Oct 24, 2020; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) gets by Oklahoma State Cowboys’ Tre Sterling (3) and linebacker Calvin Bundage (1) in the fourth quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports
STILLWATER, Okla. — Xavier Hutchinson stated it so matter of factly.
The junior wide receiver was speaking to the media following No. 17 Iowa State’s 24-21 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater. It was a game marked by the Cyclones’ inability to capitalize on opportunities, largely anemic offense, bad penalties and untimely miscues, ultimately ending as their first Big 12 loss of the season.
It was a game that moved Oklahoma State to 4-0 and kept them in the Big 12 driver’s seat alongside fellow conference unbeaten Kansas State.
Still, Hutchinson said it so matter of factly.
“They’re a very good team,” the former JUCO transfer said. “But, I still think that we’re a much better team than them.”
Sorry, Xavier, but it is tough to agree with you after what I saw at Boone Pickens Stadium.
Are the Cowboys head and shoulders better than the Cyclones? Definitely not.
This was a game that was two Connor Assalley field goal misses away from going the other direction. It was a game that saw Iowa State get inside the Oklahoma State 30 yard line on three separate occasions, but fail to score points on any of them.
Iowa State had plenty of opportunities to take control of the football game, including in the first quarter while leading 7-0. Breece Hall got the Cyclones out of the shadow of their own uprights by busting off a 70-yard run deep into Oklahoma State territory.
The Cyclones next three plays? An incomplete pass, a four-yard run by Hall that put the Cyclones at the OSU 18 then another pass attempt that resulted in a questionable intentional grounding penalty and a loss of 13 yards, which backed them up to the OSU 31.
And then came Assalley’s first missed field goal. Three plays later, Cowboy quarterback Spencer Sanders connected with Jelani Woods for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
What once looked to be on the edge of being a two-score Iowa State advantage, was suddenly a tie game and all the momentum resided on the Oklahoma State sideline.
“I thought it was huge,” head coach Matt Campbell said of the sequence. “I think that was if you talked about a difference in the game, that’s one of those moments where it drastically alters the game. Again, we get that tough penalty that moves us back. Right or wrong, it’s a tough situation. From our end of it, we don’t put it in for a touchdown there, that’s tough. Obviously, it’s 24-21, so not getting any points there becomes the difference in the game.”
This Iowa State team is more talented on paper than many of the Cyclone squads that came before it. They have the three-year starter at quarterback with 22 program records, the tailback who is proving week-after-week to be one of the best ball carriers in the country, perhaps the best tight end room in college football and the defense filled with playmakers, pass rushers and run stoppers.
It is a group that has shown flashes of just how good it can be when they’re all clicking at the same time, as they were at times two weeks ago in the win over Texas Tech.
At the same time, this is a group that has proven to be way too good at shooting themselves in the foot.
Whether it is penalties, losing contain on the quarterback to allow a long third down conversion or dropped passes on crucial downs, this team has not shown the ability to do everything necessary to beat really good teams week after week, especially really good teams on the road.
Oklahoma State is a really good team. There’s a reason Mike Gundy’s squad will be in the College Football Playoff conversation for the majority of the season.
Iowa State could be a really good team, too.
Right now, though, it is just a pretty good team trying to figure out how to stay out of its own way.
“I think there were times, it’s like our whole team, the offense, the defense, the special teams, there’s moments of outstanding and there’s lulls,” Campbell said. “I think the reality for the entirety of the team is we can’t have lulls. Offense, defense, special teams, everybody included looks exactly the same. Where we’ve got to iron out our team if we want to become our best is we’ve got to get rid of the lulls. We had them in every phase of the game today and unfortunately, those lulls caught us.”
The positive thing is there are still five games left on the schedule and even with the loss, the Cyclones are only one game out of first place in the Big 12. It probably should be a team that is 5-1 entering its third and final bye week on Nov. 14 prior to a final three-game stretch that will include huge games against Kansas State and Texas.
Oklahoma State has not played either of those teams, nor have they played in-state rival Oklahoma, which has won each of its last two games following a loss to Iowa State three weeks ago.
There is still a lot on the table for this Iowa State team, including the possibility to playing for the Big 12 title.
But in order to reach that goal, this team has to figure out a way to stay out of its own way. The days of constantly shooting yourself in the foot have to go out the window because it is the thing holding this year’s Cyclones back from reaching their potential.
“It’s still really early when you think about it in the football season in a lot of ways,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to get those things corrected if we want to become the team that we’ve got the ability to become.”
The Cyclones are capable of being really good, just like Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, right now, Iowa State is just pretty good.
And that’s why I’ll have to disagree with you, Xavier Hutchinson.
The better team won on Saturday in Stillwater.