Cyclones seek to sideline “same story” scenario in Saturday’s Big 12 opener vs. Oklahoma State

Sep 16, 2023; Athens, Ohio, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Rocco Becht (3) waits for the snap against the Ohio Bobcats during the first quarter at Peden Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

 AMES — Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht spoke frankly and succinctly after last Saturday’s head-shaking 10-7 loss at Ohio.

 The redshirt freshman told reporters he felt the offense lacked a “sense of urgency” in the first half, which is concerning enough. It seemed the same could have been said about the previous week’s 20-13 loss to Iowa, in which the Cyclones scored 10 straight points in the second half to at least give them a chance to tie or win in the final 1:48. That didn’t happen, of course — and the same too-late, long-shot scenario played out in Athens, Ohio. Becht found wide receiver Jayden Higgins for an 18-yard touchdown with 4:15 left. The ISU defense then produced a quick stop to give Becht a shot at driving for the tie or the win, but an interception early in the drive once again foiled any hopes for a comeback.

 “The last two weeks have been the same story, right?” said Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell, whose team (1-2) faces Oklahoma State (2-1) in Saturday’s 3 p.m. Big 12 season-opener at Jack Trice Stadium. “We’ve played two of the oldest teams in college football — and I think what we’ve witnessed from a positive, and I know we haven’t gotten the result, you’ve seen great growth.”

 Now that progress needs to ramp up exponentially as ISU’s nine-game conference slate swings into view. That gives the youthful Cyclones a platform for a reset of sorts — but only if the offense can play with urgency from the opening whistle to the final horn.

 “That word consistency, has not been, have you seen it? — I just don’t think you’ve seen it consistently enough in our football games right now when we look at the offensive side of the football,” Campbell said.

 That’s especially true with regard to the running game, where ISU has rushed for a combined 125 yards on 54 carries in the past two losses — a 2.3 yards-per-carry average. The Cyclones’ ground game last reason ranked a distant last among Big 12 teams and that’s a troubling trend that continues to hamstring the offense.

 Now ISU’s tasked with finding at least a modicum of success on the ground against an Oklahoma State team that limited it to just 59 rushing yards last season in Stillwater. The Cowboys have been shaky defensively this season, however, allowing foes to average 354.3 yards per game, which ranks 71st nationally. 

 So Saturday’s game should afford ISU’s offense a prime opportunity to reinvigorate — and, perhaps, reinvent — itself as long as it avoids costly turnovers and yet another sluggish start.

 “That’s what we’re looking forward to,” Higgins said. “That’s the great thing about football. We end up losing one game, but we’re onto a new opportunity (this) week.”

 Now it’s all about making the most of it, which means moving the ball regularly and not bogging down in the red zone. The Cyclones have converted points in four of six red-zone chances, which is tied for 118th worst in FBS — and just like last season, missed field goals are a major part of the problem. Graduate transfer kicker Chase Contreraz drilled a career-long 56-yard field goal in his ISU debut against the Panthers, but has narrowly missed three of his last five since that signature moment. Campbell said he’s confident Contreraz will return to form.

 We’ve got great faith in Chase,” he said. “Again, a hair off, if that’s what it was. If it’s a hair off, it’s a hair off. I think that’s kind of the mentality of who we were (at Ohio), we were a hair off. Man, can we have enough courage to go back (and) work at our craft, and make sure we’re putting ourselves in the best position to have success.”

 That’s not just a matter of courage. It’s cradled in humility, as well. When a team’s mission is to thrive in “the margins,” and in recent years it’s done anything but, looking back can be a painful, if necessary exercise.

 “I think the one thing our kids would say is I’m gonna be bluntly honest,” Campbell said. “And try to always point out, ‘Here’s where the gap is, and we’ve gotta fill that gap.’”