Iowa State dominates the line of scrimmage, overcomes two turnovers to beat Baylor, 30-18

Oct 28, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Rocco Becht (3) looks to pass to Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Jaylin Noel (13) against the Baylor Bears during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

  “It wasn’t perfect.”

 That’s what Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said after his team’s 30-18 win over Baylor to spoil Homecoming in Waco Saturday afternoon.

 And he was right. The Cyclones (5-3, 4-1 Big 12) turned the ball over twice, but also forced two turnovers while controlling the line of scrimmage to hold off the Bears (3-5, 2-3).

 “Just urgency,” safety Malik Verdon said on the Cyclone Radio Network after the game. “You can see everyone really wants it. Everybody’s on the same page.”

 ISU built a 17-0 first-half lead that could have ballooned to 24-0 if safety Jeremiah Cooper hadn’t dropped a potential interception for a touchdown and never trailed while beating Baylor on the road for just the second time since 2004.

 The Cyclones’ redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht epitomized the imperfect yet satisfying winning effort by completing 19 of 31 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Verdon snared an early interception and defensive end Joey Petersen added a fumble recovery later.

 ISU outgained Baylor 162 yards to 67 yards on the ground and improved to 4-1 in Big 12 play for the third time in Campbell’s six-plus season tenure — and third time in program history overall.

 “The past couple of games, I feel like we hadn’t started fast,” Becht said. “I felt like today was one game we did start fast — defense, special teams and offense. So we’ve got to keep working on that and getting better at that.” 

 Eli Sanders rushed for 90 yards on 14 carries to lead the Cyclones, who are now tied atop the conference standings. Cartevious Norton added 58 yards rushing on 10 carries — including a 49-yard touchdown dash. 

 “The guys blocked well for me, so I just walked in for the touchdown,” Norton said. 

Norton notched two rushing touchdowns in the win and Becht’s lone touchdown pass came on an 18-yard connection on the opening drive with wide receiver Jayden Higgins, who totaled 74 yards through the air on five receptions.

 Fellow receiver Jaylin Noel led ISU with eight catches for 76 yards and the Cyclones converted on 9-of-15 of their third-down situations. Kicker Chase Contreraz added three clutch field goals as ISU kept pace with the top teams in the league. 

 “I felt like we stuck together and stayed within the game,” Becht said. “We stayed locked in.”

Baylor nonetheless seized momentum for a lengthy stretch in the second half by notching back-to-back touchdowns to pull within nine, at 27-18, with 13:36 left, but the Cyclones built their winning 12-point margin on a 25-yard Contreraz field goal with 8:23 left. The Bears were unable to muster much offense after that and failed on a fourth-down try with less than two minutes remaining.

 ISU faces Kansas (6-2, 3-2 Big 12) next Saturday in a Homecoming matchup at Jack Trice Stadium. The Jayhawks beat Oklahoma, 38-33, to record their first win over the Sooners since 1997.

 “We don’t need superheroes,” Campbell said of the Cyclones’ resurgence after a 1-2 start. “We need a superhero team and that’s what we have.”