Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State will ruefully remember Alamo Bowl

Cyclones canceled a lot of goodness with moments of self-destruction

Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler makes a leaping stab of a catch in front of Washington State safety Jalen Thompson (34) during the third quarter of ISU's 28-26 Alamo Bowl loss to the Cougars Friday night in San Antonio's Alamodome. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa State wide receiver Hakeem Butler makes a leaping stab of a catch in front of Washington State safety Jalen Thompson (34) during the third quarter of ISU's 28-26 Alamo Bowl loss to the Cougars Friday night in San Antonio's Alamodome. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

The "what if I’d told you" card is a tired one for a sportswriter other carbon-based life-forms to play. But Friday’s Alamo Bowl game almost stretched to midnight, so I’m still tired.

What if I’d told you Friday afternoon that Iowa State’s Brock Purdy would pass for more yards than Washington State’s yardage-ometer, Gardner Minshew? What if I’d told you Cyclones wide receiver Hakeem Butler would have nine catches for 192 yards and ISU running back David Montgomery would have 179 total yards?

What if I’d told you that Wazzu, which came in averaging 462 yards, would be outgained 515-327 by the Cyclones?

You’d have said it would be an Iowa State romp.

But it was a 28-26 Washington State win. Why? Well, let’s leave the officiating stylings of the Big Ten Conference crew that worked the game out of this for the time being.

You can’t commit a targeting penalty (the one on Willie Harvey, the ISU targeting infraction that definitely was a targeting infraction) on a first-half defensive play that would otherwise have forced Wazzu to punt instead of giving it a first down on the way to its second TD of the half.

You can’t commit the multitude of false-start penalties the Cyclones committed, including one when they lined up for what would have been a game-tying 2-point conversion with 4:02 left.

After having to then go for the 2-point play from the 8-yard line, the Cyclones didn’t convert. It didn’t help that Purdy failed to spot wide-open Butler in the end zone.

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You can’t throw interceptions on your first two possessions like Purdy did. The first killed a drive near midfield and the second set up a WSU touchdown.

You can’t have the ball stripped from you while you’re stacked up, which Montgomery did in the fourth quarter, giving the Cougars a short field they used for a TD to make it 28-20 with 10:24 left.

The difference in this game was Washington State didn’t self-destruct. It fumbled the ball away on its first possession, but then played a clean game. It didn’t defeat itself.

And, it had a senior quarterback instead of a freshman. Purdy settled down and did a lot of terrific things to cap his terrific first season. Oh, how nice it is for Matt Campbell to know he has that position so solidified even if Montgomery and Butler depart a season early, which seems like two good bets.

But Minshew finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting because he’s a baller. He dodged danger several times throughout the night to make a winner’s plays. Purdy did likewise, but he had the two picks and Minshew didn’t.

Purdy’s day or days to rule bowl games, one suspects, will come.

Oh, here’s another what-if:

What if a false start penalty the Cougars sure seemed to commit on third-and-goal at the 9 on their third touchdown of the first half had been noticed and acted upon by the officials? We’ll never know. Expecting college game officials to be perfect when coaches and players aren’t seems a bit skewed.

All losses hurt. But at least Iowa State was a partner in one of the best and most entertaining games this bowl season. What a showcase for the Cyclones’ talent. Butler had a leaping stab of a catch that ranks in his top three or four receptions of the season, which you know is high praise if you’ve seen all of Iowa State’s games. Other than his fumble, everything about Montgomery screamed “NFL running back.”

And, going into the second half trailing 21-10, Iowa State got back in the game with its defense. After so many years/decades of defensive futility, it’s still jarring to not only see Cyclone defenders hit so hard, but play so soundly.

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Iowa State was first in the Big 12 in scoring defense and second in total defense this season. Many really good defenders return next season, preseason All-Big 12 types.

All five starting offensive linemen come back, too. They need to make a collective stride forward next season. If they do, Iowa State’s 2019 bowl destination might eclipse San Antonio even if Montgomery and Butler are off to make their money.

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

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