NOTEBOOK: Becht blossoms, Bacon bruises & Abu Sama serves up “flavor” via 26-yard run

 Iowa State Cyclones running back Abu Sama (24) breaks a tackle from Northern Iowa Panthers defensive back Dalesean Staley (7) during the third quarter in the season-opening game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.© Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES — When Rocco Becht took his first snap as Iowa State’s starting quarterback he was already ahead.

 That’s because Cyclone safety Jeremiah Cooper had jumped a route on Northern Iowa’s opening drive Saturday and jetted 58 yards to the end zone to give his team a 7-0 lead.

  Relief merged with excitement for Becht, allowing him to relax into his initial start instead of bristling with nerves.

 “You know, we’re up by seven,” the former Wiregrass Ranch (Fla.) High School star said. “So there’s a little more (room) for mistakes.”

 Except Becht didn’t need any. He efficiently completed 10 of 13 passes while sharing a few series with true freshman and four-star early enrollee J.J. Kohl. He threw two touchdown passes to tight ends Tyler Moore and Ben Brahmer and any mistakes he made were cosmetic and inconsequential.

 So call it a strong starting debut and/or a significant building block.

 “He made a couple of great throws,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “Maybe a hair off on a couple other ones, but I just thought great efficiency. Used his legs when he got an opportunity to, too.”

 But Becht — like several teammates — cramped up in the second half as the effects of playing in the third-hottest game in Jack Trice Stadium history hit. That affected his second-half performance, yet didn’t lead to costly miscues as the Cyclones coasted to their fourth consecutive win over the Panthers.

 “I think it’s just being relaxed and being calm in the moment,” Becht said. “Being present. That’s probably the biggest thing and, you know, Just breathing and playing play by play. That’s probably the biggest thing that helped me.”

 The biggest thing as Becht moves forward hinges on maintaining that demeanor as the tension ratchets up and the “moments” occur on larger stages. He’s 1-0 as a starter. He didn’t have to do anything flashy. And those “misses” Campbell noted came on slight overthrows on what could have turned into huge passing plays.

 It’s also quite possible if not likely Kohl will continue to be featured in at least a few offensive series — even as Iowa and its vaunted defense comes to Ames for next weekend’s Cy-Hawk game. 

 “I thought both those guys when they went in, they executed the game plan,” Campbell said. “They gave us great opportunity to have success and I think they’ll just keep growing. What a huge day for them to be able to get out there in this environment against a good defense and just go play football.”


 ISU’s defense drilled into UNI’s backfield routinely during Saturday’s win — but a walk-on linebacker proved to be the Cyclones’ sacks leader. That would be redshirt sophomore Caleb Bacon of Lake Mills, who dropped Day twice. He’s had a phenomenal fall camp,” Campbell said. “A guy who has just emerged.”

 He’s also far from alone. ISU deployed well over 30 players on defense throughout Saturday’s game. Linebacker Will McLaughlin, Cornerback Myles Purchase, and defensive end Trent Jones added a sack apiece for the Cyclones, so the pressure and production came from each level of the defense while delving into the three-deeps. It’s also not often when a defensive lineman such as Tyler Onyedim can tie for the team lead in tackles with seven, so ISU’s defense came well-prepared and ready to perform well across the board.

 “I feel like what was working for us was just getting vertical,” the versatile Onyedim said. “It was just trying to disrupt a play on their win of the scrimmage. I felt like that really helped us a lot and then our preparation through the week, we just locked in, went out there and played our hardest.”


 Iowa State’s running backs gained 134 yards Saturday. That may not seem like much, but it’s more than they gained in six of their nine Big 12 games last season — and sophomore Cartevious Norton along with true freshman Abu Sama in particular stitched together a few impressive runs. Sama’s juke-filled jaunt of 26 yards helped set up the Cyclones’ third touchdown.

 “It was electric watching him run down the sideline,” said Norton, who rushed for a team-high 49 yards on 11 carries. “It gave me a confidence boost, actually, and it gave the whole team a confidence boost because we were in a dry spell right there. So, I mean, he gave us some flavor — and everybody went behind him, and we got back on our groove.”


 Iowa State’s 45 offensive plays were its fewest in a game in which the Cyclones won since 1961. ISU ran just 37 plays in a win against Oklahoma State on Sept. 23 of that year.