WILLIAMS: Emptying out my Cyclone Football notebook from Austin

Nov 17, 2018; Austin, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) reaches high for the snap against the Texas Longhorns during the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

AUSTIN, Texas — After having a night (due to a 6 a.m. flight, it was more like an hour and a half) to sleep on Iowa State’s disappointing 24-10 loss at Texas, here’s where I’ve landed as far as analyzing the significance of this from a broad view of the program. 

There’s no doubt that the game was an eye-opening dud. It was an opportunity missed for a rising program that has probably overachieved slightly in years two and three of the Matt Campbell Era. 

I still refuse to lump this into the “Clone nut cup” conversation that we’ve all had over the years though. No chance. 

Iowa State did not choke on Saturday night. The Cyclones were convincingly beaten by a better team, a group of Longhorns that could very well end up winning the conference. 

Texas was fantastic and while Iowa State certainly didn’t come close to playing its best game, the Longhorns had a heck of a lot to do with that.

When looking at the big picture, this feels significantly different than say, 2005, in the sense that Iowa State is now ascending as a program. Back in those days, Dan McCarney wasn’t getting any younger and the recruiting wasn’t anywhere near it needed to be for Iowa State to consistently compete for championships. 

This is a young Cyclone team that in six days will have an opportunity to win its sixth conference game of the season, a feat no group in school history has ever accomplished. 

That’s a really big deal. 

While the loss was deflating to a fan base with Big 12 championship hopes, this is totally different than “nut cup” moments of the past. 

Now, onto emptying out my notebook from an eventful weekend in Austin. 

1 – Despite Texas’ dominance up front on both sides of the ball, Iowa State still had a handful of chances to make it a game on Saturday night. The Cyclones consistently failed in terms of execution.

The first play that comes to mind was late in the first quarter when the Cyclones actually had a smidge of momentum offensively.

Brock Purdy missed some throws early, one specifically to an open Hakeem Butler with 1:41 to play in the first quarter. Butler made the catch but his foot was ruled to be out of bounds in a replay.

— Under heavy pressure later in the first half, Purdy made a beautiful throw to Matt Eaton, who couldn’t come up with what would have resulted in a first and goal for the good guys.

— In the second half, with Texas quarterback Sam Ehlingher knocked out of the game and David Montgomery  — as hungry as your Uncle Jim before Thanksgiving Dinner — helped give Iowa State’s offense additional opportunities. 

A bad holding call negated a big Montgomery run. 

In Texas territory nearing the end of the third, Iowa State was set to go for it on 4th and four until a false start penalty erased that option. Cyclone kicker Connor Assalley eventually missed a 48-yard field goal. 

None of these plays alone would have changed the outcome of the game, but momentum is a funny thing, especially early while playing on the road. Iowa State had to be sharp to win this football game and for one reason or another, the Cyclones were not.

2 – Campbell elaborated on what was going through his mind on his decision to kick the field goal in the third quarter following the false start instead of going for it like he had initially intended on doing…

“I thought the key was we had the opportunity to get some points there and make it 21-6 and certainly make it a two-possession game and I didn’t want to leave that out there,” Campbell said. “But you know, obviously Connor has been tremendous for us and we made it a lot harder for him in that situation. But 4th and 4 we felt like we had a great call. Fourth and 9, I felt like getting the points in that situation was the right thing to do. Right, wrong or indifferent, we certainly didn’t help Connor with the five-yard penalty.”

3 – There was a lot of talk postgame about how much the players on each team knew about what had happened with West Virginia and Oklahoma State just minutes prior to kickoff. 

To the chagrin of Tom Herman, they knew plenty. 

Texas played the ending of that meaningful Big 12 contest on the big screen at Darrell K. Royal Stadium during warm-ups. 

“I’ve got to talk to our video board operator about that, doing that right during pregame,” Herman said. “That was tough to wrangle our guys in and focus on pregame. You talk about not worrying about the big picture and there it is in friggin’ high definition right in front of you.”

The tens of thousands of fans who entered the game early were reacting to every play — all rooting for the Cowboys, obviously. 

“I heard them screaming,” Hakeem Butler said. “I didn’t really pay much attention to it. I just focused on what we had to do. I felt like no matter what happened, we controlled our own destiny. Win, lose or draw. We fumbled it. Onto the next.”

4 – As a whole, Texas no longer overlooks Iowa State. Saturday night’s crowd of 102,498 – the 500th game in the history of Darrell K Royal Stadium – was the second largest in program history. 

5 – This game was a cold reminder as to how far Iowa State still needs to come to even be considered good up front on offense. 

The Cyclones only averaged 2.1 yards per rush against a Texas defense that presented an incredibly aggressive game plan. 

“They had good coverage but we were getting open,” Butler said. “Brock (Purdy) didn’t have enough time. Kyle (Kempt) didn’t have enough time.”

Texas was credited with six sacks and five quarterback hurries in the game as Purdy took multiple big hits before Campbell eventually pulled him out early in the fourth.

WILLIAMS: If you’re looking for silver linings following Iowa State’s loss to Texas 

6 – Campbell said that he was pleased with how running backs Kene Nwangwu and Johnnie Lang played in the first half in the absence of David Montgomery. 

The pair of young backs combined for 54 yards on the night. Nwangwu ripped open a 24-yard run in the second quarter — the longest run of his career. 

Still, it was brutally obvious early in the third quarter just how many sores Montgomery covers up when it comes to deficiencies on the offensive line. Especially picking up blitzes in pass blocking scenarios. 

“I had the same mentality,” Montgomery said about his odd night. “I guess you could say I was a half fresher so it might have looked like I was running harder.”

Iowa State’s offensive line has unquestionably gotten better since the season began, but development in that specific position group will once again be the key to this program taking yet another step forward in the offseason. 

7 – Iowa State’s defense is really starting to feel the grind of November football. 

The slow leak began to show signs in the Texas Tech game. That’s when defensive end Enyi Uwazurike went down on the first play of the game. The Cyclones are drastically feeling that now.

Iowa State was only credited with one quarterback hurry vs. the Longhorns. 

Another sign that Iowa State isn’t effectively pressuring the quarterback: Texas signal-callers combined to completed 22-of-25 passes on Saturday night. Off the bench, Shane Buechele completed 10-of-10 passes in the second half. 

It was just too easy. 

8 – Unfortunately, already down starters Uwazurike and cornerback Datrone Young, Iowa State lost safety D’Andre Payne in the fourth quarter. Campbell didn’t have an update/timeline to give on the injury following the game but it didn’t look good. I’ll be surprised to see him before the bowl game. 

Sophomore Arnold Azunna came off of the bench to spell Payne and recorded four tackles.

9 – The loss marked Iowa State’s worst tackling game of the season. 

“I feel like everybody gives great effort,” safety Greg Eisworth said. “That’s never an issue with us but some people were out of gaps. That’s something we need to clean up. We had a lot of missed tackles which needs to be corrected.”

Eisworth went into more detail as to what poor tackling might mean, big picture for the defense. 

“For me, a lot of it is not wrapping up or wanting to make the big hit,” Eisworth said. “Just really focusing in on the details and execution to make a proper tackle. It’s hard to tell until we watch film, where it all came from.”

10 – Montgomery reminds me so much of Campbell. 

Matt Campbell is a guy who acts the same on a five-game winning streak as he did after a 1-3 start. 

When Montgomery was made available to the media after the game, the maturity he showed was nothing like you’d expect out of a guy who was ejected for fighting just a week ago. 

“The fascinating thing about the game is when you lose, you see areas for improvement,” Montgomery said. “You take the pros and cons as is. We’ll go back to the drawing board and work just as hard if not harder. At the end of the day we still have quarters to play.”

11 – I pointed out to Montgomery that a win next week would still secure of the best seasons in school history. This is how he replied:

“The biggest thing this year for us was ‘we before me.’ We take that into a whole other extent,” he said. “Just being able to play for the guys next to me and the guys in there are playing for me. It’s an amazing and mesmerizing feeling. In football, you make years of relationships, 20-30 years. Us just being together is just an amazing feeling.”

My takeaway: Don’t expect the Cyclones to show up flat vs. K-State just because the Big 12 championship is no longer in the picture. 

12 – Lawrence White made a career-high 10 tackles in the game but most importantly, recorded his first career sack. That’s significant because 16 different Cyclones have now sacked an opposing quarterback this season.

Only 10 Cyclones collected at least half of a sack in 2017. 

13 – Finally, Texas used to have a bad reputation for not having much of a home field advantage. 

That stadium was absolutely hopping on Saturday night. It was a really cool college football atmosphere and considerably more electric than what I was expecting. 

The best things about college football — to me — are the traditions. 

I witnessed one from Texas that I didn’t know existed. About three hours before kickoff, Bevo, the actual steer, has a parade as he enters the stadium. There’s a marching band, flags, cheerleaders and then the steer walks down the middle of the road while fans essentially worship him.