Matchup to Watch

Max Dible

The matchup to watch this weekend is the rush-heavy Texas backfield against Iowa State’s 3-4 defensive front.

Texas’ offensive attack is a far cry from the air raid offenses that have plagued the Cyclones in recent weeks, allowing for 156 opposing points in three games — an average of 52 points surrendered by Iowa State per contest.

The Longhorns have snapped the ball exactly 450 times this season, and 313 of those snaps — or 69.55 percent — have been rushing plays.

That ratio has increased during the past two weeks, as Texas has rushed the ball 111 times and thrown only 28 passes on its way to racking up back-to-back victories for the first time all season, including a win on a neutral site against Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry.

Texas isn’t likely to change its philosophy when it strolls into Ames on Halloween night, and the Cyclones haven’t been particularly stout against the run this season. Iowa State has surrendered 187 yards rushing per game on its way to a 2-5 start. Baylor amassed 276 yards on the ground last Saturday, which was a season high against the ISU defense.

The 3-4 scheme the Cyclones switched to before the year began was intended to put more athletes on the field to deal with the influx of speed and athleticism that highlight the Big 12’s powerhouse offenses. But Texas has found some redemption in 2015 with a return to the ground-and-pound philosophy.

Gang tackling, something ISU coach Paul Rhoads said improved against Baylor, will be paramount with one more linebacker on the field and one less defensive lineman at the point of attack to help clog rushing lanes.

Texas is a squad that runs by committee as well, as three players — including starting quarterback Jerrod Heard, who actually leads the team in rushing attempts and yards — have amassed at least 373 yards on the ground this season. Four different Longhorns have scored multiple rushing touchdowns.

Despite the ISU defense allowing what appear to be enormous chunks of yardage and scoreboard production that would rival the output of some offensively-challenged basketball teams, the Cyclones have actually held every opposing offense under its points-per-game average this year, except for Texas Tech.

Texas is averaging 24 points per outing, and, in the Rhoads era, Iowa State is 28-2 when holding opponents to 23 or fewer points. However, the Cyclones are 3-49 when allowing 24 points or more.

An inevitable slowdown to Saturday’s game seems likely considering the Longhorns’ rushing proclivity and prowess, not to mention read-option quarterback Joel Lanning taking over the reins as the ISU signal caller.

A lower scoring, less dynamic outing figures to favor the Cyclones. But, to keep Texas below its average point production, Iowa State will have to improve on the 4.8 yards-per-carry average its defense has allowed to opposing rushing attacks.

If the ISU defense can achieve that, both recent and not-so-recent history points to the Cyclones being able to pull out this win.