Sep 8, 2018; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes defensive end A.J. Epenesa (94) pursues Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
IOWA CITY — The game plan looked rock-solid. The execution, razor-sharp.
For 12 plays on the opening drive Saturday, Iowa State’s offense flashed its formability both through the air and on the ground at a sold-out Kinnick Stadium.
Until stalling at the Iowa one-yard line.
Until going for it on fourth and goal turned into a 23-yard field goal because of a false start.
So much success. So little reward. A microcosm of a downer of a day that culminated in a 13-3 loss — the Cyclones’ fourth straight to the Hawkeyes.
“It certainly makes it a different football game,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said of the opening drive. “And, again, that’s kind of exactly where we live today. It’s fourth and one on the one and we jump offsides. I think that’s the telltale sign of who we are. We were going for it. We were going to go try to score and take that next step but we weren’t able to do it. The reality of it is, that certainly had (an) effect. Now, was it the difference? By no means. It happens. We’ve got to grow from it and learn from it.”
Campbell harps on his team’s need to “win in the margins.” Saturday on offense, the Cyclones rarely were able to provide any sustained push, or carve out any space, save for that opening trip down the field.
The Hawkeyes (2-0) dropped ISU quarterbacks four times — and eventually knocked starter Kyle Kempt out of the game with a left MCL injury late in the fourth quarter. Zeb Noland relieved Kempt, and it was unclear immediately after the game how severe or lasting his injury would be.
“Obviously, I’d love to sit here and make great excuses for what happened, but first I’ll tip my hat, OK, to our opponent,” Campbell said. “I thought in the reality of it at the line of scrimmage where games are still won in this sport, they dominated. And unfortunately we didn’t have the ability to respond. I thought our defensive line really hung in there for the majority off the football game. Hard when offensively we couldn’t sustain any consistency, especially up front and it exposed us in some of the most critical times.”
That happened despite Campbell and his staff deciding to make some changes on the offensive line.
In last week’s weather-canceled game against South Dakota State, redshirt freshman Colin Newell debuted at center while former center (and projected left tackle) Julian Good-Jones sat out a one-game suspension.
But for what turned into week one against Iowa, Good-Jones — who started at center in the past — shifted back to that spot and sophomore Sean Foster started at left tackle.
Newell didn’t play much — and the line struggled mightily. The Cyclones managed to total just 19 rushing yards (the sacks hurt the total), its lowest amount in the Cy-Hawk game since losing 11 yards in the 63-20 rout of 1997 that capped Iowa’s 15-game win streak.
Campbell said what the line looks like going forward will remain a work in progress. Saturday he opted to use more experienced players at more familiar spots. Changes may come — or may not.
“The biggest thing is having multiples of people out of position in an environment like this and a game like this,” Campbell said. “I think trying to give some fluidity and some being concrete a little bit going into this football game I thought was really important. Julian had played really good at center last year and I thought Sean’s a guy that’s played a lot of football so I just thought experience was the right thing to do.
“Now is that the right thing going forward? Obviously we’ll watch the film and we’ll make the best decision for this football team. Collin Newell’s a young man that didn’t play much today and he’s a guy that we have great belief in. Probably a guy that’s certainly capable of going in and helping this football team. I think there’s still a lot of competition. As I told you guys, it’s going to take a couple weeks until that line shakes out to what it really is and what we want it to be going forward.”
Would have been nice to have a full week one game to help chart that path up front, but Campbell said that’s no excuse. After all, the Cyclones’ success on that first drive could have been impacted by the lack of game film Iowa had to base its defense on.
Who knows? It doesn’t matter now. But 13-3 this season felt more like 27-3.
“We never got into a flow,” Campbell said. “As soon as we got into any type of flow we self-destructed somewhere and a majority of that self-destruction happened up front, playing behind the sticks, putting ourselves in really tough situations.”
Still, ISU had an opportunity thanks to stern defense all day. Down 6-3 late in the third quarter, the Cyclones managed to drive into Iowa territory one last time. But on fourth and one at the 43, Kempt’s pass to Hakeem Butler didn’t have a chance.
The Cyclones would see two holding penalties and a false start doom two other drives as the Hawkeyes put the game away essentially with the only touchdown of the game with 4:47 left — or roughly 48 minutes after ISU seemed in prime position to score one itself.
“We came right off the bat and we got it going with that first drive,” tight end Chase Allen said. “Really, we were just trying to replicate that the whole game. They’ve got such a great defensive e front, it’s hard to really get those easy yards, so we start playing behind the chains. It’s really hard to get it going when you’re battling second and 12, second and 13.”
All day long, the little things proved to be the difference.
All day long, the Cyclones labored to produce a big play, or snare a turnover to turn the tide.
“Woulda, coulda shoulda, you know?” said linebacker Marcel Spears, who had seven tackles and a pass breakup. “It’s in the past now. We’re in the present. On to the next.”
That’s Oklahoma, where ISU, of course, shocked the nation last season.
“We’re not going to get it easy from Oklahoma and they’re not going to look over us, that’s for sure,” Allen said. “So we’ve got to really go in tonight and look at the film and go in tomorrow and look at what we did wrong, what we can do better and find some areas. I’ve got so much faith in our coaching staff to be able to help us out, so we’re excited.”