Iowa State football earned yet another moral victory, this time keeping it close with 12th-ranked Oklahoma on a beautiful Thursday night in Ames.
The team started off slow, with the Sooners scoring on their very first drive, but the resilience of this team showed glimpses of the future of this program.
A late second-quarter touchdown drive took the air out of the sails, putting the Big 12-leading Sooners on top at half time by a score of 28-17. The second half was a different story though, as the defense rose to the occasion, holding Oklahoma to only 157 yards.
Lots of positives, especially when the boys in all-cardinal uniforms were lined up against one of the most physical and talented teams in the country.
What Went Right
The defense held Oklahoma to one of their lowest scoring outputs of the year and did it by stopping the run. With Joe Mixon out due to suspension, the Cyclones only allowed 3.5 yards per rush, and were able to get penetration up front on the line. In fact, ISU defenders combined for 8 tackles for loss led by Jaquan Bailey and Jhaustin Thomas, who each had two stops in the Sooner backfield.
Kamari Cotton-Moya proves to be one of the conference’s best safeties, as he had 8 tackles and a sack. One of the biggest plays of the game was corner Brian Peavy’s hit on QB Baker Mayfield on a 3rd-and-five play in the red zone that held Oklahoma to a field goal attempt.
The Cyclones also won the turnover battle, with Jomal Wiltz forcing a batted ball into the hands of Thomas that led to ISU’s first scoring drive. We saw a more blitzes from the outside corners and nickel-backs and it negated Oklahoma’s time to throw. Well, sort of.
How about the day for our secondary — stand up and take a bow. Oklahoma only beat the top of the defense once, but other than that, the defenders were in position to make plays on the ball, and Mayfield was forced to tuck it and run a lot more than he wanted to.
Jacob Park made his first start in an ISU uniform and was under duress most of the night. The talented sophomore only completed 16 of 29 passes, but a few of those weren’t his fault, with receivers dropping a few along the way. Overall, Park did a fantastic job of keeping his eyes downfield when scrambling, hitting most of his targets on the outside edge.
Per usual, Allen Lazard led the receiving corps in targets and catches, hauling in 6 for 76 yards and a key touchdown on a third-down play in the second quarter. Joel Lanning has taken “Tim Tebow package” to a whole other level, and was called upon on multiple designed quarterback keepers.
The most impressive play of the day was on a 4th-and-2 deep in Oklahoma territory where LANRAM squeezed through a hole and took it 41 yards to pay dirt. Even when everybody in the stands knew who was getting the ball, the Cyclones still converted, and it’s a pleasant sight to see over the years after multiple short-yardage gaffs.
What Went Wrong
While the Clones did put up 24 points, they had very few sustained drives, and the offense just never got in a rhythm. Park was only able to lead a few scoring drives, and the running game never took flight. With Mike Warren out due to injury (or so we think), backup David Montgomery ran strong, but was eventually pulled from the game due to concussion-like symptoms.
Again the leading rusher was #7, and I think we have something with Joel in there on running downs. The coaching staff believes in both quarterbacks, and clearly Park is the better passer, and Joel the better runner.
With little sustained drives the Cyclones were dominated in time of possession. In the second half alone, Oklahoma bled the clock with a 22- to 8-minute advantage. While the defense stood their ground, the offense had nowhere to go, and their game plan didn’t work, as ISU only entered the red zone once all night.
I was expecting a big day out of both Park and Lazard, but the throws just weren’t there. I was expecting a plethora of short-yardage passes by way of crossing patterns and bubble screens, but we tried to get the ball more downfield, and with little time in the pocket.
On the defensive side of the ball, while most tackles for loss were made on running plays, Baker Mayfield made fools of our rushers when scrambling. Albeit there were a few missed holding calls, the Cyclones still need to do a better job of containing quarterbacks outside the pocket, and wrapping up when they get pressure.
Easier said than done when you’re trying to tackle Mayfield, though.
Overall, the crowd was better than expected for a Thursday night game, and for the sixth time in seven games, ISU has covered the spread. That tells me this Cyclone team isn’t letting go of the season, even though they’re winless in the conference, and have played well against top competition.
Another positive note: only 5 penalties in the game. That’s a huge improvement after the first two weeks.
Offense – D
Defense – B+
Special Teams – C
The Cyclones make the dreaded trip to Lawrence, Kansas, next week to take on the 1-7 Jayhawks in what looks like a very winnable game.
The team gets an extra two days of rest, and also gives this coaching staff the ability to recruit this weekend.
Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. on Nov. 12th.