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AMES, Iowa (AP) – Charlie Strong has Texas trending upward.
Paul Rhoads is looking to get Iowa State moving in a similar direction — and keep his job in the process.
The Longhorns (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) have won two straight, including a victory over No. 14 Oklahoma, to vault back into contention for a bowl bid ahead of Saturday’s visit to Iowa State.
The Cyclones (2-5, 1-3) have dropped three in a row against teams currently ranked first, second and fifth in scoring offense. The losing streak has led to big changes, as offensive coordinator Mark Mangino parted ways with Rhoads just hours before sophomore Joel Lanning was named the new starting quarterback.
Texas has turned things around behind a defense that has allowed just 26 points in its last two games.
Iowa State has let up 156 points during its current losing streak — though it held No. 2 Baylor to just 10 points in the second half last week.
The Cyclones are just 7-24 since the start of 2013, and athletic director Jamie Pollard indicated this week that Rhoads will need to show significant progress over the last five games to earn an eighth season.
“Between Saturday and five weeks from now, we’ve got to make some hay,” Pollard told Des Moines, Iowa radio station KXNO on Monday.
Here are some of the crucial things to consider as Texas looks for its sixth straight win in Ames:
HAVE YOU HEARD?: Texas freshman Jerrod Heard has thrown for just 200 yards over his last three games. But he’s rushed for 187 yards during that span, spearheading an offense that has evolved into a run-first attack. The Longhorns also use backup Tyrone Swoopes in a package it has dubbed the “18 Wheeler,” and he scored three rushing touchdowns in last week’s 23-9 win over Kansas State “You have to have an identity. It’s running the football. Have not lost confidence in Jerrod throwing the ball at all,” Strong said.
LANNING SPOT: Iowa State turned to Lanning last week after senior Sam Richardson struggled yet again. Lanning responded with three TD passes in a 45-27 loss to No. 2 Baylor. Lanning has thrown for four touchdowns in just 27 passes against Big 12 competition. “It’s awesome. It’s what I’ve wanted since I’ve been here, to get a chance. Now I’ve got to go out there and prove I can play,” Lanning said.
ROAD WOES: Texas has played two true road games and was outscored 88-10 by Notre Dame and TCU. “We have to play better. We have to start off right,” Strong said. Texas beat Iowa State 31-30 in Ames two years ago on a late TD that appeared to be a fumble but was instead ruled a score.
MAGIC MIKE: Iowa State’s Mike Warren has rushed for at least 120 yards in four of his last five games and leads all freshmen nationally with 797 yards — despite carrying the ball just nine times in the Cyclones first two games. Lanning is also a good runner, so expect interim offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy to go to the ground early and often.
AUSTIN THRILLER: Iowa State and Texas will struggle to live up to the excitement of last year’s game, when the Cyclones and Longhorns combined for 17 points in the final two minutes. Nick Rose kicked a 21-yard field goal with three seconds left to give Texas a 48-45 win.
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