Oct. 29, 2022; Ames, Iowa, USA; Oklahoma kicker Zach Schmidt runs a fake field goal in for a touchdown in the second quarter against Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bryon Houlgrave/Des Moines Register-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — No sequence better exemplifies the type of afternoon it was at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday than the stretch of plays with roughly nine minutes left in the fourth quarter.
That sequence started when MJ Anderson busted through the Oklahoma offensive line for Iowa State’s first sack of the game and to force an OU three and out.
For the first time in awhile, with the Cyclones trailing 20-13, Iowa State had some momentum.
They carried that momentum forward on the first play of the ensuing drive when Hunter Dekkers connected with Jirehl Brock for an 11-yard gain to Iowa State’s own 42.
The Cyclones had struggled to run the football the entire game against Oklahoma’s defense, which entered the contest as the far and away worst rushing defense in the league, but Iowa State ran the football on the following first down, a one-yard rush by Brock to the ISU 44.
They ran again on the next play, an option to the weak side of the field that Dekkers tossed to Cartevious Norton, who was able to pick up two yards to make it third and seven.
Dekkers’ third-down pass sailed over the head of Jaylin Noel and straight into the arms of OU’s Justin Broiles.
Gain momentum, lose momentum. This is the story of Iowa State football in 2022.
Still, down only one score, Iowa State had a chance to make something happen after forcing another three and out. Those chances diminished significantly when Iowa State’s offense was pinned at its own two-yard line after a tremendous punt by the Sooners’ Michael Turk.
Scratch that, Iowa State was able to erase that field position deficit when Dekkers scrambled out of his own end zone for a gain of 28, the Cyclones’ longest rush of the day.
Oh, scratch that again, Dekkers’ first down pass was intercepted by OU’s Danny Stutsman and returned to the Iowa State two-yard line.
Two plays later, Oklahoma’s Eric Gray took the ball across the goal line for a touchdown that solidified the final score.
Oklahoma 27, Iowa State 13.
Gain momentum. Lose momentum. Repeat.
“I think that’s been the theme really of our inability to play with great consistency for four quarters of a football game,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s not like it’s ever been real easy to win, right? You gotta be able to do those things to win the football game. I think that’s the thing for us that this team is continuing to learn is, man, you have to be able to capitalize on those opportunities when the momentum is there for the taking. You got to be able to make that play.”
The aforementioned stretch of plays was far from the only inconsistencies Iowa State played with throughout the game. The Cyclones had numerous opportunities to grab momentum.
They just never did.
There was the chance to force Oklahoma into a second red zone field goal after a third down stop near the goal line in the second quarter. The Sooners lined up for that field goal, then faked it by handing the ball off to kicker Zach Schmit, who breezed into the end zone untouched.
What was nearly a three-point game had become a touchdown game in the blink of an eye on the two feet of the Oklahoma kicker.
“That was that was tough because I think maybe they did such a great job getting that stop there,” Campbell said of the fake field goal. “Those things are tough. I sound like a broken record, but it’s the inconsistency, right? It’s man, our inability to just sustain momentum and create that consistency that you got to do to win the football game.”
To call the Iowa State rushing attack inconsistent would probably be a compliment. It is non-existent at this point, and the Sooners, who entered the game with one of the 10 worst rushing defenses in college football, held the Cyclones to just 66 yards rushing.
Iowa State’s two tailbacks, Brock and Norton, combined for 49 yards on 22 carries for a 2.2 yards per carry average. That’s not going to cut it when you’re running an offense that is predicated on the ability to run the football and then pass the ball off of that rushing attack.
At this point, why would any defender be afraid of what’s coming when Dekkers starts to hand the football off?
Norton looks like he sorely misses the reps he would have received without an injury in week one. Brock still doesn’t look like he’s 100 percent after an injury in the loss to Kansas last month.
After two years of defenses daring Iowa State to throw the football, defenses are daring Iowa State to run the football.
And the Cyclones can’t do it.
“That is a major issue,” Campbell said. “For whatever reason, our inability to find consistency there really puts us behind the eight ball offensively. I think it was great to get some of those guys back, for Cartevious, really his first full game. Great to get Jirehl back, but right now, obviously, it’s not where we need it to be or it needs to be for us to be successful offensively. I think it really does start there.”
Dekkers’ struggles at times are easier to understand when you put them in the context of being on an offense that just can’t run the football.
The redshirt sophomore completed 37-of-57 passes for 312 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in the loss. Two of the interceptions were inexcusable at crucial points in the game, and one, the first one, was the product of inexcusably inept officiating.
Still, Dekkers was good at times against the Sooners, and he was bad at times.
Wide receivers continue to drop too many passes, including All-American candidate Xavier Hutchinson, who was tremendous again this day by catching 10 passes for 72 yards.
Jaylin Noel, who caught the first two touchdown passes of his career two weeks ago at Texas, added his first career touchdown at Jack Trice Stadium to go along with seven receptions for 58 yards.
But, for every good play, there’s another bad one to suck the momentum away from Iowa State before it can even start to snowball.
“You’re in a tough battle,” Campbell said when asked about his message to the team. “When you’re in that valley, and we’ve been that here at times as we’ve gone through the building phases of this program We were in ’18 when we were 1-4. We were in ’16 and ’17. We’ve been in that valley. What it takes is it takes your best players and the leadership of your football team to play football. In some ways, we’re getting that and in some other ways, we’re not. We’re going to have to continue to fight through that. The thing that I am encouraged by is we have great leadership. The thing that is so frustrating is some of our best players are still playing inconsistent at times when we need to be better.”
Another of those inconsistencies came in the second quarter with Iowa State driving into Oklahoma territory while trailing 13-3. The Cyclones had approached midfield with a chunk play pass from Dekkers to Hutchinson, then got themselves set up for third and short when Brock gained nine yards on a short pass on second down.
As the Cyclones lined up for their third down play, an Iowa State wide receiver went in motion and senior center Trevor Downing snapped the ball before anyone else was ready.
It went careening back into Iowa State territory, where Dekkers fell on it for a loss of 14 yards. Third and short became fourth and long and time for another punt.
Gain momentum. Lose momentum. Repeat.
“We have to be better,” Campbell said. “I know that. I’m not naive. Our consistency must be better if we want to get out of this valley and get ourselves back in the win column.”