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3 keys, prediction for Iowa State football at Texas
Cyclones need touchdowns, not field goals
The Iowa State football team travels to Austin, Texas, Saturday to take on the No. 22-ranked Longhorns at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, looking for its first Big 12 win.
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (ABC). Here are three keys to victory for the Cyclones.
1. Keep up the D
Iowa State’s offensive issues are obviously holding the team back, but the Big 12’s best defense in every major category has been stalwart in keeping the Cyclones in games.
At some point, that unit may spring a leak or two if the offense continues to struggle to score. Facing No. 22 Texas this week makes that extra concerning, given the Longhorns’ big play ability on offense and steadily improving defense.
Expect ISU’s defense to make yards hard to come by for Texas running back Bijan Robinson, but quarterback Quinn Ewers could be the real problem this week, given his diverse and skilled range of potential targets, including receivers Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington, and tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders.
2. Take it away
The Cyclones are tied for 36th nationally with 10 forced turnovers this season, but Texas is among the nation’s best in taking care of the football.
The Longhorns are tied for 10th in the country in turnovers lost, coughing up just four in five games this season. Three of Texas’ turnovers have been interceptions — and Ewers has thrown two of them.
If ISU is to have a chance to post an upset win in Austin, it will need to be on the plus side of the turnover ledger. That still won’t remotely guarantee a first win of the conference season — the Cyclones were plus-one in turnover margin in last week’s 10-9 loss to No. 17 Kansas State — but getting an early takeaway would go a long way toward ensuring the game stays close.
3. Score touchdowns, not field goals
The Cyclones sit alone near the bottom of the national rankings in red-zone touchdown percentage, converting just 52.17 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line into TDs.
True freshman kicker Jace Gilbert drilled three field goals last week against the Wildcats after a 1-for-4 effort in the previous week’s 14-11 loss at Kansas. That showed Gilbert’s resiliency, but the Cyclones need him to focus mostly on PATs if they’re going to have a chance to win.
That means the running game must at least pose a mild threat regardless of whether ISU’s top tailback tandem of Jirehl Brock and Cartevious Norton is ready to go after sustaining injuries. Quarterback Hunter Dekkers notched his best improvised run of 24 yards last week, but a false start quashed that momentum. Fewer penalties and more precision could translate to multiple touchdowns for the Cyclones for the first time in three weeks.
What’s at stake
Confidence, mostly. Winnable games remain on the schedule for ISU, but most outside observers believe this will be an easy Texas win.
If the Cyclones can at least keep it close — as they almost always do — there will be elements to build from after the bye week. So improvement in all areas is of paramount importance, but an upset win on the road, of course, would provide a powerful boost to team morale with a home date with Oklahoma looming on Oct. 29.
Iowa State-Texas prediction
If Texas is indeed finally “back,” this could be a long day for ISU. But the jury’s still out on that.
Just three weeks ago, Longhorns fans groused about their team blowing a 14-point fourth quarter lead to Texas Tech before falling, 37-34, in overtime. Now they’re riding high after a 49-0 win over reeling Oklahoma.
I expect the Cyclones to play their best game of the season to date, but that likely won’t prevent a fourth straight Big 12 loss.
Texas 28, Iowa State 20