Sep 15, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) attempts to tackle Oklahoma Sooners running back Trey Sermon (4) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Sooners beat the Cyclones 37 to 27. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Three of Oklahoma’s first four drives Saturday ended in points.
Two, in touchdowns that helped build a double-digit lead.
Then ISU’s defense settled in, but not enough to prevent the No. 5 Sooners from striding out of Jack Trice Stadium with a 37-27 Big 12 season-opening win.
What went wrong early? Missed tackles, for one — which became less widespread as the game wore on.
“We tackled a little bit better,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said of his defense, which held Oklahoma (3-0) to 19 points below its scoring average. “We settled in within the game. It was a situation where we had some self-inflicted wounds against a team that has outstanding athleticism. I thought spatially we weren’t great early in the football game, and it cost us at times. I thought our linebackers and safeties settled in and I thought we played much better in the second half than we did the first half.”
Sooners receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown inflicted plenty of wounds on his own. He set a program record standard for receiving yardage in a half, with 174 — including a 75-yard touchdown.
OU quarterback Kyler Murray flashed his elite athleticism as well, throwing for 300-plus yards for the second straight game while rushing for a team-high 77 yards.
“Hats off to them,” said ISU safety Greg Eisworth, who recorded a career-best 14 tackles and also forced a fumble that set up his team’s first touchdown of the season. “They’ve got some great open-field playmakers. It still just comes down to fundamentals. We’re gonna go back and watch the film and you can see the breakdown in technique.”
Nothing’s broken for the Cyclones’ defense — despite the Sooners’ gaudy statistics. OU racked up 354 of its 519 yards in the first half, but it’s a lapse in the second half that haunts Eisworth.
Trey Sermon’s 22-yard touchdown run that gave the Sooners a 31-17 edge came when Eisworth failed to corral the dynamic tailback after what would have been a relatively short gain.
“I hit him, didn’t wrap up, he scores,” said Eisworth, who also dislodged the ball from OU back Marcelias Sutton in the red zone in what was originally ruled a fumble, but was overturned. “Plays like that replay in my head. That’s a game-changing play.”
There were plenty of those, just not enough for the home team.
The Sooners converted five of their first seven third down opportunities, but only one of four down the stretch.
OU nonetheless effectively sealed the win with a nearly eight-minute drive that culminated in a 42-yard Austin Seibert field goal.
So ISU’s growth was solid, but not nearly dramatic enough to set the stage for a second straight upset of the Sooners — and a first win against them in Ames since 1960.
“Everybody wants wins and losses and we all do, but all I care about is do we get better one week at a time?” Campbell said. “Do we get better one day at a time? At Iowa State, for us to get where we want to go, that’s the only way. And for me, I’m proud of the improvement. I know there’s a lot of improvement that must get made if we’re gonna win games like that and we’re gonna have continued opportunities. So to me, it’s like I told our kids, ‘We’ve just got to keep plugging away. We’ve got to keep pounding — and if we do it, we’ll get where we need to be.’”
That’s on both sides of the ball, where “finishing” a game right remains the sticking point for now.
“I set really high standards for myself and I think our defense is the exact same way,” Eisworth said. “There’s definitely improvement, which is good. We want to continue (with that).”
***** ISU quarterback Zeb Noland completed passes to eight different teammates, including five for 174 yards and two touchdowns to Hakeem Butler. He also hit Landen Akers for a 37-yard strike that could have been much bigger if it hadn’t been underthrown.
“Matt Eaton played really well,” Campbell said when asked about his receivers. “I thought Landon Akers, really starting to show up for us. Obviously, Hakeem, I thought took his game from a week ago to where he is today and I think really improved greatly. Hakeem’s had a phenomenal summer. I know i’ve spoken very highly of him. I trust him and I think he’ll be an anchor for us as we go. I thought Chase Allen had a great catch in the game. So we’ve got guys that we can get the ball to and our running backs can catch. I thin we’ll just continue to develop that group and that’s not even talking about Deshaunte (Jones) and Tarique (Milton), who both, I thought, did some great things today as well.”
***** Walk-on kicker Connor Assalley hit two field goals, making him 3-for-3 this season.
***** Jones caught a career-best nine passes. He’d snagged five catches four previous times.
***** The ISU offensive line improved remarkably from week one to week two, allowing just one sack. The Sooners were averaging six sacks per game.
“That’s what an offensive line actually looks like compared to what last week looked like,” Campbell said. “We’re trending in the right direction that way. I thought we were physical at times – I thought there was a lot of growth there. It’s good to see (Julian) Good-Jones on the outside, and how about Colin Newell in his first start playing against Oklahoma? I thought he did a really good job.”
***** Campbell said tight end Chase Allen, who left the game late, got dinged up but the injury is not considered severe. He also said starting guard Josh Knipfel was among several players who cramped up on a hot and humid Saturday and he’ll be “ready to rock and roll” next week. Also among the players to cramp up: standout back David Montgomery, who’s also fine.
“David was cramping,” Campbell confirmed after the game. “Yes, you and me had the same conversation in our head.”