Cyclones Bringing Blue Collar Work Ethic

Are you ready for some (smashmouth) football? Texas' Big 12 opener Saturday against Iowa State shapes up as the most physical home game of the season.

Iowa State's power running game is undergirded by the biggest and deepest O-line Texas will face in conference play. Both tackles are 6-7 and 320+ pounds; the four seniors on the offensive front are legitimate pro prospects.

"They try to knock you off the ball," Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said.

But ISU will run into a Texas D-line that, so far, has lived up to billing as the stoutest front-four that the program has produced in a quarter-century. This promises to be one of those hand-to-hand, strength-on-strength (or, Darrell Royal once said, 'stink-on-stink') battles that is waged primarily in the trenches.

"They're going to try to run the ball every time," Brown said Wednesday. "They're going to come in here, line up, and try to bloody our nose. They're going to hit us right in the mouth, keep the ball and use play-action pass to try to get the ball deep with their tall receivers."

RB Stevie Hicks (6-2, 212) has drawn a few comparisons to Cedric Benson because he's a workhorse and slasher. He battled injuries last season after running for 1,062 yards as a sophomore and is now averaging 90.3 ypg (4.5 ypc) through three contests. Longhorn coaches are quick to point out that QB Bret Meyer is the other 'running back' in the Cyclone offense. The junior became the Big 12's most experienced and dynamic QBs when Vince Young took his show to the League. Meyer became ISU's all-time passing leader (5,391 yards) with his 152 yards through the air at Iowa last Saturday, but he is a dual-threat QB who can make plays with his feet.

"Even though it's just one back, it's still a lot of north-and-south, downhill football, even with the quarterback runs," Chizik noted. "The quarterback runs basically turn into quarterback iso's where they're putting a back on the linebacker and running him up in there."

Statistically, ISU's ground game isn't eye-opening, averaging a middle-of-the-pack 155.7 yards per game. But the Cyclones got 74 rushing yards from Meyer, and another 73 from Hicks, to touch Iowa for 171 net yards on the ground. ISU was then forced to go airborne late in the third quarter when the Hawkeyes erased a double-digit deficit and eventually posted a 27-17 win. But the visitors will not face a nastier front four all season than the one across the LOS from them this Saturday.

"We've played a high, high emphasis on stopping the run because there were times last year when I didn't think we were very good at it," Chizik said. "I think we've bought into the mentality of not letting anybody run the ball on us. This will be a great game to see if that is still in effect because Iowa State can run the ball with two different threats."

Through three games, the Horns have held opponents to one-yard-and-a-cloud-of-dust per rush, yielding just 75 yards on 77 attempts. Texas has also allowed just one rushing TD on the young season.

"It's a good sign right now," Chizik said of his crew that is currently ranked No. 2 against the run. "If it's that way at the end of the year, I'd say it's really, really good."

Meanwhile, Texas' powerful running game put Brown's desire for balance on the back burner at Rice. The Horns netted 330 rushing yards on 43 attempts while calling for just 11 passes, completing 10. Texas' 238 ypg is tops among Big 12 teams and No. 8 nationally.

Senior Greg Johnson has handled all three phases of the kicking game, and it doesn't look like that's going to change by Saturday. Freshman PK Hunter Lawrence, a two-time all-state selection, has dealt with a nagging back injury during the non-conference slate. Yet, Johnson has proven effective, Brown said, and has fended off the competition. Johnson FG attempts have been true from 50+ yards in practice, Brown added.

"He's done really well and he's done everything right in practice. He has not missed (a FG) all week. We're trying to kick him less in practice. He overworks sometimes, with the punting and the kickoffs and the field goals. We're limiting the number he gets in practice."

Junior Justin Moore can handle all three facets of the kicking game.

"If we continue to play Greg, and it gets to a point where Hunter could be redshirted, then we would use Justin in a backup role rather than bringing Hunter out. Greg is doing so well, and we don't want to ruin Hunter's (redshirt) year unless he would take over."

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