Two words. Bowl eligible. With an impressive 45-13 victory over the BYU Cougars (5-5, 2-5 in the Big 12) the Iowa State Cyclones (6-4, 5-2) clinched a postseason appearance and now sit in a four-way tie for second in the conference continuing to overachieve through all the adversity.
Going into the anticipated late-night matchup, the main concern on the minds of many Cyclone fans was if they would come out aggressive unlike their slow start against Kansas last week. Nate Scheelhaase and the offense responded to the criticism with a 443-yard performance night as the Cyclones never took their foot off the pedal once they gained momentum on the first play of the game.
Heading into Saturday, it was clear with or without Jeremiah Cooper, Iowa State would have opportunities to win the turnover battle against a struggling Cougars offense. Getting the start for BYU for the second consecutive week was junior Jake Retzlaff. After his 210-yard performance last week at West Virginia, Retzlaff struggled from the game's first snap. Cyclone linebacker, Will Mclaughlin picked off Retzlaff deep in Cougar territory.
Two runs by Eli Sanders set up a 4-yard touchdown pass from Rocco Becht to Jaylin Noel for the night's first points. The turnovers weren’t done from there. BYU fumbled their following kick return, yet again setting up Becht and the offense with great field position. Down 10-0 BYU needed to respond.
After failing to gain a single yard the first time with the ball, the Cougars persevered and put together a 7-play, 75-yard scoring drive in just under three minutes. While the Ground game led the Cougars down the field with ease, Retzlaff and company ran for 70yds on six plays, it was a dart in the middle of the endzone to Jojo Phillips that put BYU on the board for the first time of the night. They would not score again until 10:05 in the third quarter, thanks to the Cyclone defense only allowing 22 total yards of offense by the end of the first half.
Sama, the run game, and the offense are back on track
Iowa State gained that much-needed sixth win of the season and pulled off something no team had been able to achieve all year long in beating BYU on their home turf, but that was not the whole story. The story was how the Cyclone offense bounced back after their emotional loss to Kansas last week.
The run game was held in control last weekend with only 75 total yards, that was not the case tonight. Three backs scored tonight, but no one had a bigger night than freshman Abu Sama III. The Southeast Polk star had not been given the ball after his fumble against Baylor three weeks ago, tonight even Matt Campbell could not get the ball out of Sama’s hands. With 5:36 left in the third quarter, Sama broke out an electric 59-yard touchdown run sealing the deal for the Cyclones. This is the longest rushing touchdown by Iowa State since 2021.
Sama finished with 8 carries, 110 yards and two touchdowns. Eli Sanders added 57 yards and a solo touchdown while Cartevious Norton contributed 42 yards on the ground a one touchdown.
What Iowa State has struggled to do this season is having a balanced offensive attack. That was not the case tonight. Becht threw for 209 yards and the Cyclones ran for 234 yards. It is as simple as when the passing game works it opens up the run game and vice versa. Building off of a strong ground game, Becht led the team to score on seven of their 12 drives with the help of a 98-yard, two-touchdown night from Noel.
A major stat many will overlook but played a vital role in the Cyclones’ success was their ability to convert on third down. Iowa State was faced with an average third-down distance of 7.2 yards and only went three and out twice the entire night.
A Big 12 Championship appearance is not out of play
Iowa State won four games last season. Now, with freshmen and sophomores playing impactful minutes, the Cyclones find themselves two wins away from kicking off in Dallas. The Big 12 conference is up for grabs with Iowa State’s next opponent, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns (9-1, 6-1) leading the way. Today both the No. 15 Oklahoma State Cowboys and the No. 16 Kansas Jayhawks were upset giving the Cyclones hope.
The final home game of the season will be an unbelievable environment as the Cyclones look to take down the Longhorns in their final meeting next Saturday at 7 p.m.