AMES — Paul Rhoads didn’t pound his fist on the podium.
His voice didn’t boom.
He didn’t get testy.
ISU’s head coach simply told it like it was after Saturday’s deflating 34-14 season-opening loss to there time-defending FCS champion North Dakota State:
The Cyclones — after surging to a 14-0 lead — got thoroughly beat.
Front to back, top to bottom.
“When you give any team 500-plus total yards and 300 yards rushing, you’re not going to win,” said Rhoads, whose team fell to an FCS-level program for the second straight season. “When you lose the turnover margin two-to-zero, you’re not going to win many football games.”
No, you’re not.
A litany of ominous facts formed the framework of ISU’s latest setback — and that depressing list starts with the numbers “9” and “74.”
The “9”, of course, stand for star receiver Quenton Bundrage, who went down with an apparent leg injury on the fourth play of the game and did not return.
“We don’t know,” Rhoads said when asked about Bundrage. “We’ll wait until we get an MRI.”
The “74”, obviously, is worn by standout center and captain Tom Farniok, who sustained a MCL strain late in the first quarter.
“Everything kind of went downhill from there,” ISU running back DeVondrick Nealy said.
There’s relatively good news on the Farniok front, though.
“Tom’s going to be OK,” Rhoads said. “Would have played him against my better judgment, that’s why I didn’t. It’s a long season. … We believe we’ll have him back on the field Saturday against Kansas State.”
For sure, since Farniok’s more severe MCL injury in last season’s opening loss to Northern Iowa set the offense back for several games (even though he only missed two).
How much did it contribute to Saturday’s 20-point defeat?
“No,” Rhoads said, shaking his head. “Not for a second will I use that for an excuse for what happened.”
Farniok’s likely return next week pretty much does it for the semi-good news, except for freshman Allen Lazard’s 48-yard first-career catch that set up Aaron Wimberly’s second touchdown.
At that point, ISU appeared poised to perhaps pull away from the Bison.
The Cyclones led 14-0 and even did something they failed to do last season: Score a touchdown on their first drive of the game.
“Started fast, which was exciting to see,” Rhoads said. “I anticipated them starting fast like that.”
But NDSU responded with its slow, steady and deadly dose of “old-school” football — albeit with an explosive catalyst.
On the first play of scrimmage after Wimberly’s second touchdown, Bison running back John Crockett jolted the defense for an 80-yard touchdown run.
“It was a momentum changer, for sure,” Rhoads said. “But you’re still ahead 14-7 and you’ve got the ball and you don’t go score with it and go play defense again. We are not fragile at this point to give up that run and everything — the bottom falls out. And it didn’t fall out.”
Two drives later, Crockett added the second of his three touchdowns, making it 14-14.
Then, as the first half wound down, ISU quarterback Sam Richardson was picked off by NDSU’s Christian Dudzik four yards past midfield.
The Bison drove to the Cyclones’ two-yard line in 1:12 and settled for a 19-yard Adam Keller field goal.
That lead of 17-14 presaged a 17-0 second half in which NDSU outgained ISU 252-to-57 and ground out a 20:17-to-9:43 edge in time of possession.
“The power run,” ISU senior captain defensive end Cory Morrissey said. “They just run it down your throat.”
Crockett rushed for 139 yards. Backup Chase Morlock ran for 81 — including a 66-yard touchdown.
The Cyclones managed 102 yards on the ground, led by Richardson’s 58.
Richardson completed 20 of 31 passes but threw two interceptions (both were tipped) and finished with 151 yards through the air.
“Good and bad,” Rhoads said when asked about Richardson’s performance. “I think he was a more poised player than he’s been in the past. I saw that. … He showed a difference in accuracy and an ability to throw it with more velocity than he has in the past . I thought he was doing a much better job of going through his progressions and not seeing the pressure, not seeing the defenders coming at him. He was working with his feet as he saw things downfield. So overall, I think Sam Richardson’s an improved player. He showed that today.”
The Bison demonstrated how the competitive advantage FBS teams hold over FCS teams continues to shrink — despite having 22 more scholarships (85 to 63) at their disposal.
“We knew what we were up against,” Morrissey said.
None of which makes the loss any easier to swallow.
Rhoads said this week he sometimes puts too much emphasis on the first game of the season — and that last year’s setback to UNI helped set the tone for a 3-9 season.
That won’t be the case in 2014, he said.
“We got beat by a team that is better than us on August 30, 2014,” Rhoads said. “That’s what happened. You get beat by better teams in athletics.”
As for his message to discouraged fans …
“Next Saturday’s the next game,” Rhoads said. “We kick off at the same time (11 a.m.), I believe. They know our guys are going to come back and play their hearts out; play with passion, play with energy. They know the preparation is going to be well-executed and well-detailed as we go through the week. And we’re going to improve as a football team every single week this season goes along. I think they know that about us and they’ll expect it. They should expect it. They should demand it.”