Football

NO SHADE: ISU standout CB Anthony Johnson seeks redemption in Saturday’s Big 12 opener at Baylor

Sep 28, 2019; Waco, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) drops back to pass against the Baylor Bears during the second half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports 

You remember the blazing heat.

 The heat index climbed above 120 degrees on the sun-parched Iowa State’s tent-less sideline the last time the Cyclones played at Baylor.

 The last-minute field goal by the Bears foiled a rousing Brock Purdy-led ISU comeback and dropped the Cyclones to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big 12 play early in the 2019 season.

 And yes, all of that was significant, but standout ISU cornerback Anthony Johnson remembers that enervating loss for something else.

 Let him explain.

 “Oh,” said Johnson, who hopes to help lead his team to a win in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. Big 12 season-opener against Baylor in Waco. “What do I remember the most? It was one of the worst games of my career. It was. I mean, it was the worst game of my career. It was just a bad taste down there.”

 Why, exactly? For starters, all three of the Bears’ touchdowns came in the passing game. And two Baylor receivers (Tyquan Thornton and Denzel Mims) notched 100-plus yard games. 

 “The first play of the game they hit a double move for 54 yards on me,” Johnson said.

 A lot has changed since that battle of attrition — and dehydration — in Waco two years ago, but on the surface, there are plenty of similarities.

 **Baylor is 3-0 overall after rolling two FCS teams and Big 12 basement dweller Kansas.

 **The Cyclones are 2-1 and seeking to establish consistency in terms of offensive rhythm and attention to detail.

 **The temperate in Waco is projected to climb to nearly 90 degrees by halftime, so potentially five degrees cooler than the previous scorcher.

 **The Cyclones are favored by 5.5 points, slightly higher than the 3-point edge Vegas gave them going into the 2019 meeting.

“You’re gonna get right out of the gate (with) probably the hottest team in the Big 12, so a great challenge for everybody involved,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “I do think it is unique to being a part of this (league) now for six years, you’ve gotta be on your ‘A’ game because if you’re not playing your ‘A’ game you’re gonna get beat.”

 So expect another brawl Saturday afternoon in sun-swept Central Texas. Anticipating anything else would require hubris — and Campbell’s Cyclones don’t traffic in that conceit.

 “The past couple years we’ve started off a little slow and then we start finding ourselves as the season goes on,” said Purdy, who added school records 26 (career passing yards) and 27 (career total offense) in last Saturday’s 48-3 blowout win at UNLV. “That’s really been our message to the whole team. Just focus on each other. Have fun. And it’s gonna come. Everything is gonna come each week. We’re gonna get better each week. It’s just how we’ve played the last couple years and hopefully we can eliminate the mistakes and all that kind of stuff. You don’t (just) want to be playing your best football at the end of the season. It’s got to be from this moment moving forward.”

 And this game probably can’t be won with one brilliant final flourish — just like last time.

 ISU trailed 20-0 entering the fourth quarter two years, but Purdy carved up the Bears defense in the final 15 minutes to help give the Cyclones a 21-20 lead. Then Baylor drove 54 yards while grinding 3:24 off the clock to set up John Mayers’s 38-yard game-winner.

 The Bears did the little things like winning the turnover battle and stuffing ISU’s running game while coming up clutch in the end.

 Still, the heat — and lack of sideline protection for the Cyclones — did play a factor.

 “100 percent,” Purdy said.

 So he and others have double-checked the logistics.

 “This year we all asked, ‘Yo, are we getting tents, are we getting cooling benches?’” Purdy said. “They’ve all got it covered.”

 It’s likely that Johnson will, too. Put a chip on that man’s shoulder and good things typically happen. A new season starts on Saturday and what happened the last time in Waco has transformed into a cautionary tale, not a recurring theme.

 “It definitely fuels me,” Johnson said. “It definitely makes me excited.”

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