Here is a look at five storylines that could determine the outcome of Texas' game vs. Iowa State:
1. Alarm Bells
The initial thought and executed plan when the first 11 a.m. kick time appeared on Texas’ schedule was to have the staff start with text messages to players between 6 and 6:30 a.m. on the Monday prior to the game and continue right on through Saturday. The theory was the players would get the message and have their internal clocks set by Saturday.
It’s no wonder then that Texas has slept-walked through the first two 11 a.m. games.
"We totally stunk at Dallas," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "We were a little better at Kansas. So maybe the third time is a charm here. Maybe they'll play better on Saturday."
From the players’ point of view it is not that they are asleep at the game time. They said the time of the game should not matter and that, in those past two games, it was not a factor in the slow start. Instead it was more a function of understanding the job at hand.
"It comes down to us preparing and being focused and ready to play," Poehlmann said. "Doesn't matter what time of day it is."
2. Bringing Brown Back
Well, it took nine games but co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin finally said what everybody else has been thinking really since Johnathan Gray was signed -- "there’s only one ball."
Harsin uttered that phrase when asked about Malcolm Brown coming back from an ankle injury and being in the mix with Gray, Daje Johnson, D.J. Monroe and Joe Bergeron. He’s right, of course, there is only one ball. And more than likely Harsin is going to put that ball into Gray’s hands the most.
The freshman running back has back-to-back 100-yard games and has opened each of those games with a run that has put the defense on its heels. But giving Gray the green light does not mean Harsin is dismissing Brown. The sophomore is a different runner than Gray and can add some much-needed punch on the outside runs.
Look for Harsin to use Brown on plays that maybe are not obvious runs, such as second-and-7 or longer. Because Brown has a better ability than Gray to get to the outside and break a tackle or two, Texas is likely to give him a try on aforementioned downs. On those type of downs what Texas is trying to do is at least get half the yards to make third down manageable. Brown, who has not had a negative play yet, gives the Longhorns their best chance of dong that while also still giving them an explosive play threat.
3. Long drive champs
Texas can score from anywhere. Mike Davis and David Ash proved that against Texas Tech when they hooked up for a 75-yard, one-play touchdown. Now while a quick-strike touchdown like that one might not happen against Iowa state, it is pretty safe bet that Texas will be able to pull off a long, sustained drive against the Cyclones.
The Longhorns have had 23 touchdown drives of 75 or more yards. Only one school in FBS has more. No, you do not get a prize for guessing Oregon. The Ducks have 26.
While 23 touchdown drives of 75 or more yards is impressive, only 19 three and outs might be more impressive, especially considering the Oklahoma game.
The lack of three-and-outs coupled with the long drives should help keep what has been a banged-up defense off the field. Or, at the very least, allow those players some time to rest between series. That means Texas, which has been dominant in the fourth quarter in the last two games, should be poised to play that way against Iowa State.
4. Wrapping up
Texas tackling has improved. That is not a feeble attempt at a one-liner. Seriously, it is better. The Longhorns only had eight missed tackles against Texas Tech. That six fewer than it had against Kansas a week earlier.
And the yards after contact were reduced by more than 100. Tech only had 38 YAC on runs, according to the Texas coaches. ESPN Stats & Info calculated YAC on runs against Kansas at 135.
The numbers may continue to improve against Iowa State. The Cyclones do not have a true breakaway player. Although Steele Jantz is a dual-threat quarterback, Texas has been fairly decent at containing those types of players.
Now where Texas has to be wary is with the Peter Jinkens at weakside linebacker. Jinkens could get the start in place of Kendall Thompson. Thompson suffered a concussion against Tech. Jinkens, a true freshman, played the entire fourth quarter for Texas. But Texas dominated the ball for most of that quarter.
Steve Edmond has played significantly better at middle linebacker and might be able to pick up some of the slack. Edmond also said there is no difference in Jinkens and Thompson. In Edmond’s view, the freshman should be able to come in and do everything Thompson was able to do on the field.
5. Good not great
Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson took his time when asked whether or not Texas could now, at 7-2, be considered a good team. After a few moments all he would allow was a "we’re getting there."
Really that is the mentality that might serve this team the best. Players and coaches alike might have been slightly ahead of schedule in believing this was a good team way back in August and September. And because of that they were burned and criticized after the loss to Oklahoma.
So now to be more reserved in comments and thoughts is the prudent move. It also could be considered a healthy approach to take if Texas wants to stay hungry down the stretch.
"We know we haven't played our best games, but we're getting close to it," Jackson said. "So there is a lot of emphasis on we have to do what we can so we can win against Iowa State. So just get ready for it."