Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Jaylin Noel (13) breaks a tackle and runs with the ball after making a catch during the third quarter at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Three words.
That’s the full extent of an explanation Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell received from officials after they ruled his dynamic kick returner, Jaylin Noel, had touched the sideline at the Kansas 31-yard line instead of being down at around the two.
That roughly 29-yard difference became a chasm-like distance when Noel toed the sideline for what officially became a 52-yard kick return that produced zero points in the Cyclones’ 28-21 loss to the No. 22 Jayhawks Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium.
And there would no review of the play because an official had whistled it dead when he ruled that Noel had inched out of bounds.
“They said, ‘He stepped out,’ is what he said to me,” Campbell said to summarize the three-word response to his question about Noel being ruled to have briefly left the field of play during his big return in the second quarter when ISU trailed, 14-0. “I don’t know if that was the case. It certainly didn’t look like it, but I would think that they would review it. They reviewed everything else.”
Now, to be clear, the Cyclones (5-4, 4-2 Big 12) still enjoyed a prime opportunity to put points on the board against the Jayhawks (7-2, 4-2) in that situation and failed to do so. So that call didn’t cost ISU the game. Plenty of mistakes the Cyclones could have prevented snapped their three-game conference winning streak and dropped them from a tie for first in the league standings to a logjam of five teams sitting at third with three weeks remaining in the regular season. ISU allowed Kansas quarterback Jason Bean to sling seven completions that spanned 21 yards or more. Couple that vulnerability to big plays in the passing game with Cyclone quarterback Rocco Becht’s pick-six that gave Kansas its early 14-point lead, and successfully completing a comeback — though ISU did pull within three, at 21-18, with 8:09 left on Becht’s two-yard touchdown run — veered into the realm of unlikelihood.
“Points on a drive can change a game like you saw (Saturday),” said Becht, who completed 20 of his 26 passes for 216 yards and no touchdowns. “So we’re gonna watch it and get better from it, but I felt like we had stuff that was there. We just couldn’t execute in some areas.”
Credit the Jayhawks — who have won back-to-back games in conference play for the first time since 2008. When they needed a big play on either side of the ball, they created one while also winning in Ames for the first time in 15 years.
“This team keeps chipping away and knocking down barriers, and doing things that haven’t been done in our program for a long time,” Kansas coach Lance Leipold said. “It’s a tough place to play. Matt’s got a heck of a team. It was a good football game — a battle between two teams that played hard and physical, and we were able to pull through in the end.”
Still, Noel and the Cyclones were left wondering “what if?” after his near touchdown got called back and wasn’t reviewed. Again, that call didn’t determine the outcome of the game, but it certainly made ISU’s comeback hopes less realistic.
“I kind of knew how much room I had when I made the kicker miss,” Noel said. “I felt like I was in the whole time. There was no moment I thought I was out, but, you know, it is what it is.”
Becht now holds the freshman record for most completions in a season with 162. He also saw his eight-game streak of throwing a least one touchdown pass as a starter snapped. … ISU kicker Chase Contreraz hit two field goals Saturday and has made ten in a row in conference play. … The Cyclones fell to 8-4 in night games at Jack Trice Stadium since 2017.