Williams: Black Friday heartbreak

AMES — I assume that you’re all familiar with the phrase, "tough pill to swallow?"

Iowa State’s 31-24 loss to West Virginia on Black Friday wasn’t just a tough pill to swallow. That was a colossal, horse pill that most of you are still probably trying to choke down. 

As Paul Rhoads’ teams always do, the Cyclones gutted it out on Senior Day but fell just short. Iowa State’s defense held one of the most potent offenses in all of college football to nearly 10 points under its season average. Iowa State’s offense was led by a redshirt freshman quarterback that has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in his first two games as a Big 12 quarterback. 

However for some reason, this one just wasn’t meant to be. Without Jake Knott, Durrell Givens and Jansen Watson on defense, the Cyclones tried to cut a cheap steak with a plastic knife. 

A play here. A penalty there. An injury over there. Add all of those things up and that’s that. It just didn’t add up. 

Here’s your recap. 

Three Up

Paul Rhoads – Calling a time out near the end of the first half in attempt to give his offense the ball with under to minutes to play before the break…RISKY move there coach. It paid off though and Sam Richardson connected with Josh Lenz to cut West Virginia’s lead to three at the break. A fake punt in the third quarter (that ultimately didn’t lead to any points but still – it was the perfect play call at the perfect time). The passion. The grit. There’s a reason why this guys teams are among the most resilient in the sport. 

Defense – That one seemed worse than it really was folks. For real – without Knott, Givens and Watson, Iowa State’s defense held West Virginia to only 475 yards (WVU was averaging 510 yards per game heading into Friday). Had you offered that number up to me on Thursday afternoon, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. 

Think back to that plastic night/cheap steak analogy…Even if you take a knife to a gun fight, if the guy with that knife has the heart of a lion, he’s going to be tough to put away. This defense as a whole has the heart of a lion. Holding West Virginia to 31 points is an accomplishment in its own right. 

Sam Richardson – The redshirt freshman quarterback wasn’t as good as he was in Lawrence last week. Richardson, who completed only 13-of-31 passes on Friday, still threw three touchdowns in the loss. Richardson’s running game is deceiving. The rookie led Iowa State in rushing with 119 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per pop. He’s an interesting story as we head into the post season. I’ve got a lot of questions about Sam Richardson. 

I’m still curious as to how he didn’t win the job when Iowa State’s quarterback situation was at its worst around a month ago. But hey – his touchdown to interception ratio is currently 7 to 0. There’s no doubt that with Richardson, Jared Barnett and young Grant Rohach heading into next season, there will probably be another competition in Ames. And that’s okay. But the talent in that position group is undeniable. 

You have to feel better about this position group after seeing what we’ve seen from Richardson over the last two weeks. The young man has poise and appears to be quite the leader as well. Combine that with the touchdown/interception ratio and Richardson has rightfully found his way onto "Three Up."

Three Down

The fumble – Iowa State only turned the ball over one time in Friday’s loss. It just so happened to be the single play that eventually did the Cyclones in. Down seven, after a critical West Virginia personal foul that gave Iowa State the ball at the 7-yard line with just over four minutes on the clock, big Jeff Woody entered the game. 

"Just give it to Woody four times in a row," I told Cyclone Fanatic’s Ian Smith. 

Right then, Richardson handed the ball off to Woody. A West Virginia defender put his helmet on the ball, Woody fumbled and that was that. 

It was an uncharacteristic play by a guy who you can’t help but feel horrible for. 

Tavon Austin – Is as good as he was built up to be. In fact, he might be better. Check that – he’s way better. West Virginia’s do-it-all speedster didn’t post gaudy numbers against Iowa State’s gritty defense but he did enough. Austin, whose 75-yard touchdown reception late in the game eventually iced the Cyclones, ran for 74 yards, in the win. But that touchdown reception was nasty. Just plain nasty. His speed is impossible to accurately describe if you haven’t seen it in person. Did you see that punt return for a touchdown that was eventually called back because of a hold? Iowa State worked hard to account for him all day and for the most part did a darn good job. But he slipped through the cracks a couple of times and made the Cyclones pay in a big way. 

6-6 – There’s no doubt that heading into the season, most of you would have taken this right? Iowa State is going bowling and that’s a good thing but man – this program was so close to taking that next step – meaning seven wins and a .500 record in the Big 12. 

It’s hard telling and this is a very subjective and hypothetical opinion but add Knott, Givens or Watson to this game and Iowa State just might have won this game. 

That’s football. 

Game Ball

Seniors – During Monday’s press conference, Paul Rhoads said that this senior class really paved the way for what the modern era of Iowa State football is going to be. Just think about that for a minute…

Jake Knott…A.J. Klein…Josh Lenz… Guys like this represent the future. Guys like this are who guys like Jeremiah George learned from (which will pay dividends next year). Guys like this are Iowa State football going forward. And the best part is, it can only get better from here. Guys like this didn’t have a foundation of success, financial support (from the Big 12) and record crowds every Saturday to make their mark with. But Cyclones of the future will.

The future begins next week as of course, Iowa State is going bowling and will get those extra practices to advance underclassmen with. 

Helmet Stickers 

Jake Knott & Durrell Givens – Because you absolutely hate to see guys like this in dress clothes on Senior Day. Props to both on a great career. I assume we’ll see Givens back for the bowl game. 

Josh Lenz – The senior led Iowa State with four receptions and a touchdown in his final game at Jack Trice Stadium. 

A.J. Klein – He fittingly led Iowa State in tackles with 14. 

Jerome Tiller – The former quarterback caught the first touchdown pass of his career on Senior Day. 

Edwin Arceo – His 49-yard field goal with 6:42 to go in the fourth quarter put Iowa State on top of the Mountaineers and many thought might have iced the game. After the make, he booted the kickoff out of the endzone. That’s when Tavon Austin went nuts. Still, it was a clutch kick that’s very worthy of a helmet sticker.

Jeremiah George – Finished with 11 tackles. He’s had 10 tackles or more in the last four games.

Quenton Bundrage – This young wide receiver came on strong towards the end of the season. Bundrage caught a 35-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. 

Jacques Washington – He’ll be one of the top safeties in the Big 12 next season. Jacques had eight tackles in this one.

Jeremy Reeves – A great coverage corner. Seven tackles in this one including a key touchdown-saving pass break-up.