GRIT OVER GLITTER: ISU’s defense stifles the Big 12’s top offense

Nov 19, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; The Iowa State Cyclones celebrate with fans after their win against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Red Raiders 66 to 10. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — ISU’s pass rushed flushed Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes from the pocket before he whirled to hurl a desperate pass downfield.

The Cyclones, collectively, had already built a stunning 35-3 second-quarter lead on the Big 12’s most prolific offense Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium, so it’s hard to fault Mahomes for tossing up a prayer.

It’s just that ISU safety Kamari Cotton-Moya emphatically answered it — and not in the manner that Mahomes and the rest of the shell-shocked Red Raiders would have liked.

“It was a good feeling,” Cotton-Moya said of his 48-yard interception return for touchdown that put the Cyclones up 42-3 in the first half. “Got the win. Added on to the score. It was a great team win and the pick six helped us put the stamp on it. It was a blessing.”

He’s not being nonchalant. This historic 66-10 Big 12 win was that utterly complete, from start to finish. All three phases shined, but the fact the defense held the conference’s most potent offense (46 points per game, 580.2 yards per game) to a meager 10 points and 305 yards may be the most remarkable facet of the soaring triumph.

“It’s hard to play defense in college football today,” said Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, whose team (3-8, 2-6) is on its first two-game win streak since the end of the 2013 season. “I don’t care where it is or how it is. I thought our kids, to be as multiple as we were today, they really had to work at it. I think that’s what I’m really proud of. That our kids spent the time and did the little things when nobody else was watching to be able to have the reward of playing like they did today.”

WILLIAMS: Statement game for Campbell’s culture

That “when nobody else is watching part” is based on a favorite Campbell aphorism. Self-accountability breeds trust. Peak performance follows, as do results.

“The past few weeks the coaches have trusted us to watch film as a unit, without them in the room,” said junior safety Evrett Edwards, who helped set the tone for Saturday’s shocker with a pass breakup that turned Tech’s first series of the game into a three-and-out. “Just being able to communicate with the players and understand, ‘All right, what’s your thought process with this call?’ — that makes a big difference. It makes a really big difference.”

So does resolve, coupled with unwavering belief.  One month ago, the Red Raiders racked up a program-record 854 yards of offense at Oklahoma. They scored 59 points. Ironically, they still lost — and gave up 66 points to the Sooners.

Saturday, Tech went three-and-out in three of its first six series. Cotton-Moya forced and recovered a fumble in another, and the Red Raiders turned it over on downs within that span.

Tech didn’t reach the end zone until more than 37 minutes had elapsed amid the cold and blustery conditions that turned a good part of the paid crowd of 50,787 into no-shows.

“I really thought coach (Jon) Heacock had a great plan,” Campbell said of a defense that showed multiple looks and several blitz packages. “We did some different things in the first half of the football game and I thought we were able to be multiple in terms of what we were doing, but still, the foundation of stopping the running game, I thought, really helped us, even, at times, with a three-man front. So we picked and (chose) our spots to pressure. … I just thought our ability to be multiple and not give the same look consistently — credit goes to our coaches and great credit goes to our kids to be able to execute that game plan.”

Tech was held to 10 or fewer points in a game for the first time in five seasons. The Red Raiders scraped up just six points on Nov. 12, 2011, in a 60-point loss to then-unbeaten Oklahoma State.

Of course, we all know what happened to the Cowboys the following Friday in Ames.

Saturday’s win obviously won’t create anywhere near that kind of buzz or tumult among the college football world(nor should it), but it does serve as a signal that ISU has resurfaced from the depths of the league.

And for all the excitement about the future — as in next year — when Campbell made it clear being eliminated from bowl eligibility didn’t change his goals for team-wide growth this season.

“Just not giving up on us,” he said. “Showing that the leadership’s not giving up on us. It has a trickle-down effect. And when someone’s not giving up on you, you have the pressure not to give up on yourself and to keep everybody in your room and on the field with you accountable. That makes a big difference.”

Just as the defense did while Joel Lanning rambled for a single-game program record-tying five touchdowns and his compatriot at quarterback, Jacob Park, was throwing for 285 yards and a pair of scores.

They both deflected credit. Then I asked Park about the synergy the offense has slowly built with the defense. He started with Cotton-Moya.

“It was amazing, especially with Kamari and his pick six,” Park said. “Big plays are contagious, especially playing against an offense that thrives like they do on big plays. Not letting them get too many big plays kind of puts them in a rush, in a hurry. They start pressing. I think that’s what we got them into and once you get a quarterback in there pressing, he gets to the point where he doesn’t know what to do anymore and I think that’s where we got them. The defense did an amazing job tonight. The game wouldn’t have been what it was if the defense wasn’t there.”


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.

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