A pair of Big 12 Conference teams heading in opposite directions face off in Austin on Saturday, as the 19th-ranked Texas Longhorns play host to the Iowa State Cyclones.
Iowa State has had an up-and-down season. All four of its losses have come against conference opponents, including last week's defeat at the hands of 12th-ranked Oklahoma, 35-20. Still, the Cyclones have notched impressive wins over Tulsa (38-23) and Baylor (35-21) at home, and TCU (37-23) on the road, and they are just one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the third time in four years.
"I don't believe that everyone's goal or priority is 'OK, we've just got to get that sixth win.' I think it's 'OK, we've got to go out and focus on beating Texas this week,'" sophomore linebacker Jevohn Miller said.
After suffering consecutive losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma in early October, Texas has bounced back with three straight wins, including a 31-22 road victory over nationally-ranked Texas Tech last week. Although its unlikely the Longhorns are going to catch Kansas State for first place in the Big 12, at 4-2 they are at least within striking distance with three conference games left to play, including the season finale against the Wildcats in Manhattan on Dec. 1.
"We've got to have the intensity and urgency we had Saturday (against Texas Tech), and we've got to do it everyday," head coach Mack Brown said of finishing the season out strong. "There's enough parity out there that you better be ready to play every week. We know now that anybody can beat you. We've played poorly at times this year, and we've played great at times. So it's time for us to finish by playing great."
These two programs have met nine times before, with Texas winning eight of those matchups.
The Iowa State offense (24.4 ppg) has experienced plenty of ups and downs this season. After tying a school record with 102 offensive plays in a 35-21 win over Baylor a few weeks back, it put up just 290 yards in last week's 35-20 loss to Oklahoma.
Quarterback Steele Jantz has been equally hit-or-miss. He has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,410 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but eight of his 12 scoring strikes came in just two games. He's been held without a touchdown in three of his past four contests.
Aaron Horne is the team's leading receiver with 35 receptions, but the Cyclones rely on a plethora of pass-catching options, as five different players have at least 200 receiving yards and multiple touchdowns.
The Cyclones employ a similar sharing strategy when it comes to their running backs, with Shontrelle Johnson (371 yards, two TDs) and James White (333 yards, two TDs) splitting the bulk of the carries.
While the offense has struggled, the defense has been the third-strongest unit in the conference, allowing just 21.4 ppg. Iowa State is also third in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 56 percent of trips inside the 20- yard line.
With the loss of All-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott (79 tackles) for the season with a shoulder injury, Iowa State's defense is led by another stud linebacker in A.J. Klein (73 tackles, INT), who was the Big 12's co-Defensive Player of the Year last season. The ball-hawking secondary is led by Durrell Givens, who has a national-best eight takeaways (three INTs, five fumble recoveries).
In the pass-happiest conference in the nation, Texas has done more than just hold its own, as it averages more than 40 ppg while racking up 441.1 ypg.
After being benched for Case McCoy in the fourth quarter of the Kansas game a few weeks ago, David Ash bounced back nicely in the win over Texas Tech. He needed to complete just 11-of-19 passes to accumulate 264 yards and three touchdowns. He's been rock solid all year long, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes for 1,990 yards with 15 TDs and five interceptions.
Taking a lot of pressure off Ash is an outstanding running game. Johnathan Gray is the team's leading rusher with 533 yards, and he had his second straight 100-yard rushing game last week. When down near the goal line, Joe Bergeron (464 yards) does most of the dirty work, as he has rushed in 16 touchdowns, only one behind KSU's Collin Klein for the Big 12 lead.
Mike Davis is coming off a career-high 165 receiving yards against Texas Tech. He now has three 100-yard receiving games this season, and he has clearly emerged as Ash's top target (38 receptions, 724 yards, six TDs).
The Texas defense has had its share of struggles this year (31.6 ppg), but it was stellar in last week's win, holding the high-powered Red Raiders to just two touchdowns.
Alex Okafor can get after the quarterback with the best of them, recording eight sacks and another 16 QB hurries. Quandre Diggs has a team-high three interceptions, and Steve Edmond and Kenny Vaccaro are great tacklers with 149 stops between them.