Oct 26, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys safety Malcolm Rodriguez (20) returns an interception 26 yards for a game winning touchdown off a pass by Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium. Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive end Trace Ford (94) blocks Purdy on the play. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s voice remained calm and measured.
Nothing cracked, nothing wavered — even on a day where his team checked virtually all the boxes on the what-not-to-do ledger during a dispiriting 34-27 setback to Oklahoma State before a sellout crowd of 61,500 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“We did not really play Iowa State football today,” Campbell said Saturday as the Cyclones saw an unprecedented 10-game October-based win streak snapped.
Reason number one: Surrendering backbreaking big plays in the first half. The Cowboys (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) scored on touchdowns spanning 71, 50 and 65 yards while building a 21-10 lead. Poor tackling fueled the first two. Miscommunication, Campbell said, framed the last one — the lone big play Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s leading tailback in yards and touchdowns, made as the Cyclones fell to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in league play.
“For me personally, this hurt,” said safety Lawrence White, who totaled five tackles. “I feel like the way things went, I’ve just got three big plays in my head that I wish I could get back. I wish we could make some adjustments, but we’ve got to take the loss and learn from it and hopefully grow from it. We’ve got a lot of season left.”
Reason number two: ISU’s offense closely resembled the one that failed to turn yards into points early in the season. Two first half drives ended up in punts in plus-territory. Three inside the Cowboys’ 23-yard line culminated in two made field goals and one that sailed wide left.
The Cyclones ran an eye-popping 55 first-half plays that churned up 328 yards, but a mere 13 points.
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, needed just 23 plays to produce 21 points.
That’s efficiency wed with explosiveness. That’s doing the little things with precision. That’s winning football — and why the Cyclones left this homecoming loss scratching their heads.
Next up: A bye week. Then a trip to Oklahoma, followed by a home matchup with Texas. And, ahem, both the Sooners and Longhorns were also upset on Saturday.
“Regardless of what the outcome was today, I think No. 1 is, you’re getting into the heat of the battle of you want to play your best football in November,” Campbell said. “We’ve been (inching) towards getting there week in and week out. I still feel like we didn’t take a huge step back today – I still think there were a lot of positives and I imagine as we watch this film (we’ll) see that. We know there’s a brand of football that is successful, that we when we play it, that’s when we play at our best. It’s about pounding away at how do we continue to get there? This was the seventh game in a row for us, we’re going to have to do a great job of taking care of ourselves and then our kids are going to have to decide where we want to go. What’s going to happen in the month of November? Will we have a chance to become the absolute best version of ourselves we can be? What a great challenge and what a great opportunity for the Cyclones.”
Saturday’s missed opportunity for a fourth straight win brings that challenge into sharp relief.
Suddenly, a realistic shot at a 4-1 start in Big 12 play has turned into a scramble to avoid a potential freefall — all because of a few pronounced early breakdowns on defense and a recurrence of inconsistent play on offense when it comes to transforming promising drives into points.
“A loss is a loss,” said tight end Charlie Kolar, who accepted the blame on the third fourth-quarter interception thrown by quarterback Brock Purdy. “We all hurt. We’ve lost three close games. What’s the difference? Ten points is the difference between 8-0 and 5-3. Just got to keep getting better.”
ISU lost the turnover battle three to one, but the single takeaway — linebacker Mike Rose‘s interception at the Cowboys’ 31-yard line — spurred hope early in the second half. Two plays later, tailback Breece Hall scored his first of two rushing touchdowns to pull the Cyclones within one, at 21-20.
Hall’s second touchdown squared the game, 27-27, with 9:06 left but Purdy’s first interception would prove to be the costliest as it found the hands of the Cowboys’ Malcolm Rodriguez, who sprinted to a 26-yard touchdown with 6:47 left that stood up as the game-winning score.
“Coach did a great job of getting us ready for the game,” said Purdy, who completed a school-record 39 passes, including a touchdown to Kolar, but needed a program record-tying 62 attempts to do it. “And for me and the offense, we’ve just got to execute better. I feel like the defense got a lot of great stops and had chances for us to take over the game, but we didn’t execute. That’s something we’ve just got to get better at.”
Purdy spoke in calm and measured tones, just like Campbell.
The well-grounded approach has served them — and ISU — well in the past as opportunities missed morph into unforeseen chances to break fresh ground, and reach new heights.
“It’s going to be a crazy November and we’ll see if we can continue to pound away at the Cyclones and be the best version of us that we need to be,” Campbell said.