and took extra precautions with his teammates and coaching staff this week.

“They [Texas] got dudes all over,” Becht said. “Really getting into that film and understanding what their defense is and what they do is huge for us. That’s just spending extra time up here with my coaches and my teammates.”

Not only will the Cyclones play their final game against Texas as fellow members of the Big 12, but for some players they will suit up for their final game in front of the crowd at Jack Trice Stadium.

The 2023 senior class is one that hosts members who have witnessed both sides of the spectrum when it comes to the highs and lows of college football. Campbell praised the senior class for their ability to lead the team during tough times and leave their mark on the program

“What this senior class has done has been nothing short of remarkable,” Campbell said. “This group has handled hard better than any group of kids that I have dealt with, at least here, for the last eight years. You have to have great senior leadership to persevere through hard things.”

One of the members of the senior class, left guard Jarrod Hufford, is thrilled to have the opportunity to potentially end the Longhorns College Football Playoff hopes and that they aren’t ready for the scene they will be walking into on Saturday.

“It definitely going to be one heck of a farewell present,” Hufford said. “I don’t think they really know what will is going to be coming for them, I think they’ll have to come out and figure it out.”

Hufford added extra wood to the fire with comments on Texas’ attitude and his excitement to hopefully send them into the SEC with a loss in their final trip to Ames.

“That program, much like Oklahoma, they get all the big five star recruits and they have all the nicest stuff in the world and they think their… don’t stink to put it in Leyman’s terms,” Hufford said. “They’re just humans, that’s how I see them. They’re just people that have such a high ego that needs to be checked.”

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Jacob Rice, Visual Editor
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