Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht (3) throws a pass during the game against the Texas Longhorns at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2023 in Ames, Iowa. © Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES – There’s no room for moral victories in close losses in this Iowa State program. That’s something coach Matt Campbell has echoed and proven during his time in Ames.
Saturday’s 26-16 loss to No. 7 Texas won’t be an exception to that, but the team’s growth and improvement to its offensive package was a major catalyst in preventing a bigger loss.
With just over 13 minutes remaining in a two-score game, quarterback Rocco Becht took the snap out of the shotgun on 4th and 1. He tucked the football, sold the run and ultimately found a wide-open Easton Dean for a 66-yard score.
“You’ve got to go make a play (that) totally swings the tide,” Campbell said. “I thought that was a great throw by Rocco and a great catch by Easton. It’s the second time in a row in the second half that you’ve got to get the momentum (back in) the football game, you’re just never able to capitalize on it.”
With 12:44 to play, it was a one-possession game.
Iowa State found itself with a chance, despite averaging 0.4 yards per carry during the game and totaling just nine yards on the ground.
Even though Texas blocked and returned an extra point attempt earlier in the game and had built a 23-9 lead, the Cyclones found a way to keep it close.
“We don’t have a damn thing to be embarrassed about,” Campbell said. “And I’ll be honest with you, I’m really excited to get back to work with this football team. At the end of the day, we’ll wait until the end of the football season to find where we’re at, and certainly where we’ve come from. There’s a lot of work to do.”
Fans will say what they will about Iowa State’s play selection and frequency of rushing attempts that came without many yards in the game, and yet they were still a stop away from going on a potential game-tying drive.
“We still didn’t get a stop,” Campbell said. “We were never able to get the stop when we needed to, to get the stop in the football game defensively. Offensively, we were kind of always playing catch up through the game. (The blocked kick) obviously wasn’t what you wanted to have happen, but we’re still right there you know, and you’ve got to go get a stop where you’ve got a chance. (We) felt really confident because we started to gain some confidence on offense.”
The confidence showed in Iowa State’s offense, both in its players and in its scheme.
Before Dean’s touchdown reception, Iowa State was finding ways to move the ball with an almost non-existent rushing attack.
It was still persistent in its attempts to open up the passing game with handoffs throughout the night.
That’s a philosophical approach that Iowa State hasn’t wavered from, and even so, the trio of rush plays called ahead of Dean’s score helped set the explosive play up.
Ben Brahmer’s screen through the middle of the field put the Cyclones in position to score on Eli Sanders touchdown in the third quarter.
It came just after a play that was designed to put Jayden Higgins against a defensive back in a 1-on-1 battle, and it resulted in a 33-yard catch. He finished with 104 yards.
“(Offensive Coordinator Nate) Scheelhaase and the guys this week just did a great job drawing up plays for me, mostly just to give me individual matchups,” Higgins said. “Then it was just me making a play when I needed to.”
Iowa State won’t veer away from trying to establish the run. It’s not going to drastically speed up its process of getting a play call in, either.
This staff believes that its approach to both is integral in the team’s success. Without the rushing attempts, the pass game will be hindered. Speeding up play calls welcomes the risk of mistakes – and they don’t want to take on more of it.
Despite the perceived shortfalls, they’re finding ways to execute and improve. On Saturday, they just didn’t find enough.
“I think the frustration from my end is, man, it’s that execution,” Campbell said. “It’s that inch that we got to keep pounding away at and obviously, man, you play a great team next week on the road. That’s a hard place to play. And we got another huge opportunity to try to grow forward from it.”