Iowa junior linebacker Jack Campbell runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown after recovering a fumble in the third quarter against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. © Bryon Houlgrave/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
AMES — In a game that featured four Iowa State turnovers in its own territory, a quarterback change and a handful of critical special teams snafus, there’s one sequence that may have sealed the Cyclones’ fate in Saturday’s 27-17 loss to Iowa.
It happened early in the third quarter. Thanks to a heady play from linebacker Gerry Vaughn, No. 9 ISU had thwarted Iowa’s 3rd and 14 play from the six-yard line.
Finally, it seemed, the Cyclones would flip field position. But sadly, it turned out, the reverse would be true.
Spectacular Hawkeyes punter Tory Taylor skied a kick to just past midfield. For whatever reason, ISU returner Tarique Milton failed to fair catch the ball — and it turned into a 69-yard punt.
“I wasn’t comfortable just sprinting up to catch that,” said Milton, who made a nifty 13-yard touchdown grab from backup quarterback Hunter Dekkars in the fourth quarter. “Obviously, I should have caught it. I take the blame for that.”
Instead of attaining a prime starting spot, the Cyclones began that drive from the 25-yard line.
What happened next? You know. ISU lost 12 yards, punted, and all momentum was lost.
One defensive stop later, star Cyclone running back Breece Hall fumbled at the six-yard line, Iowa’s Jack Campbell scooped it up for an easy touchdown and destiny seemed to take a hand.
All of that occurred within a span of less than six minutes — and followed a doomed, but promising drive the Cyclones took to midfield before punting in their first second-half possession.
“I really felt confident that we were in a great spot coming out in the second half,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “We put together a decent drive, get it out to midfield and then boom, the tide swings. We just never had the ability to recover. Again, I think luck is total BS. I think you create your luck and you either demand it, or you’re hoping and wishing, and this is not a sport to hope and wish. This is a sport to demand it to happen.”
Iowa remains the only team Campbell hasn’t beat. He’s beaten Oklahoma twice. He’s been in a great position to beat Iowa twice, but the somehow generally mistake-free Hawkeyes (in the Cy-Hawk game) escaped both of those challenges. Saturday was not one of them. Despite a herculean effort by the ISU defense, the outcome was never in doubt once Iowa went up 27-10 early in the fourth quarter after yet another Cyclone turnover.
How will ISU respond? If history is any guide, it’s quite well. The Cyclones were 2-2 when Kyle Kempt shocked the college football world with a comeback 38-31 win at Oklahoma.
Louisiana stunned ISU 31-14 to start the 2020 season and the Cyclones came within a touchdown of winning the Big 12 title. So rousing turnarounds — like Cy-Hawk losses — come like clockwork, which is highly encouraging.
“I think sometimes to learn those lessons, it takes a loss,” senior linebacker Jake Hummel said. “It shouldn’t. We should be able to learn those lessons just by winning games and then learning from the film just the same, but obviously that didn’t happen today.”
Not by a long shot. But panic is always the wrong reaction to a crisis. ISU sticks together, no matter the situation. It may be why they mange these massive turnarounds after early-season setbacks.
“That’s just one loss,” said senior defensive tackle Enyi Uwazurike, who tallied one of the Cyclones’ four sacks Saturday. “It’s a long season ahead of us. It’s all about how we respond. That’s what we’re founded on, responding. How we go through adversity, that’s what makes us who we are.”
“He’s probably a bigger leader than all of us to be honest. He can pick himself up, but at the same time, we’re still around him. We don’t point fingers. He had a bad game. You never know, we might have a bad game another day, so Brock (Purdy) has been through a lot. He has the hardest position on the field, obviously. He knows what comes and goes with that and this is something that he’s gonna take on the chin, no doubt. He’s done it before and responded great after that. I’m not really worried about how we pick up Brock, because Brock is able to do it on his own.” — Uwazurike on how he expects record-setting quarterback Brock Purdy respond to his three-interception game.