AMES — We don’t know how good Iowa State’s 0-2 football team will be this year. We’ll need the larger sample size coming in the next month against TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
We do know this, which we also knew a week ago watching ISU’s 13-3 loss at Iowa: The Cyclones are competitive, like last season. Maybe they’ll eventually be more than that, like last season.
They’re also a cardinal-colored chameleon over two games. They were stymied offensively, sturdy defensively in Iowa City. In their 37-27 loss to No. 5 Oklahoma here Saturday, they were entertaining and effective on offense, but got torched far too often on defense.
The latter, judging by seeing junior quarterback Kyler Murray and the Sooners’ offense up close, isn’t the Shame of the Century. But there was a reason you saw no signs proclaiming “Tackling Clinic Today” as you neared Jack Trice Stadium Saturday morning.
“We couldn’t make that play, we couldn’t get that stop,” ISU Coach Matt Campbell said.
By halftime, Murray had passed for 268 yards and three touchdowns and rushed eight times for 49 yards, seemingly always gaining six yards with his feet when his team needed five.
He finished with 348 yards passing and 77 rushing. When his team needed a field goal to get a two-score edge late in the game instead of giving the Cyclones a chance to tie the thing, Murray finished what he started with his huge first half.
His running instincts were impeccable. His throws almost always were precise.
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“(Oklahoma quarterback) Baker Mayfield deserved the Heisman (last year),” Cyclone radio analyst Eric Heft said late in the first half. “Baker Mayfield never played like this against Iowa State.”
Murray had to be that good, because ISU quarterback Zeb Noland and his receiving corps were pretty terrific, too.
Starting in place of injured Kyle Kempt, Noland tried his best to pull a Kempt against Oklahoma. Meaning, to replace the starter the week of the Oklahoma game and then beat the Sooners, which Kempt did in Norman last year.
Oklahoma’s defense isn’t without talent and speed, but it matched Iowa State missed tackle for missed tackle. Oh, how the Sooners got abused by Cyclone wide receiver Hakeem Butler, the 6-foot-6 junior who threw his 225 pounds around in flicking off would-be tacklers on touchdown plays of 51 and 57 yards.
“I’m just always trying to score every time I touch the ball,” Butler said. He made Sooner defenders look small and silly on both scoring plays.
“Let Hakeem be Hakeem,” Noland said when asked about ISU’s passing strategy. Butler had five catches for 174 yards. The Big 12, in case you wondered, still is offense-dominated.
Noland hit on 25 of 36 passes for 360 yards. That’s pretty good pinch hitting.
“He was the general,” ISU running back David Montgomery said.
Iowa State’s offensive line, chewed up by Iowa, was a different story in Game 2. Maybe Oklahoma’s defense doesn’t compare to Iowa’s. Campbell called both “outstanding.” To hear him tell it, his offensive line simply dug in and improved.
“The run game made leaps and bounds strides from last week,” Campbell said.
“Zeb certainly got the benefit of everything clicking around him.”
Noland spread credit around almost as well as he zipped the ball.
“I couldn’t ask for a better receiving corps,” he said. “Up front, I couldn’t be more thankful about the protection. I had one sack and maybe three hurries today.”
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But the ISU defense, which came up so big in the second half at Oklahoma last year against Mayfield, gave up 519 yards.
“There were a lot of plays made by them,” said ISU safety Greg Eisworth, “and a lot of missed opportunities by us.”
“We’ve got to get better one week at a time, we’ve got to get better one day at a time,” said Campbell.
Ah, that’s clichéd coachspeak. Go with “Let Hakeem be Hakeem.” That slogan needs no explanation after Saturday.
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