Texas Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian hugs Texas Longhorns wide receiver Xavier Worthy (1) as they walk back into the locker room after beating TCU Horned Frogs 29-26 in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, November. 11, 2023, at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. © Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Iowa State fully secured bowl eligibility with last weekend’s convincing 45-13 win at BYU and now sets its sights on one last meeting with SEC-bound Texas.
The Cyclones (6-4, 5-2 Big 12) and seventh-ranked Longhorns (9-1, 6-1) will clash at 7 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium (FOX) in a game that’s important for both teams. ISU seeks to enhance its bowl possibilities while retaining its faint hopes of playing in the Big 12 title game. Texas just lost star running back Jonathon Brooks to an ACL injury and simply must win out against the Cyclones and Texas Tech to ensure it reaches the league championship game while remaining within striking distance of a potential College Football Playoff berth.
So plenty will be on the line on a crisp, but not very cold autumn night in Ames — and here are five Longhorns to watch as the game unfolds:
QB Quinn Ewers
The 6-2 sophomore for Southlake, Texas returned from injury last week to help guide the Longhorns to a tense 29-26 triumph over upset-minded TCU. Ewers completed 22 of 33 passes for 317 yards and a touchdown in that win. He also threw one interception. Ewers has also become a capable runner when a few yards are needed and he’s strode into the end zone on his own five times this season. He ranks second in the Big 12 in several statistical categories, including completion percentage (70.3), passing yards per game (279.0), and quarterback rating (162.1). Ewers’s better-than-three-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio (14-to-4) also is second-best among league quarterbacks. So he can do it all as he showed against the Cyclones in last season’s 24-21 win in which he threw three touchdown passes to zero interceptions.
LB Jaylan Ford
Cyclone fans are certainly well-acquainted with Ford, who played a key role in Texas’s comeback win at home last season. Ford’s interception of then-ISU quarterback Hunter Dekkers prevented a touchdown that would have put the Longhorns down, 14-0, in the first quarter. Ford’s fourth-quarter fumble recovery then ended the Cyclones’ fading hopes for a win in the final two minutes. So he’ll make plays — and lots of them. The 6-3, 242-pound senior leads Texas with 74 tackles and eclipsed the 100-tackle mark with ease last season while earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. Ford boasts two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery this season, so he’s a big-time playmaker on a defense that’s filled with them.
WR Xavier Worthy
The lithe 6-1, 172-pound junior hasn’t been the Longhorns’ top big-play threat this season — that honor goes to fellow junior Adonai Mitchell — but he has been the team’s most reliable receiver by far, which is especially important now that Brooks is out for the season with the torn ACL. Worthy’s caught just four touchdown passes compared to Mitchell’s nine, but he’s been a third-down conversion machine who can turn a short pass into a big gain with regularity. Worthy’s also one the nation’s best punt returners, averaging 18.1 yards per attempt. He’s returned one punt for a touchdown — and he scored two of Texas’s three touchdowns last season against ISU, so should demand extra attention on Saturday.
DE Ethan Burke
Burke isn’t your typical edge rusher. He’s not even your typical football player. He’s a highly decorated lacrosse player who didn’t expect to play football in college, but all he’s done in his sophomore season with the Longhorns is lead the team in sacks with five. The 6-6, 257-pounder from Austin has also forced a fumble and serves as an extremely disruptive agent on the outside. Burke notched two sacks in Texas’s 33-30 overtime win over Kansas State two weeks ago, so he tends to excel in critical moments.
DT T’Vondre Sweat
The 6-4, 362-pound fifth-year senior teams with fellow defensive lineman Byron Murphy to form one of the best interior tandems in the country. Sweat ranks fifth on the team in tackles with 35 and only has two sacks to Murphy’s 3.5, but sets himself apart in pass defense, where he’s batted down three passes this season. Sweat’s also an elite run-stopper, helping the Longhorns rank ninth nationally in rushing defense (90.1 yards per game).