Iowa State Cyclones

If improvement continues, Iowa State is Big 12 title contender

Cyclones get to 3-0 in league with dominant win over Texas Tech

Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) runs from Texas Tech defensive back Eric Monroe during the Cyclones' 31-15 win
Iowa State running back Breece Hall (28) runs from Texas Tech defensive back Eric Monroe during the Cyclones' 31-15 win Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. (Charlie Niebergall/Associated Press)

AMES — Breezy and comfortable. That was everything here Saturday afternoon, the weather and Iowa State’s 31-15 football win over Texas Tech at Jack Trice Stadium.

This was lopsided, so much more so than the score suggests. This was a dominant win. This is the Cyclones at 3-0 in the Big 12 for the first time since 2002 and looking fully capable of being in the mix for a berth in the league’s championship game.

You want to get there? Keep doing what many of the league’s teams, including Oklahoma and Texas, aren’t. Play good defense.

Iowa State stopped the Red Raiders on all 10 of their third-down conversion tries.

“If you can win on first down you have a chance to get off the field on third down,” Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell said, “and our kids did a good job of that.”

A great job, really. Texas Tech totaled just 16 yards over the first plays of its first seven possessions.

Down 21-7 at its 20 yard-line with 1:18 left in the second quarter and two timeouts to use, Tech didn’t take a single shot downfield. It seemed relieved to head back to its dressing room, and perhaps would have been content to keep going until it reached Lubbock.

Everything tilted Iowa State’s way, almost. The Red Raiders did block a short field goal try on ISU’s first drive, and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown for a brief 7-0 lead.

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“It seems like that field goal blocked for a touchdown was such an Iowa State thing to happen,” said senior Cyclone Chase Allen, who had a touchdown catch and four of his team’s 10 receptions by tight ends.

In so many ISU games in this and the previous century, a negative play like that would have hung over the stadium like a dark cloud. This one didn’t even produce a wisp of gray. The Cyclones proceeded to peel off three straight long touchdown drives.

Meanwhile, Texas Tech went nowhere until the score was 31-7. Before its lone drive for an offensive score, the Red Raiders had been outgained 513 yards to 134. ISU’s Breece Hall had more rushing yards (108) in the first half than Tech had total yards (69).

Remember, the Red Raiders took Texas to overtime, and were down just 24-21 late at Kansas State last weekend before a late interception killed them, totaling 912 yards in those two games.

Iowa State’s defense has yet to allow more than 3.5 yards per rush in a game, even in its opening-day debacle of a home loss to Louisiana that preceded wins over TCU, Oklahoma and now Texas Tech.

“I think it’s a defense has a lot of veteran-ness to it,” Campbell said. “A lot of guys that have played a lot of quality reps here.”

Cyclone junior quarterback Brock Purdy played his best game of 2020. He is 14-5 as a starter in Big 12 games. He had completions to nine different teammates in the first half alone and had 43 passes without any of the high-risk throws he had made too often in other games this season.

Hall was Hall. Four games this year, four 100-yard rushing performances.

“We have a lot of confidence, knowing we can really go down and score at will,” Hall said. “We kind of expect it. We feel like our offense is pretty good and we expect to put up points.”

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Hall has created a lot of his own yardage this year, but in this game there were holes that he, fellow running back Kene Nwangwu and Purdy (42 yards on seven keepers) waited for and accelerated through.

“I felt confident this could be one of the best offensive lines we’ve had since I’ve been here,” ISU Coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s by no means perfect.”

He wasn’t talking perfection about anything after game four, not with a blocked field goal returned for a score, or a touchdown pass called back because of an illegal formation penalty, or his defense letting up midway through the fourth quarter.

“Those things aren’t what elite teams do,” Campbell said. “We want to be the best version of us. It’s got to be detail and precision that allow that to happen.”

There are six games left. A significant challenge is next, Oct. 24 at unbeaten Oklahoma State. But if it keeps improving, Iowa State is a Big 12 title contender.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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