Texas & Iowa State Look to Keep Big 12 Championship Hopes Alive

    Four teams are still alive in the Big 12 Championship race with two conference games to play. We've detailed how Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas and Iowa

    November 14, 2018

    Four teams are still alive in the Big 12 Championship race with two conference games to play. We’ve detailed how Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas and Iowa State can make the conference championship game, but we’ll have a much clearer picture after the No. 15 Longhorns host the No. 16 Cyclones this week.

    The two schools represent a stark contrast, both in terms of their individual program histories and their relative arcs this season.

    Iowa State, which has only had two seasons with more than eight wins and just four bowl victories ever, started the season 1-3 and 0-2 in the Big 12.

    Texas, which averaged 11.2 wins per year with seven bowl wins from 2001 to 2009, started 6-1 after a loss at Maryland. The Longhorns, who won their first four games in Big 12 play, peaked at No. 6 in the AP poll.

    But both schools are now 5-2 in conference play. A win keeps one team in Big 12 contention, while a loss – which would be either school’s fourth – knocks the other out of the conference championship hunt.

    Here are three keys to the game for each team.

    Texas

    Feed Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson

    Texas doesn’t beat Texas Tech last week without wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey’s eight-catch, 159-yard, two-touchdown performance, which included the game-winning score in the final 30 seconds.

    Humphrey, 6-4, and fellow wide receiver Collin Johnson, 6-6, give Texas one of the best (and tallest) receiver tandems in the country. Johnson, who didn’t play last week, reportedly received an injection in his knee this week, which would put even more pressure on Humphrey to have another big game if Johnson is unable to play.

    Iowa State’s starting cornerbacks are 5-9 and 5-10, so despite the talent of ISU redshirt senior Brian Peavy, he’d still give up seven inches when covering Humphrey and nine to Johnson.

    If Iowa State takes away the run (as it’s prone to), it could work in Texas’ favor if it has to air the ball out to its pair of talented receivers.

    Continue being aggressive, but not irresponsible on fourth down

    Texas’ 9-for-12 (75%) success rate on fourth down ranks fourth in the country in terms of percentage, and the Longhorns might not have beaten Texas Tech last week without its success on fourth down.

    Trailing 7-3 early in the second quarter, Texas faced 4th & 4 at Texas Tech’s 43-yard line. QB Sam Ehlinger found TE Andrew Beck for a five-yard gain and a first down as part of an 18-play (!), 60-yard touchdown drive. If the Red Raiders stopped the Longhorns on fourth down, they would’ve taken over on downs near midfield with the chance to take a two-score lead.

    Early in the third quarter, Texas coach Tom Herman rolled the dice and decided to go for it on 4th & Goal after his team was stopped three plays in a row inside of Texas Tech’s 2-yard line. Ehlinger connected with Devin Duvernay for a one-yard touchdown to give Texas a 24-10 lead.

    Two of Texas’ five touchdowns don’t happen without fourth-down conversions. It helps having a dual-threat quarterback in Ehlinger, who has 343 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns this season.

    Texas wasn’t overzealous with its fourth-down conversion attempts. And it shouldn’t be – not when the Longhorns have kicker Cameron Dicker, who’s 14-for-19 this season, including a career long of 52 yards.

    A kicker with Dicker’s range is a valuable asset that most college programs can’t rely on.

    Hold Iowa State to field goals in the red zone

    Iowa State’s offensive numbers in the red zone can be viewed as a glass half-full or half-empty. The Cyclones have scored on 90 percent of their possessions in the red zone — one of the 20 best rates in the country — but they’re only scoring a touchdown on half of their possessions inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

    Only four FBS teams score a touchdown less often than Iowa State when they reach the red zone.

    Texas ranks 10th in red zone defense, allowing its opponents to score just 72 percent of the time, so this could prove to be a favorable matchup for the Longhorns, especially with Iowa State RB David Montgomery suspended for the first half after his ejection last week against Baylor.

    Iowa State

    Play like the Big 12’s best defense

    Iowa State has allowed the fewest points per game (20.4) in the conference. West Virginia ranks second while Kansas State is third in that metric, and Texas lost to the former — albeit in a shootout — and held on for a 19-14 win after a scoreless second half against the latter.

    Led by the nation’s 16th-ranked rush defense, which holds opponents to 109 rushing yards per game, Iowa State has the strongest defensive unit in a conference known for its offense. Besides stopping the run, the Cyclones also excel at preventing explosive plays.

    They hold opposing teams to roughly four plays per game that go for at least 20 yards from scrimmage and allow slightly more than one 30-yard play per game, on average.

    Last week, Texas Tech limited Texas to a similar number of explosive plays — five plays of at least 20 yards and two of at least 30 yards — but it was the last one, a 29-yard touchdown pass with 21 seconds left from Ehlinger to Humphrey, that sunk the Red Raiders.

    Find a way to run the ball in the first half

    Iowa State struggles to run the ball as it is, only rushing for 128 yards per game (110th nationally) on 3.59 yards per carry (114th) as a team. The Cyclones will now have to do so without their leading rusher David Montgomery — at least for the first half.

    Montgomery, who has rushed for 765 yards and six touchdowns this season, is suspended for the first half of this week’s game after he and Baylor DE Greg Roberts were ejected for throwing punches in the second half of last week’s Iowa State-Baylor game.

    ISU’s second-leading rusher is freshman QB Brock Purdy, who has only played in six games this season. Kene Nwangwu is the second-most productive running back on the roster, running the ball 31 times for 112 yards this season.

    Maybe the solution is more designed quarterback runs for Purdy or short-yardage, high-percentage throws like bubble screens or running back screens.

    For Big 12 standards, Iowa State has a fairly low-scoring offense at 27 points per game and playing half the game without one of its top skill players certainly won’t help. That puts even more pressure on the Cyclones’ defense to put the clamps on Texas in the first half.

    Dominate time of possession

    When Iowa State beat West Virginia 30-14 in Week 7 (a win that allows the Cyclones to still be in the Big 12 Championship race in Week 12), it possessed the ball for more than 37 minutes of the game. The Cyclones outgained the Mountaineers in yardage with 498 to 152 and ran 72 plays to West Virginia’s 42.

    Perhaps the most telling stat from that game is that West Virginia was just 1-for-10 on third-down conversions. The Mountaineers only had 11 offensive possessions, including just four in the second half, and none lasted longer than five plays (not including punts).

    After Iowa State had a three-and-out and a first-play interception on its opening two drives, the Cyclones burned the clock with eight, nine and 10-play drives that shortened the game.

    Iowa State has shown an ability to pull out a win in a back-and-forth, Big 12-style shootout where it might take more than 40 points to come out victorious. The Cyclones beat Oklahoma State 48-42 on the road and Texas Tech 40-31.

    But their sweet spot seems to be in matchups in which they score between 25 and 30 points. Four of their six wins have come from games in which they scored in that range, while holding their opponent to 14 points or less.

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