It was hard to imagine anything other than a loss for Iowa State yesterday. The Cyclones had improved in the second week but their issues were clearly mental and trying to cure those ills in a place like Kinnick Stadium is usually not going to happen.
In our preseason predictions I had called the game in Iowa City a win, but had also chosen a win over North Dakota State. On Thursday I predicted a close loss for very much the same reason that the Cyclones had lost their previous two games: an inability to stop the run.
For the better part of the first half it looked exactly like that would happen. Iowa went on a 16 play, 55 yard drive midway through the first quarter and opened the scoring with a Mark Weisman run on 4th and goal. The drive took eight minutes off the clock and showed a strategy that we all knew was going to be used: force Iowa State to stop the run..
Cole Netten responded four minutes later with a career long 47 yard field goal, and the score stood at 7-3. Again, Iowa responded with a 10 play, 61 yard drive that was punctuated by a Jake Rudock touchdown from five yards out.
At this point the Iowa State offense had done little to show that their improvement was continuing, and then Sam Richardson went to work. A second down pass to Jarvis West moved the ball 26 yards down field and was followed up by a crucial pass three plays later to Allen Lazard to keep the chains moving. Two plays later Richardson showed his physical and mental improvement by throwing a rope to E.J. Bibbs between three defenders that ended up moving Iowa State down to the two yard line.
Then the world crumbled, or so we thought. DeVondrick Nealy fumbled on the very next play and ruined the Cyclones' chances to draw within a possession before halftime. A big start to start the second half wasn't to be found, and the first drive stalled out. On Iowa's next possession the fortunes, and the game, changed for the Cyclones. Jake Rudock threw a pass only Neil O'Donnell would love and safety T.J. Mutcherson was happy to take his charity.
Iowa State quickly moved inside Iowa's five yard line and once again looked to cut the deficit to a single score. Iowa's defensive stand resulted in a 4th down showdown on the one, and what started as a Seneca Wallace-esque goal line speed option turned into a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass to a wide open E.J. Bibbs. They say football is a game of inches, and Bibbs fingertips are a perfect example of that.
The teams slogged through the rest of the third quarter while Iowa's run game and play calling stalled and Iowa State failed to build on the momentum they established earlier. Credit to the Iowa State defense that was playing some of its best ball of the season. Cory Morrissey was making Brandon Scherff wish he stayed on the bench, and the defense continued to bend but never completely broke. They bought just enough time for Richardson to lead quite possibly the best drive of his career.
10 plays, 92 yards, four minutes off the clock, one key penalty, one third down conversion, and a perfectly timed wheel route to DeVondrick Nealy put the Cyclones on top of the scoreboard for the first time since the 2nd quarter of the Kansas State game.
Iowa punched back with their own 10 play drive, but once again the defense stepped up and held Iowa to a field goal. The inability of Kirk Ferentz to manage the clock first reared its head when Iowa State got the ball back with four minutes left. Mark Mangino and Richardson went to work on a tired Iowa defense and were content to chip their way down field and let the clock drain. It wasn't until there were 36 seconds left (after a 14 second runoff) that Ferentz burnt his second timeout of the half. At this point he was trying to save any kind of time for his team to respond to the field goal attempt everyone knew was coming four minutes earlier.
Two rushes and an offsides penalty later and Netten stepped on to the field to boot a 42 yarder to bring the Cy-Hawk Trophy back to Ames. Had Ferentz managed the clock better he wouldn't have had any timeouts left, would have had more time on the clock, and wouldn't have pulled the icing stunt that has burnt so many coaches before him.
But he didn't manage the clock, and he did call that time out, and for that the rest of the state thanks you.
There's not much to project from this game. Rivalry games have a tendency to skew the opinions on how a team has looked, and this one is no different. Iowa State is still a work in progress. The defense will be out manned most of the year, and the offense continues to gel and build chemistry. There is still rough sledding ahead, but the first of three bye weeks occurs next weekend and will no doubt help clean up lingering issues.
For now though, let's just enjoy yesterday for what it was: the first win of the season.