Iowa State had a lot going for it heading into the Valero Alamo Bowl against Washington State. About as healthy as they’d been all season, playing a “familiar” opposing playstyle (air raid, ‘Big 12’ style of offense), and fans loading the streets. WSU would provide one of the tougher opponents of the year, boasting a 10-2 record (ranked 13th) coming out of the Pac-12. The Cyclones fought for the full 60 minutes, despite going down 14-0 early to the number 1 pass offense in the country. Unfortunately for ISU, one too many mistakes (and one too many official errors) cost the Cyclones dearly, and Campbell and Co. fell just 2 points short of a 2nd straight bowl win.
What Went Wrong
First 4 offensive drives
Iowa State got off to a very rough start. In particular, freshman quarterback Brock Purdy who threw an interception on each of the first 2 drives. The first was on a levels pattern on a designed roll out to the right. Jalen Thompson (WSU) played the route perfectly, and Purdy couldn’t fit the ball in behind him to Butler, and Thompson snagged the ball along the sideline. The second was also on a pass to Butler. This one on a quick slant on the left side of the field. Butler didn’t work his way to the ball, and Marcus Strong jumped the route and took it back for 6. Strong taunted prior to scoring, but Minshew and the Cougar offense would score 3 plays later. The following 2 drives both ended in punts by Corey Dunn, and with 6:08 to go in the first half, the Cyclones found themselves in a 14-0 hole.
The O-line struggled much of the game. Not only was Brock Purdy sacked 3 times, but the Cougars managed 8 tackles for loss. Beyond that, but Iowa State committed 7, yes, 7 false start penalties. None bigger than a false start on the 2-point attempt to try and tie the game at 28 with 4:02 left in the game. These are mistakes that the O-line hasn’t made a lot of this season, as Iowa State only averaged about 38 penalty yards per game, on about 4 penalties per game.
Speaking of the 7 false start penalties, the 10 total penalties were tied for the most penalties the team has committed this season. The other 3 were 2 targeting calls (on Willie Harvey Jr. and Enyioma Uwazurike) and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Head Coach Matt Campbell after the Uwazurike targeting call (which was questionable at best) late in the 2nd quarter.
As mentioned previously, Iowa State has been an incredibly disciplined football team all year, so to see these kinds of mistakes in such a big game is odd to say the least.
Iowa State forced a Washington State fumble on the Cougars’ first series, but after that, it was all Cougars on the takeaway sheet. Wazzu forced 2 Brock Purdy interceptions in the first quarter, and also forced a David Montgomery fumble late in the game which led to their final scoring drive to go up 28-20. While the turnovers individually were very uncharacteristic, even more so was the fact that the Cyclones committed 3 in the same game. These, added onto the silly penalties were a large portion of the Cyclones’ downfall.
What Went Right
If this was in fact Butler’s last game as a Cyclone, he had some memorable plays to go out on. Butler led the Cyclones with 9 receptions, and 192 yards on the night. Butler was a force to be reckoned with (as he always is) and the Cougars couldn’t seem to find an answer. Butler has been a human highlight reel for Iowa State, and will be an amazing addition to whatever NFL team picks him up, whenever that time comes. In the meantime... Let’s enjoy this 1-handed snag over, and over, and over again.
David is another Cyclone who, if this is indeed his last game, left a major mark on the program. Being the workload back for the last 2-3 years has been incredible to watch. This included a 2017 year without a fumble, and back-to-back 1,100 yard seasons with 11+ touchdowns. He’s also been a great receiving back out of the backfield with over 150 yards on the season and 20+ receptions the last 2 years. He always seems to fall forward, and isn’t afraid to run someone over, while still being able to break ankles. He tacked on 124 yards and a score on 26 carries against Wazzu, and also caught 4 passes for 55 yards.
Watching Montgomery throw people off of him is always so fun to watch. Especially when he does it twice in 1 run while scoring.
Defense (2nd half adjustments)
John Heacock deserves all the credit and praise he gets as the Cyclones Defensive Coordinator. We’ve seen this time and time again. Wazzu scored twice on 35 (or fewer) yard drives, and only added 7 points in the 2nd half. Iowa State’s defense did this despite losing both Uwazurike and Harvey Jr. in the first half from targeting ejections. The defense held WSU to just 20 rush yards (10 of them on the Borghi touchdown) and also held Gardner Minshew UNDER 300 pass yards. The only other team to hold Minshew under 300 yards was Washington in the Apple Cup in approximately 13 feet of snow. Pretty impressive for a “Big 12 defense” if you ask me.
Also (real quick) want to give a shoutout to Connor Assalley. Connor snuck a career long 50 yard field goal inside the left upright as time expired in the first half to cut the deficit to 21-10. Assalley also had the distance on a 49 yarder early in the 4th, but (possibly in part to a low snap) doinked it off the right upright. Assalley has come a long way, and has started to hit the ball a lot cleaner from long distances. A big asset to have moving forward.