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‘Growing forward’: Iowa State’s adaptability bodes well for future success

Daniel Jacobi II
Iowa State’s Eli Sanders avoids Oklahoma State’s Parker Robertson during the first half of the football game on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.

AMES — Iowa State got back on track to start Big 12 play by taking down Oklahoma State 34-27.

One thing was evident from the win, Iowa State’s offense can play. Considering the strong Big 12 competition, it was a breath of fresh air for the Cyclones to have an offensive showing like they did against Oklahoma State.

The biggest winner of the Big 12 season opener was the passing game, as the Cyclones found most of their success in the air. Although the running game still stuttered throughout the day, the running backs helped out by pass-catching as well.

“They’ll contribute a lot. They’re always in the passing game. We just haven’t gotten back to that progression yet,” Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht said. “We’re probably gonna need those guys this week in the passing game to make plays, especially in the running game as well.”

As the Cyclones prepare to take on Oklahoma, they are aware of the challenges the Sooner defense can bring. Iowa State’s running game has struggled to consistently gain yards throughout the season but found some success late against Oklahoma State.

The Cyclones have been trying to punch the ball up the middle to get things moving on the ground, as much of their success in the past has been through breakout runs through gaps in the defensive line. However, now the Cyclones are taking more of an experimental approach as they try to find what works best in a loaded running back room.

“I just think for us, it’s the consistency of putting it all together, whether it’s up the middle or just our running game in general,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said.

A big hindrance in the running backs’ success has been the inconsistency on the offensive line. Although the offensive line has shined in pass blocking, keeping Becht safe throughout the start of the season, errors continue to pop up in the run game.

Iowa State’s offensive line did look solid on run-blocking late against the Cowboys, as running back Eli Sanders found holes to pick up big gains on the ground and help the team to a win.

“Obviously, we’re not complete. We’ve still got a lot of work to grow and move forward from,” Campbell said. “I thought we took a step against a really good front-seven last week.”

With the offensive line still figuring out what works best to create and define holes on the ground, the running backs found a new role in the air. With yards being hard to come by on the ground, transitioning more into a receiving role has helped the Cyclone running backs shine.

The running back room is full of talented players with loads of potential. The only thing holding them back has been the lack of opportunities. If they can get the ball in their hands, good things will happen.

“It’s good to get out in space with the ball in our hands and make plays,” Sanders said.

Sanders also made it clear that he is fine moving more into a receiving role as opposed to sticking with a run game that has been sketchy. If it means success for the team, he would gladly do whatever it takes to win.

“Any way we can contribute to the team, any way we can count towards the win, any way to make the team better, that’s how we’re gonna do it,” Sanders said.

At the end of the day, winning is the only thing that matters. Campbell made it clear that the team would do what it takes to win, even if that meant switching things up in the run game or going to air more.

The Cyclones showed that they can be a real threat in the passing game as more players broke out. Wide receiver Jaylin Noel went off on his first game back from an illness that kept him from the Ohio game. Noel finished the day with 146 yards and a touchdown.

Wide receiver Daniel Jackson also came out of nowhere, catching two touchdowns and almost eclipsing 100 yards. Flashes of greatness in the passing game were clear from the start of Becht’s time at the helm. It was only a matter of time before everyone put the pieces together.

“Having those three guys: Jayden Higgins, Jaylin Noel and now [Daniel Jackson], that’s a lotta guys to guard,” Becht said. “One of them’s gonna make a play at some point.”

Becht was also electric against Oklahoma State, throwing for 348 yards and three touchdowns. He was nearly perfect on the day, throwing no interceptions and staying above 70% completion.

With the two losses still fresh in Becht’s mind, he was ready to take a more commanding role on the offense and truly lead his team to victory.

“I know we didn’t get the results at times, the two games prior too, but you saw him just continue gaining confidence,” Campbell said.

Becht’s confidence was on display and should continue to be on display against tough Big 12 opponents.

The team is beginning to trust Becht more each and every day, which has shown to benefit the offense as a whole. Becht knows what he has to do to help his team win and is ready for any challenges that await.

“I feel like they’ve gained a lot more trust in me to be able to do the hard stuff,” Becht said. “I’m gonna do whatever they let me do to help this team win.”

The turnaround from week three to week four showed that the Cyclones are willing to put the tough losses in the rearview mirror and grow. Campbell made it clear that the test of a good team is its ability to adapt.

The Cyclones showed that they can adapt, especially on the offensive side of the ball. As the Big 12 season progresses, Iowa State will be forced to continue to adapt every game and continue growing.

“That’s what’s so great about the early part of the season if you’re able to have enough humility to say, ‘Here’s what we did well, here’s what we didn’t do well, here’s what’s doing well,’ and then how do you keep growing forward?” Campbell said.

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    Larry | Sep 30, 2023 at 11:00 pm

    Embarrassing loss. Time to find a new head coach.