There were three major developments in Saturday night’s game between No. 15 Texas and No. 16 Iowa State and the Big 12 title race as a whole, and two of them happened before the game even started.
The first happened last week, when Iowa State running back David Montgomery was ejected from the Cyclones’ win over Baylor for fighting, which triggered an automatic suspension for the first half of Saturday night’s game.
The second occurred an hour before the game started and 450 miles north of Austin, when Oklahoma State upset No. 9 West Virginia. That stunner turned Saturday night’s game into a de facto Big 12 semifinal where, regardless of the outcome of West Virginia’s game with No. 6 Oklahoma Friday night in Morgantown, the winner between Iowa State and Texas would control their own destiny to reach the Big 12 title game.
The second major development came on the final play from scrimmage of the first half. Scrambling toward the Iowa State end zone, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger put his head down in an attempt to power toward the first down marker. He was stopped short and, worse, took a shot to the same right, throwing shoulder that knocked him out of UT’s win over Baylor on Oct. 13. Ehlinger remained in uniform and threw warm-up passes on the sideline but did not return.
While that was obviously bad news for Texas (8-3, 6-2 Big 12), the good news is that the Longhorns dominated the game with and without its star quarterback. Ehlinger’s scramble helped put the Longhorns up 17-3, and a 27-yard touchdown pass from backup Shane Buechele to Lil'Jordan Humphrey with 36 seconds left in the third quarter put the game on ice as Texas cruised to an easier-than-expected 24-10 win.
Before the Ehlinger injury, the sophomore quarterback was once again excellent. Texas jumped out to an early lead, rolling 80 yards in nine plays and scoring on a 7-yard Ehlinger run.
The Cyclones (6-4, 5-3 Big 12) answered with a field goal but, after a pair of punts, the Longhorns moved 94 yards in 10 plays to push the lead to 11, scoring on a 19-yard swing pass from Ehlinger to running back Keaontay Ingram to put Texas up 14-3 with 9:53 left in the first half. He finished the game 12-of-15 for 137 yards and a touchdown with 32 rushing yards and another score, continuing his Big 12 record streak of consecutive passes without an interception.
The absence of Montgomery and the early deficit put the game in Brock Purdy‘s hands, and for the first time in his young career the Iowa State freshman looked like a freshman. He was 10-of-23 passing for 130 yards with an interception and was sacked five times before leaving the game in the fourth quarter due to injury. Hakeem Butler posted six grabs for 99 yards, but no other Iowa State wideout posted more than 14 receiving yards. By the time Montgomery entered the game, the Cyclones trailed by 14 and had failed to establish any sort of a rhythm. He finished 10 carries for 33 yards and a garbage-time touchdown with 1:33 remaining and Iowa State trailing by 21.
With Ehlinger’s status unknown moving forward, the Texas offense still clicked on all cylinders. Tre Watson carried 13 times for 84 yards, including a 39-yard run that was the longest among any Longhorn this season, and Buechele completed all 10 of his passes for 89 yards and a score. Humphrey caught seven passes for 86 yards and the score, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
Ehlinger did not miss any time after suffering the Grade 1 AC sprain that knocked him out of the Baylor game, but Texas was off the following week. The Longhorns play Friday at Kansas and the stakes are the same regardless of who plays quarterback — a win puts them back in the Big 12 Championship.