02 October 2011
When Texas fell to Iowa State last season, turnovers were the difference. This time around was no different.
The Longhorns scored off three first-quarter takeaways for the second straight game and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Texas jumped out to a 34-0 halftime lead and beat Iowa State, 37-14. A year ago, Garrett Gilbert caughed the ball up four times (three interceptions and a lost fumble) and the Cyclones handed the Longhorns a 28-21 defeat, their first to Iowa State in school history. But Texas turned things around, winning the turnover battle 4-1 and, more improtantly, improving to 4-0.
Texas' contests against UCLA and Iowa State proved to be turning points a year ago but after blowout victories over the Bruins and Cyclones, the Longhorns are finally turning in the right direction. A matchup against No. 2 Oklahoma, who scored 52 unanswered in its 62-6 demolishing of Ball State this weekend, is coming up this upcoming Saturday and Texas proved with its performance in the last two games that it can knock off the Sooners.
Blake Gideon picked off a pass against Iowa State, one of four Texas takeaways. But interceptions will be hard to come by when the Longhorns face Landry Jones and a dynamic Oklahoma offense this weekend.
Despite the persistence of dozens of reporters over the last few weeks, none of the players or coaches will claim that the Longhorns are out for revenge. But after dominating two teams that beat them the year before, it's becoming increasingly difficult to believe them. Texas was outscored by a combined 62-33 in its games against UCLA and Iowa State in 2010 but has righted the ship since then, winning their last two games by a combined score of 83-37. With contests against No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 5 Oklahoma State on the horizon, the Longhorns are sure to field more questions regarding that pesky revenge topic.
One thing they won't hear about for awhile, though, is sacks, or a lack thereof prior to Saturday's triumph over Iowa State. The Longhorns registered three sacks, one more than they had in their previous three games combined. Defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor are still searching for their first sack of the season but were still able to make their presence felt. Okafor had five tackles, a quarterback hurry, and notched Texas' first of four takeaways when he fell on a Iowa State fumble in the first quarter. Jeffcoat had three tackles.
The Texas defense has done a tremendous job of setting the offense up with short fields and giving them great scoring opportunities. But they got tired of it in the second quarter when it created a scoring opportunity of their own. True freshman Mykelle Thompson blocked a punt, the 75th of the Mack Brown era and another true freshman, defensive back Josh Turner scooped it up and scored. It gave the Longhorns their first blocked punt return for a touchdown since Malcolm Williams fell on a blocked punt in the end zone against Missouri in 2009.
It was one of many spectacular plays made by true freshmen this week as they accounted for the Texas' leading passer, rusher, and receiver Saturday. David Ash, who attempted more passes in the first half (8) than he had in his first three games (7), shined behind center. He had mostly been a running threat, running a zone read package until co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin turned him loose. He threw for over 3,400 yards in his high school senior year at Belton last season and showed off his arm, tossing touchdown passes of 48 and 40 yards in the first half, the first two of his young career. Both he and McCoy ended up completing seven of 12 passes but Ash stole the show early on.
Speaking of Harsin, he just keeps topping himself every week. When Greg Davis was in charge of the Texas offense, the playcalling was very vanilla in the first few games of the season, out of fear that future and superior opponents like OU would prepare better for the Horns. But Harsin has taken a completely different tactic, emptying his bag of tricks every weekend, coming up with new ones Monday through Friday and unleashing them on hapless opponents on Saturday. The man is a magician, as evidenced by Ash's second touchdown pass.
Bryan Harsin's innovative and risky playcalling could be the difference in Saturday's Red River Rivalry game.
Fozzy Whittaker lined up in what he calls the "Wild" formation, a formation he had scored on a 16-yard run earlier in the game. True freshman Jaxon Shipley started the play near the left sideline, went in motion before the snap, took the handoff from Whittaker, and pitched to Ash, who promptly hit Shipley in stride for a long touchdown pass. If Harsin has been "saving" some trick plays for Oklahoma, the Sooners are in serious trouble.
Thankfully for Harsin and the rest of the Texas coaching staff, the Longhorns were outscored 14-3 in the second half, which, to their credit, was characterized by a slew of second-teamers and conservative playcalling. But now the coaches have something to yell about this week. They'll emphasize playing a complete game and staying focused for all four quarters, or something along those coachspeak lines.
Watch out OU. Because if this Texas team gets any better, the Sooners might be the ones limping out of the Cotton Bowl.
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