For the first time since 2017, the Iowa State Cyclones traveled down to Waco, Texas, and defeated the Baylor Bears (3-4, 2-3 Big 12) 30-18. With the victory, the Cyclones won their third straight and improved to 5-3 (4-1 in the Big 12). Through all the adversity coming into the season, Iowa State finds itself tied for first place in the Big 12 and is one win away from being bowl-eligible. A series that had been split in the last six meetings, once again came down to the wire. Here is how the Cyclones survived Baylor’s late push.
Cardiac Cyclones prevail
This game should not have been close. That is not being biased that is just stating how drastically this game changed as it progressed through the second half.
It was a classic tale of two halves. In the first 30 minutes, Rocco Becht and the Cyclone offense appeared under control. On Iowa State’s first possession of the game, Becht led the offense 55 yards down the field in five plays ending with a beautiful throw and catch to Jayden Higgins who made a great adjustment to haul in the game’s first points.
With the help of a dominating defensive performance, a hustling Malik Verdon interception, and a Cartevious Norton touchdown, Iowa State nearly played perfect for two quarters. Becht went into the locker room with 135 yards and one touchdown, but it would be his uncharacteristic interception late in the first half that changed the game.
Deep in their territory, Becht overthrew Jaylin Noel and was picked off by Deyvn Bobby setting up Baylor with their best field position of the game.
That turnover would hurt the Cyclone defense for the rest of the day as the Bears’ offense converted on 4th and 4, but TJ Tampa was tossed out of the game with a targeting call on the tackle. Dawson Pendergrass punched in the Baylor touchdown making it 17-6 at the half.
One week after erasing the school’s biggest deficit, Baylor began slowly crawling back into contention. Struggling all day with third down and the Bears were again faced with fourth down. This time Iowa State blew the coverage and allowed Monaray Baldwin to break free and haul in a perfectly thrown ball by Blake Shapen for a 69-yard touchdown. This touchdown stunned the fans and the Cyclones. After the miraculous fourth down conversion, Baylor snatched back the momentum. Looking like they would make another unbelievable comeback with a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive, Pendergrass found the endzone for his second time. While the Bears found themselves with a third touchdown in four drives.
Iowa State stood strong on the two-point conversion attempts holding Baylor scoreless on all three of their chances.
Norton and the running backs carry Iowa State to victory
At the beginning of the year, the Cyclones were focusing and at times forcing the run game to be their identity. Nate Scheelhaase always stresses the importance of his offense adapting to the play on the field. That is where Iowa State excelled in today. Becht did not have his strongest performance. Missing receivers long, missing reads, and just not completing passes to his usual level. The Cyclones adapted and focused on their backfield.
For the third straight week, Iowa State rushed for over 100 yards. Leading the way for the Cyclones was Norton who scored his first rushing touchdown of the year in the first half and broke out for an electric 49-yard touchdown run to start the second half. Norton who only had two touchdowns last season, finished the day with 58-yards, two touchdowns, and 5.8-yards per carry.
This was the most balanced game we have seen the running backs have this season. Eli Sanders carried the ball 14 times for 90 yards with a 6.4 average and exciting freshman Abu Sama ended his day with 21 yards on three carries and would have had even more if it hadn’t been for his fumble in the first half.
Promising signs from the offense, as when the passing game struggles, the running game takes over and goes for 162 total yards with nearly 100 of those yards coming in the second half alone.
Converting when it matters most
Most of the Baylor offense came from their fourth down conversions as they were successful on three of their six attempts. Overall it was not a bad day for the defense. Holding the Bears to just 67 yards on the ground, the Cyclones made it nearly impossible for Baylor to move the chains forcing them to convert on just four of their 14 third-down chances.
Matt Campbell mentioned in the postgame show that while Becht did not have his best performance “he made the throws when they mattered most.”
Iowa State finished 9-15 on third downs and controlled the time of possession. To make it really simple, the Cyclones converted when it mattered most.