AMES — And, now, the real party starts.
Iowa State football is leaving non-conference play with an undefeated (3-0) record for the first time since 2011 after a 43-10 dismantling of Ohio on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
The Cyclones were sharp, precise and efficient early, jumping out to a quick 17-0 lead less than 10 seconds into the second quarter, then had some hiccups as the game progressed, including a blocked PAT, a fumbled snap and some missed tackles defensively.
Still, the final result mirrored the first two weeks of the season by ending in victories, and the Cyclones leave the weekend with plenty left to be cleaned up.
The Big 12 party awaits in less than seven days.
“I told our kids today I feel like, man, we’ve showed up ready to rock and roll,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “I feel from a physicality standpoint, from an attitude and effort standpoint, things that we have said are the cornerstones of who we want to be, I really like where we’re at. From a precision and detail (standpoint), we’re still young, some young mistakes today, and we got to be humble enough to grow from those things.”
If there were any questions about how Iowa State would respond this week after its thrilling 10-7 win over archrival Iowa last week in Iowa City, those concerns were quickly alleviated.
Hunter Dekkers was on-point from the opening kick, leading the Cyclones on an 11-play, 69-yard drive to open the game before capping it with his first rushing touchdown of the season.
He added his first of three touchdown passes later in the quarter, a 12-yard connection with tight end DeShawn Hanika, to put Iowa State ahead 14-0 at the end of the first frame.
By the time the halftime horn sounded, Dekkers had completed 21-of-27 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a final line of 28-of-36 for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Yes, there was the lost snap deep inside Ohio territory in the second quarter, but it would be hard to feel much better about how Dekkers performed during his first three games as Iowa State’s starting quarterback.
“I think there are there are high-end highs, and there are some lows that we got to get figured out,” Campbell said of his starting quarterback. “The ball security piece of it is something that we’ve got to continue to strain to work on, and yet, man, there’s some critical plays that he makes in the football game. We’re not the team we’ve got the ability to be if he doesn’t make those plays.”
Dekkers’ life is made considerably easier by the presence of Xavier Hutchinson, who was dominant again on Saturday, tallying nine receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.
He became the eighth Iowa State wide receiver to eclipse 2,000 career receiving yards. The Jacksonville native is also only the seventh college football player since 2000 to record 28-or-more receptions during his team’s first three games of a season.
That’s a list that includes Michael Crabtree, Brandin Cooks and Tavon Austin, a trio of elite college wide receivers who need no introductions.
He’s played at an All-American level to this point in the season, but we’re still only getting started.
“They were trying to bracket X in the first half,” Campbell said. “You’re still able to make some critical third downs, some critical plays, and great moments, and that’s a credit to X for getting open.”
Saturday’s win over the Bobcats could leave you feeling better about Iowa State’s other options through the air, as well.
Jaylin Noel caught three passes for 29 yards. Dekkers connected with Hanika twice in the game, including on the aforementioned touchdown that stands as the second of Hanika’s season and Iowa State career.
There was also the finally healthy Sean Shaw making an impact by catching five passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown of the season during the game’s third quarter.
“I think the thing that I’m probably most excited about is we had some other guys step up,” Campbell said. “I think the thing that’s enjoyable is you’re starting to see a supporting cast formed around Xavier. That’s exciting because we’ll need all those guys as well.”
This still appears to be one of Iowa State’s best offensive lines under Campbell, and I’d argue last week’s performance in Iowa City might have been the best by an Iowa State offensive line in Campbell’s tenure.
With that said, the group had some bumps in the road of its own on Saturday, including allowing back-to-back sacks during the third quarter.
Finding rushing room wasn’t a problem though as Iowa State posted 163 yards on 32 rushes for a 5.1 yards per carry average against Ohio. Jirehl Brock gained 76 of those yards on only seven carries.
This Iowa State offense has moments when it looks even more dynamic and explosive than it has during the last several seasons that ranked among the best offensive attacks in program history.
Still, there’s room to grow with only three games crossed off the calendar.
“I was probably irate at halftime, just because you’re up 30-3, and I see all the things that are going to cost us when we need them the most,” Campbell said. “If we don’t clean those things up, then, we can be happy being 3-0. I’m not. I still feel like there’s so much proof of who we can be and what we need to become if we’re willing to get there.”
This game was sold as the first true challenge for Iowa State’s defense, but Jon Heacock‘s unit was largely dominant, holding Ohio to only 233 yards of total offense and 24 rushing yards on 22 attempts.
The unit also forced four turnovers (two interceptions and two fumble recoveries) while tallying four sacks and seven tackles for loss. The Bobcats had 14 drives in the game. Eight of them lasted four or fewer plays.
Consider that challenge passed with flying colors, but the biggest tests still await.
“The fun thing about a young team is you watch how hard they work, I literally thought our Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practices were the three best practices, maybe, I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and you see incredible growth in some areas,” Campbell said. “Then the situations are brand new or different guys and, man, you see areas where they pop up, and we’ve got to be better. That’s what’s really fun about coaching a young team. The challenges continue to come your way.”
Iowa State has already done a lot during its first three games to raise the level of expectations in the eyes of the fanbase. A group that probably would’ve been happy with a bowl game appearance in the preseason will now go into the next stage with dreams of something bigger.
Creating that hope required Iowa State to pass some significant tests, including getting over the hump against its arch-rival, and a number of the Cyclones’ biggest offseason questions appear to have answers.
It’s okay for Iowa State fans to feel pretty dang good riding into this week ahead of the Big 12 opener against defending league champion Baylor next Saturday in Ames. The program is riding high after passing its first series of tests. Those are only the beginning, though.
Now, the real party starts.