Sep 29, 2018; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Braxton Lewis (33) intercepts a pass intended for TCU Horned Frogs cornerback Jeff Gladney (12) during the second half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The defense forced three turnovers and one led to a touchdown.
The offense struggled all night, managing just 198 yards and one, prolonged and dominant scoring drive.
Not enough, but so close.
That confounding forumla meant no Big 12 win — again — for ISU, which fell in heartbreaking fashion, 17-14, Saturday night at TCU.
“It’s gonna come down to the fourth quarter and who makes more plays and that’s what it came down to tonight,” linebacker Willie Harvey said on the Cyclone Radio Network after the game. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done in the fourth.”
The Cyclones’ effort over 60 minutes deserved an A-plus.
The execution in critical moments, particularly on offense, invited a significantly lower grade as ISU fell to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
“We knew field position, defensive football, and really eliminating mistakes in this game would be the difference,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “Our kids gave us every opportunity to be right there. You’re talking inches, both sides, that defined the end result, but I walk out of this locker room really proud of this group and I feel really confident we’re heading in the right direction.”
ISU quarterback Zeb Noland overshot receivers consistently and lost a fumble that turned into a touchdown, but also used his legs to rush for a first down on third down and 25 to keep alive the offense’s only sustained drive of the game, which tied the score at 14-14 with 7:51 remaining.
“I thought that was a big play by Zeb, a big response after the fumble in that situation,” Campbell said. “To me, I see so many positives, so many good things happening on this football team right now and look forward to the opportunities in front of us.”
Zoland finished 14 of 28 for 79 yards (2.8 yards per completion) and one touchdown to backup tight end Charlie Kolar — ISU’s first score by a tight end since 2014.
Star tailback David Montgomery also shined the most on that singular drive, churning up more than 40 percent of his 101 yards en route to the game-tying touchdown.
But TCU’s offense managed to gain just enough traction against the Cyclones’ stout defense to come out on top.
Quarterback Shawn Robinson completed 21 of 29 passes for 182 yards and a touchdown and interception and also rushed for 12 hard yards, some of which led to third-down conversions.
The Horned Frogs totaled just 299 yards of offense — 150-plus yards below their previous average.
“It takes a special group of guys and a special team to keep pounding away and really not flinching, and that’s what I really like about this group,” Campbell said. “Even until the end of this football game, this group never flinched, so we’ll continue to grow.”
As for the “little things” barometer …
The Cyclones mostly came out on top.
ISU committed one penalty. The Horned Frogs were whistled for five.
The Cyclones finished plus-two in turnover margin and all three takeaways occurred in opposite red zones.
*****The first, A strip sack by true freshman Will McDonald recovered by JaQuan Bailey, set up Noland’s three-three-yard touchdown pass to Kolar, which gave ISU a 7-0 lead.
But yards and points — save the one impressive drive capped by Montgomery’s one-yard leap that tied the game 14-14 with 7:51 left — were few and far between.
*****The second red zone takeaway came when D’Andre Payne stripped the ball loose and O’Rien Vance recovered it at the ISU 14.
No sustained drive followed, however.
*****Another red zone takeaway came in the fourth quarter, with TCU threatening.
Braxton Lewis rose up and picked off Horned Frogs quarterback Shawn Robinson at the ISU three-yard line with 7:51 left and the game tied 14-all.
But the offense stalled after gaining one first down and the Cyclones punted.
TCU — which was 11-for-20 on third downs — then drove 36 yards on nine plays while chewing up 3:12 of clock. The Horned Frogs (3-2, 1-1) completed that slog with the decisive field goal — a 28-yard boot from Jonathan Song.
ISU went four-and-out in its final possession and a second straight upset of the Horned Frogs slipped away, despite a yeoman’s effort.
“I think sooner or later we’re gonna cut the rope,” Campbell said. “And once that rope gets cut it’s gonna be really fun to see the power behind this group, but it’s a great challenge. It’s not easy and we wouldn’t want it any other way to be honest with you.”
Montgomery left the game late with an injury. The nature and extent of it was unclear late Saturday night.
ISU forced some of TCU’s top playmakers to the sideline Saturday as well, including KaVontae Turpin early and Robinson late.
The Cyclones will regroup this week and try to attain their first Big 12 win next Saturday at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys (4-1, 1-1) cruised to a comfortable win at Kansas on Saturday — and ISU hasn’t beaten them since the landmark 37-31 double-overtime triumph in 2011.
“The Big 12 is filled with great teams,” said Harvey, who posted a team-best 12 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. “We’re excited. We’ve already moved on. Ready for Oklahoma State next week.”