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Game-talk Tuesdays: Texas

Jayden+Higgins+of+Iowa+State+being+toppled+by+Texas+DB+Terrance+Brooks+on+Nov.+18%2C+2023+during+the+Iowa+State+vs.+Texas+football+game+in+Jack+Trice+Stadium.
Joseph Dicklin
Jayden Higgins of Iowa State being toppled by Texas DB Terrance Brooks on Nov. 18, 2023 during the Iowa State vs. Texas football game in Jack Trice Stadium.

Iowa State dropped its last home game of the season to No. 7 Texas 26-16, and even though a loss is a loss, hopes are still high for the young Cyclone team.

Texas is the No. 1 team in the Big 12, and matching up with the Longhorns is no easy task. They present unmatched size and talent at every position, which Iowa State struggled to handle all night long.

When everything was all said and done, a 10-point loss to Texas was not a bad outcome. There were many good areas on display for the Cyclones, and many areas that still need to be worked on going into the last two games of the season.

Run game never finds footing

The biggest area that had issues all night long was the run game.

The Cyclones failed to break past the 10-yard barrier the entire night, finishing with nine total rushing yards. Granted, Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht lost 14 yards due to sacks, but the running backs’ total was still not ideal.

The Iowa State rushers totaled 23 yards on the night on 16 carries. That averaged out to just 1.4 yards per carry.

By the end of the first half, the Cyclones only put up five rushing yards. No running back could break passed Texas’ huge defensive line, which will be talked about later.

It is interesting to note that the lead rusher for the Cyclones was true freshman Abu Sama. After a breakout performance against BYU, the freshman got the bulk of the carries and led the team in rushing yards with 11.

Eli Sanders, who was the lead back before the game, carried the ball one less time than Sama and rushed for one less yard. The duo averaged just under 1.7 yards per carry.

Iowa State tried throughout the game to get the running game going, but with the two featured backs averaging less than two yards per carry, it was clear big plays were not going to happen.

The struggles with breaking off big plays also put pressure on Becht and the receivers to carry the offense. However, with no run game, it was too much to ask from Becht, despite another solid outing.

Rocco Becht cannot carry the team

Becht made history, outperformed Texas’ star quarterback Quinn Ewers, threw for over 300 yards and still could not push the Cyclones to a win.

When not much was working for Iowa State, the one piece that was still as good as ever was Becht. He finished the game passing for 323 yards on 75% completion and threw for two touchdowns.

Becht’s two touchdowns on the day helped him break Brock Purdy’s freshman record for passing touchdowns, as Becht has 17 on the year.

Throughout the night, it was clear that if Iowa State wanted to upset Texas, it had to play through Becht. Becht was electric all night, connected on throws all over the field.

Becht’s favorite target on the night, Jayden Higgins, put up another game over 100 yards, as he finished with 104 on seven catches.

Becht also highlighted the night with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Easton Dean on what was looking to be a fourth-down run. Becht kept the Cyclones in the game all night long.

Rocco Becht and Quinn Ewers hug after Texas defeats Iowa State 26-16 at Jack Trice Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.

Not only did Becht light up Texas’ stout defense, he outperformed one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12. Becht and Ewers had similar statlines, except Becht finished with 42 more yards, while completing one more pass on one less attempt.

Both quarterbacks threw for two touchdowns, while Becht finished with a higher quarterback rating (86.0).

The only mistake Becht made all night was one untimely interception, which resulted in points for Texas.

Defense goes on vacation

Iowa State’s defense looked elite in the first half, keeping Texas to just six points.

However, the issue with football is there are two halves, so the defense needed to show up in both. A strong first half performance from the defense did not translate over into the second, as mistakes started to come on nearly every play.

Texas was driving the ball with ease in the second half, which halted the Cyclone offense’s momentum at times. Every time the offense got back in the game, the defense let up big plays and gifted Texas points.

Texas scored on three straight drives, maintaining a 10-point lead through most of the half. With a two-score lead, Iowa State’s job got harder and harder on offense.

The struggles with the defense were mainly in the running game, as Texas running back CJ Baxter had no issues pushing for first downs time and time again. Baxter finished the game with 117 rushing yards while averaging almost six yards per carry.

With Iowa State focusing on stopping the run, Texas had free reign in the air to pick up big passing plays when needed. The complimentary football that Texas put on display was too much for the Cyclone defense.

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said it himself after the game, when he said multiple times that the team just needed to get a stop.

Outsized and outmatched

The biggest issue for Iowa State coming into the matchup was the talent Texas had on its roster.

Whether it was the Longhorns’ star quarterback, elite receivers, strong running backs or large defensive lineman, Iowa State had issues across the board.

The biggest area that struggled due to mismatches was Iowa State’s run game. Texas presented more size and power in the trenches, which resulted in most runs getting stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage. Texas finished the game with six tackles for a loss and three sacks.

There was a reason Texas was on top of the Big 12 in run defense, and it was on display Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.

Not only was the defensive line bigger, Texas’ skill positions outmatched Iowa State’s defense at times. Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy was all over the field and made more plays than the statsheet shows.

Even with some of Worthy’s bigger plays getting negated or stopped by Iowa State’s defense, he still ended the game with 77 yards. Worthy was not the only receiver finding success throughout the night.

Two other receivers finished with touchdowns, while many receivers found themselves wide open on many occasions throughout the night. If Ewers had been better at dealing with Iowa State’s pass rush, the game could have ended much uglier.

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