Iowa State notched its first conference victory in the Matt Campbell regime, and did it while facing adversity — fighting back from an 11-point deficit on the road against Kansas.
The game started off slow for the Cyclones, and momentum was clearly in favor of the home Jayhawks, but ISU kept chipping away (mostly behind the legs of David Montgomery), and the defense made the stops it needed to pull out their first road conference victory since 2013.
Here are all the good and bad things that happened in this 31-24 ISU victory.
What Went Right
The offensive attack was carried heavily on the shoulders of true freshman David Montgomery, and he came through in flying colors. The Cincinnati, Ohio native notched career-highs in carries (24) and yards (169) and broke through for multiple long gains on the day. The offensive line pushed its way for 238 yards, and even walk-on running back Mitchell Harger came in and impressively led ISU on a scoring drive of his own, carrying 8 times for 58 yards and his first TD.
All in all, the ISU offense had manageable third downs, and was able to convert when it needed to. That all started with the offensive line – and the boys up front allowed Jacob Park time to throw and opened up many holes for Montgomery and company.
Park was efficient, completing 20 of 26 passes for 205 yards and 2 touchdowns, standing tall in the pocket and converting some big throws. One of those plays was after a touchdown was called back due to a penalty. Immediately, the team re-grouped and Park found Deshaunte Jones in the flat and let the true freshman do the rest – on his way to his sixth touchdown of the year.
In the past, this team would have rolled over. Instead, they challenged that adversity head on.
Allen Lazard had his best game in a Cyclone uniform, catching a career-high 10 receptions, along with 120 yards and a touchdown. When nothing was working for the Cyclones on Saturday, #5 came to life and kept drives going on some huge 3rd down conversions. The standout junior is now third (and will be second very soon) in career receptions, and is second in touchdown grabs.
The defense was gashed for much of the first three quarters, but came to life in the fourth when it needed to. One of the biggest stops of the day was on a 4th-and-4 where sophomore D’Andre Payne made a fantastic open field tackle to force a turnover on downs and change the momentum of the game immensely.
Demond Tucker showed up, and has consecutively played two of his best games of the season. The senior corralled defenders for 7 stops and a tackle for loss. Kane Seeley led all tacklers with 10 stops. Doing his best “Rudy” interpretation, defensive end Spencer Benton had a sack for the second time in two weeks.
Jomal Wiltz sealed the victory with an interception in the fourth quarter, and showed all fans watching this riveting affair that the Cyclone secondary continues to be one of the best. ISU’s pass defense held KU to 171 passing yards, and only 6.6 yards per completion – which tells you of few missed tackles and nothing beat deep.
What Went Wrong
We all saw shades of the 2014 debacle in the first quarter as the team looked slow, flat, and not ready to play. These slow starts have plagued ISU teams in the past, but the talent advantage allowed ISU to stick around and make adjustments necessary to win.
What has been the kryptonite for this defense all year is stopping the run, and KU took advantage of it. The Jayhawks gained 16 first downs by way of the ground, and averaged over 6 yards per carry. They did so with a great push up front while allowing their runners to get in the second line of defense before even being touched.
KU came into the game pathetically bad on offense, but they were able to move the ball successfully for 3.5 quarters. ISU did not make many adjustments to stopping the run, nor did they get the kind of pass rushing attack that I expected against a depleted offensive line.
There came a critical play in the 3rd quarter where ISU had taken the momentum and was set to tie it all up 17-17, yet the holder for the snap was unable to get the ball down, and the PAT was missed. The next two times ISU scored TDs they attempted 2-point attempts and failed to convert on both. Instead of a 10-point lead at the end of the game it was only 7, which allowed the door to stay open for KU.
Special Teams: C
ISU looks to continue their success with a contest against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who have fallen off the map and are definitely beatable. The game is slated for Saturday in Ames at 2:30 p.m.