It would have made sense for the Longhorns to feel a bit of frustration heading into halftime of Saturday’s contest with Iowa State.
Coming off a three-game losing streak, Texas scored just three points in the first half and trailed the one-win Cyclones, 3-6. And with questions already mounting about head coach Charlie Strong’s job security, trailing the Big 12’s cellar-dweller only added to the pressure.
“We put [the pressure] on ourselves,” sophomore linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “I can’t speak for the rest of the team, but I think we play for Charlie and each other ... We love that man.”
But instead of succumbing to the pressure, Texas stayed calm and came out firing in the second half. Freshman quarterback Shane Buechele found sophomore Jerrod Heard for a 37-yard touchdown on the Longhorns’ first drive coming out of the locker room, and Texas didn’t look back from there. When the clock struck zero, the Longhorns losing streak was over with a 27-6 win.
“[The losing streak] was like when [you’re] playing UNO and you keep losing and there’s that frustration,” Heard said. “We had to get over the hump, and we did by scoring and now we got to continue to keep it rolling.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Longhorns on Saturday, featuring a Jekyll and Hyde offensive attack. Texas’ offense sputtered throughout the first half while failing to find the end zone. But the floodgates opened after Buechele found Heard, as Texas followed up the score with two-straight touchdowns.
“Our offense is so explosive,” Strong said. “I know that at any point we can go score... We knew it was going to take a little time and then all of a sudden we were going to hit the home run, and then boom, we hit another one.”
The first half was déjà vu from 2015’s 24-0 loss to Iowa State, as the Longhorn offense struggled. Texas’ first five drives resulted in four punts and a fumble, conjuring up memories of last season’s matchup.
However, the Longhorns remained in the game on the back of their defense. Texas dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, bottling the Cyclone running game while pressuring the passer. The burnt orange registered three sacks in the first half and eight on the evening.
“Our front seven play was fantastic all week,” senior defensive lineman Paul Boyette said. “Coach Strong challenged us to get sacks and quarterback pressures … and we knew we could buy in and get to the quarterback.”
Buechele found his rhythm in the second half, going 18-23 for 230 yards after halftime. He connected with fellow freshman Devin Duvernay midway through the third quarter on a 75-yard strike, giving Texas an 11-point lead.
The tandem has developed quite the rapport through six weeks. Buechele found Duvernay for a 63-yard touchdown at the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma last week, connecting on a similar route as Saturday’s score. And as Duvernay develops, he should become a greater part of the Longhorns’ offensive arsenal.
“I’ve prepared myself well to catch up with the offense and learn things faster,” Duvernay said. “I pretty much have [the playbook] down at this point.”
Texas added to its lead with two more scores following Duvernay’s catch, including an 18-yard scamper from junior running back D’Onta Foreman. The junior ended his night with 30 carries for 136 yards, the seventh-straight game in which he’s rushed for over 100 yards.
Saturday’s contest gave the Longhorns their first conference victory of the year and their first win in 34 days. It wasn’t an easy start in Austin, but Strong ultimately notched another win under his belt and another week to get his program back on track.
“We’ve got six games left, but we know we have to continue to get better,” Strong said. “It’s all about being the best each and every day.”