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Iowa State Daily

Cyclones’ young offense pounces on Panthers, new starters show progress

Tyler Coe
Rocco Becht is fired up after throwing a touchdown to Benjamin Brahmer in a 30-9 victory against UNI at Jack Trice Stadium on Sep. 2, 2023.

AMES — It took a while for the new starters to adjust, but the Cyclones ultimately found enough success on offense to pull off a 30-9 win against Northern Iowa to start their season.

With a new offensive coordinator, along with question marks at quarterback and running back, there were a lot of concerns heading into Iowa State’s season opener against the Panthers.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht and sophomore running back Cartevious Norton earned the starting roles for the Cyclones’ offense, which struggled on their opening drive. A pair of holding calls by wide receiver Jaylin Noel and veteran offensive lineman Darrell Simmons ultimately halted the Cyclones’ offensive debut and forced a punt.

Thankfully for the Cyclones, the defense was able to put them on the board first with a 58-yard pick-six from Jeremiah Cooper to take some pressure off the developing offense.

After a 39-yard punt return from Noel to start Iowa State’s second drive, the offense started to get more in rhythm, especially with its new starters.

Becht displayed a more comfortable look in the pocket on a nine-yard toss to tight end Easton Dean to convert on third down. He then capped off the drive with a sneak up the middle to score the first touchdown of his collegiate career.

The Cyclone offense got into a rhythm after that touchdown drive and continued executing on opportunities the defense set up for them. Over the span of the second and third quarters, Becht led the Cyclones to three more scoring drives including a pair of passing touchdowns.

Becht gave a lot of credit to the defense for returning to a similar form from last season and making his job on the offense easier throughout the whole game. He is confident they’ll do the same moving forward.

“They came out and balled, they did their job and they do it every week,” Becht said. “They were prepared today, and they will be prepared for week two.”

While Becht finished with a very efficient stat line through the air, 10-13 with 113 yards and a pair of touchdowns, he struggled initially on his first pair of deep balls.

After a couple of balls that were just a bit ahead of his receivers, he connected on a 36-yard go route from tight end Benjamin Brahmer, one of the nine true freshmen to play in the season opener.

Becht gave all the credit to Brahmer for keeping the play alive and executing on the first drive of the second half.

“I was honestly about to kill the play, but I saw it, and I dropped back, and Brahmer made an awesome catch for the touchdown,” Becht said.

Heading into the game, Becht admitted he had some pre-game jitters but was thankful for the opportunity to start and perform the way he did.

“I had this team, they had my back and I had theirs, and they put their trust in me to come out and play today, and I respect them for that,” Becht said. “We just did our best, we were prepared for this game and we got the dub.”

Along with a solid game from Becht, the offense also benefited from a solid outing from its running back room, which saw 22 carries split between three backs.

Norton led the way with 11 carries for 49 yards, followed by Abu Sama III with six carries for 40 yards. Sama turned some heads in the second quarter when he broke out a 26-yard run to the outside to set up the Cyclones for an eventual touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Moore.

Sama received a lot of praise from Norton for igniting the group of backs and not wasting any time in his collegiate debut. Norton also talked about the advice he gave Sama prior to the game, some of which he learned as last season’s new kid on the block.

“He’s electric. ‘No fear,’ that’s all I tell him,” Norton said. “Go out there and be you, know your game and just run the ball, do what you’ve been doing your whole life.”

Nate Scheelhaase’s debut as the Cyclone’s offensive coordinator received a lot of praise from Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. Iowa State finished the game with 250 yards, 116 through the air and 134 on the ground, and allowed very few chances for UNI to force turnovers.

“[Scheelhaase] took care of the football, and we were very efficient in the red zone,” Campbell said. “I thought he did a great job, I think that’s one of those things where when we do a great job of those areas and are at our best, we can put our great job of putting ourselves in a great position to be successful.”

With the young Cyclone offense looking to be ahead of schedule in terms of development, things have become even more interesting when looking ahead at next week’s Cy-Hawk matchup.

Iowa State will kick off against Iowa at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 9th at home, hoping to win the Cy-Hawk rivalry game back-to-back years for the first time since 2011 and 2012.

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