GRAY: ISU’s offense shining after early struggles

Oct 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Trever Ryen (19) blocks for Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) against the Baylor Bears at Jack Trice Stadium. The Bears beat the Cyclones 45-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMESNick Fett’s faint smile masked a measure of deep satisfaction.

Not because Iowa State dominated No. 13 Baylor for most of Saturday’s Big 12 matchup, only to fall late, 45-42, at Jack Trice Stadium.

No, the stinging end result did not align with the marked progress the Cyclones’ offense has made since a humiliating 42-3 setback at Iowa less than a month ago.

But one long drive in particular demonstrated what “attitude and effort” can conjure once it leaps from theory to real-world gridiron conditions. That’s something to build on — regardless of the unsavory 1-4, 0-2 win-loss record ISU is saddled with entering Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State.

“Those are more fun than scoring on one play and getting off the field,” said Fett, a versatile offensive lineman who helped spearhead a 16-play, 75-yard drive that spanned a grinding 7:40 in the second quarter. “It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to run the football at you and you can’t stop it. When they know it’s coming and you do it, that’s a cool thing to see. It gives you confidence in your run game and stuff and Mike (Warren) runs really hard. You saw that. We’re getting the ball in his hands and giving him holes to run through. Putting those consistent drives through, we’re making progress every play.”

Wins and losses? Apply the brakes to those worries for now. The Cyclones nearly beat Baylor. By next season, those roles may be suddenly reversed — as far-fetched as that may sound.

“You have to go win the game against a team like that,” chief culture-changer and head coach Matt Campbell said. “So a lot of lessons learned. A lot we have to continue to grow and get better from and certainly a great challenge for us as we head to Stillwater against a really good Oklahoma State team.”

One name stands out for the Cowboys (who, by the way, managed just 24 points in a loss to Baylor): Mason Rudolph.

Okie State’s star quarterback has thrown nine touchdowns to two interceptions. A solid rate, for sure, especially since the team’s running game has yet to get on track.

Therein lies the rub: ISU’s rush defense ranks 123rd nationally (261 yards per game).

The Cowboys rushing offense? A pedestrian 104th (134.0).

Bottom line: If the Cyclones can pressure Rudolph anything like they bothered Baylor’s Russell (with hurries, if not sacks), another potential upset special could be brewing.

“I feel like we can play with anybody,” ISU defensive back D’Andre Payne said. “Trust in the process and keep moving forward.”

That can’t happen without woebegone baggage being jettisoned by older players.

They’re part of the Cyclones’ checkered past.

They were on the field when late leads (or great chances) against Kansas State, the Cowboys, and Toledo ended in defeat a year ago.

And Baylor? That’s an opportunity missed, no matter how close they came to upending the national narrative.

“We played three and a half (quarters),” said talented tailback Mike Warren, who rushed for a season-high 130 yards in the loss. “And the week before that we played three. It’s really just a mindset thing that we’ve got to come out and finish the game out.”

Can it happen Saturday? Stay tuned.

And there’s another drive that will help the offense find a way to make that creep into the realm of possibility.

Remember the first touchdown last Saturday?

After a Lanning to Allen Lazard touchdown was called back by a penalty, the very next play, ISU’s quarterback dialed up another pass.

Lanning hit Deshaunte Jones for a 43-yard scoring strike largely of the darting and weaving receiver’s making.

That’s resilience. And that’s the basis of winning football. In this new era for Iowa State, both big plays and mere chance form the framework for a springboard, which can lead to soaring high dives — and the occasional belly flop.

“When you you throw a touchdown and it gets called back it’s kind of like a big drainer,” Lanning said. “Like, you’re excited and then, ‘Oh, we’ve got to come back and try to make another play.’ For me to be able to just throw a simple crossing route to Deshaunte and have him make moves or what not is huge. Picked up the drive for us, kept us alive, and ultimately it might have (given) us enough juice to keep going like we did. It was huge to come out and score on the first series like that.”

And the next five series, too.

ISU’s offense, which struggled to move the ball against Northern Iowa, of all teams, now seems poised to challenge any comers.

That — 1-4 record and all — is remarkable, and well worth recognizing, with reservations.

“We’re still just OK,” Campbell said of the offense’s overall production. “We’ve got a long way to go and we’ve got to be a lot better.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.