Texas broke out of a three-game losing streak behind a dominant performance from the most unlikely of places: the defense.
It started up front, with a relentless pass rush that chased and battered Iowa State quarterback with eight sacks.
“We probably missed three or four more,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said.
The Longhorns (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) didn’t allow a touchdown in a 27-6 win Saturday that was by far their best defensive performance after three straight games of pratfalls and blown plays.
The pressure up front created enough chaos that the Longhorns’ beleaguered secondary didn’t get beat deep. During their three-game skid, the Longhorns had given up 10 touchdown passes averaging 40 yards.
“If you continue to apply pressure up front, it will give you a chance on the back end,” Strong said.
The sacks started early. One of Iowa State’s biggest plays was a 30-yard completion to the Texas 20 in the first quarter. A sack by freshman linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch stopped the drive and forced a field goal.
The pressure came from places not seen before. McCulloch, defensive end Bryce Cottrell and nose tackle Chris Nelson all got their first sacks of the season. While some came from blitzes, others came from a dominant surge at the line of scrimmage.
“That kind of pursuit can be a game changer,” Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager said.
It certainly disrupted Iowa State, which had seemed to find its rhythm offensively and was averaging 39 points in its previous three Big 12 games.
One good game barely moved the needle as far as total defense goes, as Texas still ranks No. 103 in the country. But the Longhorns rank among the national team sack leaders at No. 4 with 23.
Texas travels this week to Kansas State, where the Longhorns haven’t won since 2002. The Longhorns are 0-3 on the road this season and every game has turned into a must-win scenario for Strong, who is 14-17 in this third season and facing the possibility of losing his job unless he strings together a bunch of wins.
Hager said the Texas players know what’s at stake for their season and their coach.
“Now the people that didn’t realize what these games mean and what it’s going to take, they are starting to realize. We’ve got a man that we love that we’ve got to keep,” Hager said.
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