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Football

WILLIAMS: Three Up, Three Down from ISU’s dramatic win over Baylor

Nov 7, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State defensive end Eyioma Uwazurike (58) celebrates a sack during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to win 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

There wasn’t anything conventional about Iowa State’s nail-eviscerating and ulcer-inducing 38-31 victory over pesky Baylor on Saturday night. 

That game was utterly terrifying but in a fun, championship sort of way (if that makes sense). 

Iowa State is technically now in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with three regular-season games remaining (It’s important to point out that it is only because Oklahoma State has played one fewer game than the Cyclones. The Cowboys own a tiebreaker over Iowa State.). 

Think about how sick everybody would have been had Iowa State not come back and won that football game? The Cyclones had little to gain in this game, but everything to lose.

The Cyclones fought through every inch of adversity that was thrown at them, most of which they threw at themselves. 

As a result, Iowa State enters its final bye week of the season as a better football team than it was two days ago. That win was a culture builder.

We say it all of the time but it deserves to be screamed from the top of the Campanile. Iowa State is a developmental football program. It always will be. In order to compete for and win championships, the Cyclones will play in more games like this than say, Oklahoma en route to a title.

The difference between a championship and a “close but no cigar” season (that we are all too familiar with as Iowa State fans), is often winning games like this. 

To their credit, last year’s Baylor team did this seemingly by the week.. 

It was a highly satisfying victory for those inside of the program and fans alike. 

With that, let’s tackle this week’s Three Up, Three Down. 

THREE UP

1 – Moxie — Iowa State turned the football over four times in the first two and a half quarters of this game. It felt like the Cyclones were lucky to be down only 11 at halftime. The offense couldn’t get out of its own way and defensively, Iowa State was a half-step behind Charlie Brewer and the Bears. 

Then Iowa State outscored Baylor 21-3 in the third quarter and proved what most of us already knew. This is a damn good football team when things are clicking. But mentally, the win proved that the 2020 version of Cyclone football is off the charts. 

— Brock Purdy reminds me so much of Brett Favre. 

The dude threw three bad interceptions in the first half. It might have been the worst half of Purdy’s record-shattering Cyclone career. Even so, at halftime, I told Bret Meyer (whose career touchdown passes record Purdy broke in the third quarter) and Matt Van Winkle that I was fully confident in No. 15’s ability to move past it. 

Brock made me look good. Without flinching, he threw three touchdowns in the second half and had that crazy “eye of the tiger” look in his eyes.

That’s the Favre in him.

Purdy is such a gritty competitor – a true leader who everybody in the locker room feeds off of. He’s got all of those records that we hear so much about but I believe when it is all said and done, his “winner mentality” will be the ultimate legacy that Purdy leaves behind, whenever that might be. 

Clean: Iowa State only committed one penalty in the game and that was a garbage time false start before taking a knee to end the game.

— Breece Hall: Breece is the only running back in college football that has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season. His current tally is 1,034 yards at 6.3 yards per carry. Breece is second nationally in touchdowns with 13.

2 – Special teams – As we noted in last week’s postgame column, Iowa State was practicing its punt block scheme last week vs. Kansas. There is always a reason when you see a team doing that up double digits against an opponent as bad as Kansas. 

Iowa State went after a punt in the third quarter, Landon Akers blocked it and it led to a touchdown to put the Cyclones up by 14. That’s a nice wrinkle. 

It wasn’t the only big play on special teams though. Kene Nwangwu ripped open a 67-yard return in the third quarter that was crucial in Iowa State’s momentum shift. One could argue that without Nwangwu’s big returns vs. Oklahoma and now Baylor, the Cyclones wouldn’t have won either game.

And last but not least, the Cyclones didn’t give up a kick return for a touchdown, or miss a kick! That is a reason to celebrate!

Special teams have hurt Iowa State a lot this year. On Saturday night, when the team needed this unit the most, special teams helped Iowa State win a game. 

3 – Rush defense — Baylor was up multiple scores but couldn’t run the football. The Bears averaged a mere 2.6 yards per carry, which added even more weight to the already heavy shoulders of Charlie Brewer (more on him coming). 

Iowa State’s defense is so dangerous when the opposition is one-dimensional, and we saw that fact mature as the game went on. 

Note: Baylor didn’t have a single first down in the third quarter. 

As of Sunday morning, the Cyclone defense is giving up 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks them 14th nationally. 

Shout out to Charlie Brewer: He’s so tough. Baylor’s quarterback is one of my favorite players in the Big 12. Brewer has been hit more than any other signal-caller in the league and I’d argue no player has more on his shoulders than Brewer does in Waco this year. This team can’t run the ball and when you can’t run the ball, pass protection becomes next to impossible. 

THREE DOWN 

1 – Turnovers — I mean, it’s great that Iowa State was good enough to win a Big 12 game in which it turned the ball over four times. But you’d prefer that to not be the case, like, ever again. 

Purdy seems to go in spurts when it comes to ball security. When he’s bad, he’s bad. But then he will go three or four games without a turnover. Again, very Favre-like. 

My biggest concern here is that, yet again, Iowa State gave up another non-offensive touchdown, via a 30-yard interception return by Baylor’s Jalen Pitre. 

There’s been one game this year where Iowa State hasn’t given up a non-offensive touchdown. Oklahoma. 

In seven games this season, Purdy has thrown six interceptions. For comparison, he threw nine in 12 games last year.

2 – Play four full quarters — It’s a good and bad thing. Iowa State is 5-1, which is great. But it still doesn’t feel like this team has truly put four full quarters of football together yet this season. 

This team could be scary good if they can put all four quarters together … but are they capable of it?

3 – Covid-19 — The virus is breaking records for spread across the country and like much of the Big 12, Iowa State has a bye next weekend. 

“We’ve got to stay safe,” Mike Rose said after the game. “We’ve got to stay in our bubble.” 

Distractions are easier to come by when you don’t have a football game to prepare for and play. However based on how the season has already gone, there is no reason to worry about this Iowa State team taking its eye off of the ball.