When Iowa State goes to the air, there isn't any doubt where quarterback Austin Arnaud would like to go with the ball. The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Franklin is much more than just a big security blanket. He has excellent hands and can test a defense down the seams. He's a tough matchup for any team, as he excels at positioning his body between the defender and the ball, especially when he's matched up with safeties. Against linebackers, his route running often carries the day. Acho has come on the past few weeks and is an exceptional in-space player and sure tackler. Jamming up Franklin at the line would go a long way toward limiting Arnaud's options.
Texas defensive ends vs. Iowa State offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele
Osemele is one of the Big 12's top talents at his position. The massive (6-5 335) tackle is outstanding at paving the way in the run game against lighter ends, and Osemele is also pretty good at protecting Arnaud. He can be beaten with a speed rush from time-to-time, but the 2009 second-team All-Big 12'er has done a nice job against ends not named Adrian Clayborn. If the Longhorns can force Iowa State into third-and-long, it is imperative that ends Sam Acho, Eddie Jones and Jackson Jeffcoat find their way home on Arnaud, who can bully his way to a first down or find one of the Cyclones' several possession receivers. If Arnaud is under pressure, he's likely to make a mistake.
Texas defensive tackle Alex Okafor vs. the Iowa State interior line
On running downs, the 265-270 pound Okafor could find himself outweighed by 60-65 pounds by the players blocking him at times. Okafor is known for playing with low pad level, and he'll need to against players like Ben Lamaak, Alex Alvarez and Hayworth Hicks. If Iowa State can run the ball and keep Arnaud in shorter situations, they're awfully tough to stop, and backs like Alexander Robinson and Shontrelle Johnson are exceptional at hiding behind their linemen, only to pop into a crease and make a big play. Texas coaches said Okafor's run defense was one of the main reasons for the improvement from UCLA to Nebraska. Now, he'll have to keep that trend going.
The Iowa State run defense is among the worst in the league, with the Cyclones allowing 219.1 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry. Part of that is because the Cyclones aren't great at tackle, where Johnson (278 pounds) and Ruempolhamer (280) are undersized and can be moved off the ball. That's good news for a Texas interior group of David Snow, Michael Huey and Mason Walters that is playing very well right now. The Longhorns would love to establish a running game in this one, and how well they control the interior could be a huge part of how the game shapes out from that end. The Longhorns took a big step forward by running the ball well against Nebraska. Now, can they maintain that attack?
Gilbert's running doesn't look as pretty as Vince Young or Colt McCoy's running styles, but last weekend it was difficult to argue with his effectiveness. Gilbert rushed for 71 yards, the second-best running performance by a Texas ball-carrier this year (Cody Johnson topped him the same week, running for 73 yards). Klein and Knott have each had great years and have combined to make nearly 150 tackles in seven games. Both are in the conference's top four in tackles per game, and both are capable of keying on the Texas running game. If Gilbert can again add his running as a wrinkle, it could take the linebackers out of their games, forcing them to come up more quickly on passing downs and opening up the middle of the field for throws to the backs and receivers.
Iowa State is second in the Big 12 in turnover margin this year, boasting a plus-6 in seven games. Texas is 10th with a margin of minus-4 in six games. Penalties per game brings the same margin, with Iowa State giving away the second fewest penalties and Texas finishing 10th in that category. It hasn't been any secret that when the Longhorns have struggled this year, it has largely been by their own hand. Take care of the ball, avoid silly penalties, and the Longhorns should be all right.
On paper, this shouldn't be a contest. The Cyclones rank last in the league in both total offense and total defense, putting up just 307.6 yards while allowing 455.3 yards per game. But the games aren't played on paper, and Texas has only hit the 30-point mark twice this year, against Rice and Wyoming. If things don't go well for the Texas offense, this could be another too-close-for-comfort effort. But if the Longhorns can remain patient, they'll find holes to exploit, and their defense should be too good in this one.
Iowa State 7