AMES, Iowa (AP) -- It’s been yet another trying week for Texas coach Mack Brown.
Now more than ever, Brown can’t afford to lose at Iowa State.
Beloved Longhorns legend Earl Campbell suggested over the weekend that it was time for the school to move on like Southern California did in firing Lane Kiffin. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds, perhaps Brown’s most ardent supporter, announced Tuesday that he’s retiring in 2014.
It’s under all that tumult that Brown brings the Longhorns (2-2, 1-0 Big 12) to Ames for a Thursday night matchup against the rebuilding Cyclones (1-2, 0-1).
With an extra week to prepare for Iowa State—and with Oklahoma next on the schedule—this isn’t a game Brown can let slip away. The “bye week gave us an opportunity to go back and look at things, positive and concerns, over the first four ball games and prepare for the next two opponents. It also gave us a chance to get some guys better,” Brown said.
It’s almost easy to forget that the Longhorns are coming off a Big 12 win.
Texas opened league play with a 31-21 win over Kansas State, which halted a two-game losing streak. The Texas defense showed marked improvement after a pair of dismal outings and Johnathan Gray had 141 yards rushing and a pair of TDs.
“There is (less tension) but there’s still that sense of urgency,” Texas lineman Mason Walters said. “We are where we want to be in conference right now. As we learned early in the season, anything can happen at any time.”
The big question mark for the Longhorns will be at quarterback. Backup Case McCoy will start in place of David Ash, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.
McCoy has thrown for 330 yards and a touchdown on just 5.8 yards per attempt.
Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson has been fighting an ankle injury since the second half of a loss to Northern Iowa in the opener. But he threw for 255 yards and two TDs in a 38-21 win at Tulsa last Thursday, and Aaron Wimberly had 137 yards rushing on just 19 carries.
Here are five things to look out for as Texas and Iowa State kick off the first full week of Big 12 play.
A WIN FOR WIMBERLY: Iowa State beat out Penn State, TCU and others for Wimberly, a junior college transfer from Iowa Western, and it took just three games for him to seize the starting job.
Wimberly averaged 7.2 yards a carry against Tulsa and will likely be the featured back over seniors James White and Shontrelle Johnson moving forward. “He was one of those guys that you didn’t have to spend a lot of time evaluating. You saw the speed. You saw the ability to hit a small hole. You saw very little wasted movement and motion,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
DAJE SHOULD BE A-OK: Texas expects to get back wide receiver/running back Daje Johnson, one of its most explosive playmakers. Johnson hurt his ankle on the third play of a loss at BYU and hasn’t played since. “He looks as good as he did the first couple games. He looks great in practice. There’s no way I’m catching him,” joked Texas guard Trey Hopkins.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: After allowing 21 first-half points to FCS Northern Iowa in a 28-20 loss, Iowa State’s young defense has improved considerably. The Cyclones have allowed just 55 points in their last 10 quarters.
ROBINSON’S PROGRESS: The Longhorns hired Greg Robinson to take over for the fired Manny Diaz after the loss to BYU early last month, and the extra time afforded by last week’s bye helped Robinson get more comfortable with his players. Brown hinted that Texas will likely bring more pressure, especially on third downs.
“We had to get our whole package in defensively. Greg (Robinson) has had three weeks now instead of three days. He’s getting it there. I’m impressed by the way the coaches are working together,” Brown said.
STRANGE OMENS FOR IOWA STATE: The Cyclones have been terrible in Big 12 openers over the last decade, losing 10 straight since 2002. They’ve been nearly as bad against Texas, losing nine of 10 meetings overall. Iowa State has also never beaten Texas at home, losing 37-14 in the league opener in Ames two years ago. But the Cyclones are 10-2 in their last 12 games played on Thursday night, and a rare nationally televised home game should only add to Iowa State’s motivation.