AMES — As Jordan Harris pounced, tucked the fumble, than stood up with the football in his hands, he felt confident — almost certain — that the offense would respond.
“I thought it was game time then,” said the Iowa State linebacker, whose clutch recovery couldn’t spark the Cyclones, who fell 31-17, to Iowa Saturday in the annual Cy-Hawk Series rivalry game. “I thought we were going to go down and put the game away, but you can’t just blame the game on one side of the ball, It’s both sides, special teams — it’s all of us. All of us lost today.”
That’s because the Hawkeyes (2-0) seized tight control of the game in the second half despite the hiccup caused by Darian Cotton’s hit of Jordan Canzeri that turned into Harris’s takeaway at the ISU 10-yard line with 9:09 left.
The score at the time: 17-17. The ensuing drive: Two first down catches by Allen Lazard, then one of five straight second-half punts. Iowa outscored the Cyclones 21-0 after the break while totaling 232 yards of offense to ISU’s 66.
“We played a tremendous first half and there’s no reason we should have played the way we did in the second half,” said Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, whose team lost to Iowa for the second time in the past five meetings. “So first of all, you’ve got to find those answers. Was conditioning a factor? Was it play selection? Was it execution? There’s reasons there. It’s our job as program to discover them and not allow them to happen again.”
ISU seemed in almost total control early, rolling to a 10-3 lead, and driving again into Iowa territory midway through the second quarter.
Quarterback Sam Richardson then completed what was initially ruled to be an eight-yard (and first down) catch at the Iowa 48, but a booth review cut the gain to seven yards, resulting in a fourth and one situation.
The Cyclones called timeout and decided to punt — and it was a good one to the Iowa seven-yard line.
What might have happened is ISU had gone for first down and made it, or the review had upheld the call on the field? We’ll never no. Rhoads decided to maintain momentum by pinning the Hawkeyes deep, since the defense had shined to that point.
“Momentum was on our side,” Rhoads said. “(Up) 10-3 and you’ve got a chance to pin them down inside the 20 for sure. I think we pinned them inside the 10. You go for it and a lineman slips, they stunt into a play and you turn the ball over to them at midfield and you change the complete momentum of potentially the game and certainly the half. We were playing really good defense and had confidence in our defense to keep doing that. Made a group decision has a staff — a unanimous group decision as a staff.”
No once could foresee what would happen next but suffice it to say, the ensuing chain of events served as a harbinger of things to come for the Cyclones.
First, Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard narrowly escaped a safety when ISU defensive end Dale Pierson sacked him in the end zone. Beathard barely managed to writhe past the goal line to land at the one.
“I got him, but he wiggled his way out,” said Pierson, who had two sacks to raise his two-game total to five.
The next play — on second and 16 from the one — Beathard scrambled 44 yards to the Hawks’ 45, or four yards short of where ISU punted from.
“We gave up some just execution plays plays of theirs and then we gave up some plays that broke down and we didn’t tackle very well on,” Rhoads said. “There was too much arm tackling that took place tonight and not enough feet and hip and body tackling.”
Two plays after Beathard’s big scramble, Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri slashed for nine yards to the Cyclones’ 27. ISU star nose guard Demond Tucker was hurt on the play (sprained ankle) and would not return. The Hawkeyes eventually tied the scored on a 14-yard Beathard pass to Tevaun Smith.
Momentum had shifted, but not for good, as Rhoads’ noted.
The ISU offense would mount its last productive drive of the game — and most explosive one, too.
Trever Ryen took a short pass from Sam Richardson 53 yards to the Iowa 22-yard line. Two plays later on third and 17, Richardson hit Jauan Wesley for a spectacular one-handed catch for a 29-yard touchdown.
“We recovered from it,” Rhoads said of Iowa’s 93-yard touchdown drive that tied the game. “The 10-3 score that we had there becomes a tie ball game and then we come right back and score ourselves and go back up by that seven points. So I think that washed out.”
What didn’t wash out was the lack of success in either the running game or the passing game.
Richardson threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns, but all but 61 of those yards came in the first half. ISU failed to cross the 50-yard line after halftime and rushed for just five yards in the second half.
"It’s not a running back problem as far as the running game is concerned," Rhoads said. "You’ve got to give people space to run the football and we didn’t do it."
Iowa did, with Canzeri rushing for a career-high 124 yards and the team totaling 260 on the ground.
“No energy, missed assignments, just, I think, a lackadaisical attitude,” said ISU nickel back Jay Jones, who had eight tackles and a sack. "Just not very good to sum it up. Just not very good. … We have to bounce back.”
Beginning next week at Toledo, who shocked top-20 Arkansas Saturday in Fayetteville.
“We’re aware,” Harris said when asked if he knew about that upset. “We’ve got to get ready to play ball.”