Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Malik Verdon (7) and defensive back Darien Porter (10) hi-fives during the university’s Spring Football game at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Iowa State’s defense saw its nation-leading streak of holding opponents to 400 yards of offense or less ended during Saturday’s 34-27 Big 12 season-opening win over Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys gained 409 yards — and struck the Cyclones’ typically sturdy defense with an array of big plays. Senior linebacker Gerry Vaughn returned to the starting lineup, so why did ISU’s defense struggle so mightily?
Look no further than the absence of safety Malik Verdon, who ISU head coach Matt Campbell said “had a strain” in the third quarter in last week’s 10-7 loss at Ohio.
“(Backup cornerback and special teams ace) Darien Porter was in the same boat,” Campbell said. “I think both of those guys just weren’t ready to go, but hopefully we’ll have those guys (back Saturday at Oklahoma).”
Verdon’s 6-4 frame at the safety spot, along with his considerable athleticism, is vital to the Cyclones’ physical play in the secondary, so if he’s back this week, it’s likely that big plays can be kept to a minimum against Oklahoma. Vaughn left Saturday’s game after getting shaken up, but Campbell said he should be OK.
“Gerry’s as tough as they come and I would say Gerry was probably at 80 or 85 percent and he’s a warrior,” Campbell said. “And then for him to go in and do what he did — and I think it was a little bit of exhaustion. I don’t feel like he reinjured anything. He’s a tough cookie.”
So is Verdon, who has been dealing with injuries throughout his ISU career.
“I told Malik we (were) gonna get this win for him,” said fellow safety Beau Freyler, who led the Cyclones with eight tackles and also snared an interception. “We (were) gonna play for him this week. We’ll be excited when he comes back, but today we (were) playing for him, for real.”
CONTRERAZ COMES BACK STRONG
One week after (officially) missing two field goals in the loss at Ohio, Iowa State place kicker Chase Contreraz came up big against the Cowboys. The graduate transfer from Missouri Valley calmly drilled a 51-yard field goal with 7:12 remaining in the second quarter to put the Cyclones ahead, 17-14. He then made a 46-yarder to give ISU a 20-14 edge midway through the second quarter and the Cyclones never trailed after that.
“One of the things I really like about Chase is when you’re a veteran and you’ve gone through the ups and downs, it’s not easy,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to have mental toughness and he’s got great mental toughness. He’s been in this arena. He’s had success. He’s had failures. He’s had to work through it. But, man, what a great weapon for us. He was huge today — and those weren’t easy field goals, having them into the south and against the wind, and for him to hit those, that was awesome. Really proud of him. Really excited for him and he’s a great weapon for us.”
Jaylin Noel’s 146 receiving yards were the most by an ISU receiver against Oklahoma State in program history. He also tied a career-high in catches with eight. … Transfer receiver Jayden Higgins notched his 100th career catch in the win. The Cyclones are among five FBS programs featuring receivers with 100 or more career grabs (Higgins, Noel and Dimitri Stanley. … Defensive lineman J.R. Singleton’s sack for 17 yards was his first career sack. … Freyler and cornerback T.J. Tampa each recorded their second career interceptions. All four of those have come against the Cowboys.