AMES — Iowa State did most of the little things coach Matt Campbell preaches about against TCU.
But the Cyclones (1-3, 0-2 Big 12) could never find an offensive rhythm against the Horned Frogs’ (3-2, 1-1) stout defense in a 17-14 loss Saturday.
“You saw us improve in the red zone, we were better on third down — we were fine situationally,” Campbell said. “It’s just finding a flow. It was a hard first half to find a flow offensively because you didn’t have the ball very much.”
Iowa State went to the red zone twice and scored touchdowns twice, something the Cyclones struggled to do in their first three games. Iowa State also went 5 for 12 on third down, which isn’t good, but it’s better than the 34-percent mark the Cyclones were posting before the game.
One of the biggest hiccups for the Cyclones was the lack of a passing attack. Quarterback Zeb Noland finished the game throwing 14 of 28 for just 79 yards and one touchdown. Star receiver Hakeem Butler had only two catches for 14 yards.
“They play tight coverage and you either have to make the play or get a defensive pass interference and we were able to get some of that in the beginning,” Campbell said. “Give credit to those kids, they have a really good defensive backfield.”
Defensively, Iowa State forced three turnovers and held TCU to 299 total yards and held the Horned Frogs’ potent rushing attack to just 2.5 yards per carry. But Iowa State had a tough time getting off the field, allowing TCU to convert 11 of 20 third downs.
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“Another great effort by our defense,” Campbell said. “We had our opportunities and I think the thing coach (Heacock) would tell you was our ability to get off the field on third down. Our inability to get off on third down is why we were on the field for so long at times. I thought defensively, can you ask much more of our kids? Their effort, their intent, what they’re doing — I’m really proud of them.”
Campbell isn’t worried about his team even though the offense seems to sputter at times and while his defense is good, can’t always get off the field.
“Our opportunity is at the end of the season,” Campbell said. “We can look back and say, ‘Where are we?’ Quite honestly, we’re inches away in every game we’ve played. For us and this team it’s all about our response to some tough situations, knowing that a lot of people will write us off, and that’s OK.
“But I really enjoy this team. It’s one of the hardest working groups of kids I’ve ever been around. I really look forward to getting back to work with them. We’ll be defined by the end of the season, not four games in.”
The one thing Campbell is worried about is running back David Montgomery. Montgomery went down with an injury late in the fourth quarter against TCU. If he’s out for any significant time, that could impact Iowa State’s “opportunity” at the end of the season.
“There is no warrior that would want to be on the field more than that guy,” Campbell said. “We’re just going to have to play it day-by-day and see what it is. He loves football — if he can play, he will play, and if he can’t, we have some other guys we’re really confident in.”
Iowa State has a front-loaded schedule, so a 1-3 start isn’t the worst thing. But the Cyclones still have to play Oklahoma State and West Virginia, who are both at the top end of the conference. Iowa State has a chance to turn the slow start around, but the offense needs to figure some things out and the defense needs to get off the field.
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