Ames, IA - To beat a top-ten team in the country, you must be perfect on both sides of the ball for the full 60 minutes. The Iowa State Cyclones (6-5, 5-3 in the Big 12) on Saturday night could not play a complete game falling to the seventh-ranked Texas Longhorns (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) 26-16 on senior night. Texas continues to reign atop the Big 12 recording their first 10-win season since 2009.
“We don’t have a damn thing to be embarrassed about and I am really excited to get back to work with this football team,” head coach Matt Campbell said. “Proud of our kids, and they gave great effort and again we are an inch away, that is the number seven team in the country.”
Despite the loss, fans saw a record-breaking performance from their redshirt freshman, quarterback Rocco Becht. Becht broke Iowa State legend Brock Purdy's freshman passing touchdown record with his 17th touchdown coming on an Easton Dean 66-yard reception. His performance in the second half was the only reason the Cyclones stayed in the game, even with his head-scratching interception late in the third. Becht ended the second half with only one incomplete pass, two touchdowns, and one interception, with 213 yards.
Here is how the final meeting for the foreseeable future against the Longhorns played out.
First-half defensive battle
Iowa State could not have asked for a better first half. Both offenses were sloppy and there were only nine combined points scored. That spells success for a defensive-minded Cyclone squad. Going into the game, it was clear that whatever team could get pressure on the quarterback would come out on top. To much surprise, it was not the conference-leading Longhorn defensive line that grabbed the game's first quarterback hit. Iowa State’s defense came out of the tunnel ready to be physical up front. Joey Petersen and Tyler Onyedim took down Quinn Ewers twice on Texas’ first drive of the night.
“I think the defense as a whole I think we did well, Texas is a good team,” Petersen said. “There is definitely some stuff we need to clean up.”
By the end of the first 15 minutes, Iowa State found themselves with a 3-0 lead and holding one of the top offenses in the country to just 49 yards passing and to just one converted third down attempt out of their four chances. Texas struggled against the front line of the Cyclones. With that came frustration leading to penalties. The Longhorns could not keep the laundry off the field with a total of six penalties resulting in 49 yards lost. Two first-half touchdowns were erased off the board for Texas because of penalties.
Campbell and the players continued to speak on the fact this young team is just a “hair off” from winning these games. One of the reasons Iowa State could not complete the upset was that they wasted their opportunities. In the first half, Jeremiah Cooper, who returned to the field for the first time since the October 28, meeting versus Baylor, forced a fumble with a shoelace tackle on Xavier Worthy forcing a fumble that was recovered by Will McLaughlin. Giving Iowa State a chance to take the lead gained just over 30 yards and were forced to punt.
Just down three going into the half, Iowa State felt like they could take advantage by receiving the ball to start the second half. The Cyclones went three and out on their opening drive of the third quarter. Texas took advantage of Iowa State’s struggles and adjusted at the half scoring on three of their final four drives.
“We never got the stop tonight,” Campbell said. “Offensively we were playing catchup.”
Even when Iowa State succeeded, Texas would just find a way to kill the momentum the Cyclones were pursuing. Down 13-3 in the third Rocco went a perfect 4-4 for 85 yards leading the Cyclones down and throwing his first touchdown pass to Eli Sanders on a beautiful play-action rollout. With the Jack Trice faithful roaring, the Longhorns blocked the PAT and returned it for a two-point conversion. It was that kind of night for the Cyclones.
One team could run…one could not
Texas has the most physical defensive line the Cyclones will see this season and they have caused headaches for all offenses trying to run the ball. They did not give Iowa State just a headache running the ball…it was a migraine. Going into halftime Texas rushed for just 35 yards and the Cyclones had 5 yards on the ground. One team made adjustments…one did not.
Out of the gates, Texas made an emphasis on controlling the time of possession and pounding the rock on the ground. The Longhorns scored on their first drive of the second half, charging 91 yards up the field in nine plays. The drive ended with Ewers finding Jordan Whittington for a touchdown reception after the Cyclone secondary broke down, but the drive was successful because of the six running plays that went for 45 yards.
Iowa State continued to try to establish the run even with Becht connecting with Jayden Higgins on the regular who hauled in seven catches for 104 yards (ninth 100+ yard receiving game in school history against Texas). It seemed as if the Cyclones would convert on a big passing play that would put them in Longhorn territory but then try to go back to the run and be stopped well behind the line of scrimmage. Providing no help to the “playing catch up” issues Campbell mentioned.
Texas would finish the night with 130 yards rushing (95 in the second half) and Iowa State with just 9 yards on 21 carries. The Longhorns also tightened up their offensive line issues allowing no sacks in the second half.
Iowa State will return to the field when they kickoff at 7 p.m. against the Kansas State Wildcats (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) next Saturday in Manhattan, KS.