Following a poor start to the 2023 season, Iowa State has been hot in Big 12 conference play, sitting at 3-1 and tied for second place heading into a showdown against the Baylor Bears down in Waco, a place the Cyclones typically do not play well, off their bye week.
After getting a quick three and out stop to start the game, the Cyclone offense started hotter than a billy goat with a blowtorch, marching down the field in just four plays and finishing the drive with an 18-yard Jayden Higgins touchdown.
Iowa State forced another punt on the ensuing Baylor possession, but Abu Sama fumbled the ball away, the first lost fumble of the season for the Cyclones. Fortunately the defense followed that up by earning a turnover on downs for the next Baylor possession.
Chase Contreraz then finished off Iowa State’s next drive with a 42-yard no-doubt field goal to push the score to 10-0. Malik Verdon picked off a deep ball on Baylor’s next offensive possession, but the Cyclones weren’t able to turn it into any points. Afer recovering their first fumble on the season, Iowa State then marched down the field, capping the drive off with a Cartevious Norton touchdown run at the goal line to make it 17-0.
That was the last time anyone felt good about the game.
The last two minutes of the half were an unmitigated disaster for Iowa State, as they not only failed to score after forcing a punt, but threw an interception, which eventually led to a Baylor score to bring it to 17-6 heading into the locker room. It was a two-score lead, but a blown opportunity for a pick-six by Jeremiah Cooper, a couple missed deep throws by Rocco Becht, and a TJ Tampa targeting call left a sour taste in the mouth of Cyclone fans the felt like it should be a comfortable 24-0 game.
Iowa State received the ball coming out of halftime, and put together what turned out to be the deciding scoring drive, as Cartevious housed a 49-yard run to bring the score to 24-6. Iowa State did tack on two more Chase Contreraz field goals before final whistle, but neither of those made the game feel remotely comfortable, as the defense’s tackling ability seemed to suddenly vanish into thin air.
The last quarter-plus of the game were a nerve-shattering nightmare for Cyclone fans, as they repeatedly watched Baylor conver crucial third and fourth downs, including a 69-yard bomb on fourth down, which was inexplicably followed up by a two-point conversion attempt, which was blown up by Caleb Bacon.
Baylor scored one more time on the back of some impressive running by Dawson Pendergrass, but once again went for a completely unnecessary two-point conversion, and once again failed, keeping the game at two scores.
After what felt like a 200-year torture-fest of bad tackling, the Iowa State defense stepped up and made the game-winning fourth down stop on 4th-and-4 on what was a pretty terrible play call by Baylor to run the ball between the tackles.
All-in-all, a win on the road, especially with one of the youngest teams in college football, is a win, and Iowa State is now tied for first in the Big 12 after Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas. Learning how to win when you’re having a bad day is a critical lesson to learn for this team, and now the Cyclones return to Jack Trice Stadium for Homecoming against the aforementioned Jayhawks to keep pace at the top of the conference race and secure bowl eligibility.
Rocco Becht finished 19-of-31 passing for 238 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, but the film will show a rough game for the redshirt freshman, as he missed a number of wide-open throws (which would have ended in scores) and fumbled a snap.
Eli Sanders led the team with 90 rushing yards on 14 carries, but the star of the day at running back, whose two touchdowns sealed the win for Iowa State.
Jaylin Noel and Jayden Higgins both had good days catching the ball, but freshman tight end Ben Brahmer was the real star pass-catcher making a few crucial first down catches, including a 48-yard catch and run on Iowa State’s final scoring drive that felt like a breath of fresh air as the team appeared to be collapsing in front of ours.
A win is a win, but both sides of the football have a lot to improve on before taking on a prickly Jayhawks team that sports one of the best offenses in the conference.