Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell celebrates after a touchdown against Oklahoma State during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – Iowa State won Saturday’s Big 12 opener at Jack Trice Stadium, 34-27, in what proved to be an offensive breakout against Oklahoma State. However, after the first five drives of the game, the Cyclones found themselves staring at a 7-0 deficit on the scoreboard.
Their backs against the wall yet again. It looked eerily similar to the last two weeks. Oklahoma State had just broken through with a 71-yard run and saw quarterback Alan Bowman dive into the end zone to get the lead for the Cowboys.
To that point, Iowa State hadn’t looked any different offensively. There were no signs of what was to come.
Enter Rocco Becht, gunslinger.
“His ability to manage the football game today (was) elite,” coach Matt Campbell said of his quarterback during his postgame press conference.
The redshirt freshman finished the game with 348 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also wasn’t sacked a single time for the third time in four games this season and completed passes to 10 different receivers, so it was hardly a one-man show in terms of receptions.
“Rocco played so hard,” defensive back Beau Freyler said after the game. “(He was) facing adversity kind of early in the season, but he didn’t ever flinch. He just kept fighting and kept putting the work in, and you know, it’s paid off. He’s a great dude in the locker room and seeing him have success is really great.”
Iowa State needed that from Becht on Saturday, and everything it got elsewhere, too, in what ended as a one-possession game.
It couldn’t afford another uninspiring offensive performance, not after the fan reaction after dropping last week’s game to Ohio, nor the types of things that can spiral out of control in a 12-game season.
“If you look at the game last week, you’re not disappointed with how we played. You’re disappointed in maybe some of the detail and precision. I’m probably more disappointed in myself as a coach – afraid to cost us the game instead of going to win the football game. I feel like (for) our young team, it’s (about) earning the right to go win the game, rather than sitting back and trying to not screw the game up.”
They earned the right Saturday, and the changes became evident.
Iowa State passed the ball 38 times on Saturday. It ran 34 rushes. Adjust those numbers with scrambles and plays trying to run the clock out late and its closer to 40-32.
That’s all to say the program identified its strength in the passing game, and proved it could move the ball efficiently on Saturday, in different ways than fans have seen.
The deep ball was as effective as a Campbell-led offense has ever looked, and maybe that’s still an understatement. Each of the four touchdown drives totaled six plays or less.
“It’s huge,” wideout Daniel Jackson said, after he caught a pair of touchdowns during the game. “You could feel it in the locker room, and obviously we needed it, especially after last week.”
If Saturday did anything, it proved Iowa State has the tools and ability to make adjustments that could change its outlook on its next eight Big 12 conference matchups.
It gave them a win on a day that bookended a frustrating pair of weeks for the program and fans alike.
Getting off to a bad start will never be considered ideal, nor a goal.
On Saturday, it may have been the start of a new process in Ames.