Iowa State Cyclones’ quarterback Rocco Becht (3) looks for a pass around Oklahoma State Cowboys defensive end Kody Walterscheid (96) 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 — Rocco Becht took the snap and scanned the field. Iowa State’s quarterback immediately saw wide receiver Jaylin Noel left uncovered, which prompted a single thought to pop into his head.
“The only thing that was going through my mind was, ‘Don’t overthrow him or don’t underthrow him,’” Becht said with a smile.
Becht deftly hit Noel in stride on the fourth down throw. Noel swiftly galloped 38 yards to score the Cyclones’ first touchdown in what proved to be a coming-out party for the offense in a 34-27 Big 12 season-opening win over Oklahoma State at Jack Trice Stadium.
“The safety came down and the seam was wide open,” said Noel, who notched a single-game career-high in receiving yards with 146 on eight catches. “They were obviously playing the run on the fourth down so it was just an easy touchdown.”
Those had been scarce in recent weeks as the Cyclones (2-2, 1-0) scored just 20 points combined in back-to-back, one-score losses to Iowa and Ohio. But the offense shined Saturday, scoring its four touchdowns on drives that featured just 16 combined plays. Becht led an explosive and efficient effort on that side of the ball, throwing for a career-high 348 yards and three touchdowns — one to Noel and two to Daniel Jackson. The redshirt freshman completed 27 of 38 passes and became just the third quarterback in program history to eclipse 300 passing yards against the Cowboys.
“I just feel like he’d been growing into that and earn the right to be able to do those things,” said ISU head coach Matt Campbell, whose team is 1-0 to start conference play for the first time since 2020. “As the head coach, you want to put your players in the best position to be successful. And I feel like I know we’re a team that grows as the season grows, and part of that is just trying to understand who your team is. What’s your identity? What gives you the best opportunity to have success, especially as young as we are as a football team? And Rocco, to me, the way he’s played the first three weeks, he’s just stacked confidence not only on himself — I think he would tell you he’s stacked great confidence, but just how he practices, his process to get better week in and week out, all those things are starting to show up.”
What isn’t remotely showing up is production in the rushing game. Tailback Eli Sanders dove to the pylon to cap a seven-yard touchdown run to start the fourth quarter, but the Cyclones gained just 74 yards on 34 carries. ISU has rushed for 100 or more yards just four times in its past 13 games, so struggling in that area has fully mushroomed into a long-term trend.
It didn’t matter Saturday, though, as Becht adroitly delivered downfield throws and Noel and Jackson enjoyed personal record-setting days.
Jackson set career bests in catches (six), receiving yards (90) and touchdown catches (two). The junior from Dallas has been beset by injuries throughout his football career and is finally healthy enough to showcase his wide-ranging abilities — as evidenced in last week’s three-catch 65-yard effort in the 10-7 loss at Ohio, as well.
“He’s gone through so much and I’m so proud of him,” Noel said. “He’s a guy that at the beginning of the season, I leaned on him to also be a leader within the room, because I knew he could do it, and just his dedication in the film room and how hard he works on the practice field, you just knew at some point he was gonna explode.”
The same could be said for the offense in general. The Cyclones scored their most points in a Big 12 game since beating TCU, 48-14, on Nov. 26, 2021 — and every bit of that production was needed as the defense struggled to prevent big plays. Oklahoma State’s last-gasp hope of extending the game ended when ISU cornerback T.J. Tampa intercepted Cowboys quarterback Alan Bowman at the ISU 38-yard win with 1:20 remaining.
Becht then knelt three times to drain the clock as the Cyclones matched last season’s league win total in one day while renewing hope that the offense can be a weapon, not a liability, moving forward.
“(Offensive coordinator Nate) Scheelhaase, he’s awesome,” Becht said. “(We) are always talking. I’m just lucky that he trusted me in this game to go let the ball rip. Hopefully, that keeps going.”