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Iowa State Daily

Game-Talk Tuesdays: Cincinnati

Tyler Coe
Jeremiah Cooper greets the Iowa State fans that made their way to Cincinnati after the Cyclones defeated the Bearcats 30-10 at Nippert Stadium on Oct. 14, 2023.

The Cyclones continued rolling through Big 12 play by taking down Cincinnati on the road 30-10.

After questions surrounding the team’s ability to play on the road, Iowa State picked up its first road win in over a year. Not only that, the Cyclones dominated Cincinnati all game long.

Iowa State’s offense was efficient and electric at times, while the defense locked in and returned to elite form.

Special teams wins the day

Iowa State and Cincinnati started off neck-and-neck. The Cyclones did not pull away until late in the first half.

The Cyclones’ momentum started with a long drive for a touchdown. The Cyclones converted on multiple fourth-down plays, but the biggest came on a fake field goal run by kicker Chase Contreraz.

Contreraz showed off his legs by nearly punching the ball into the end zone himself. Extending the drive helped Iowa State put points on the board and take the lead, which it held through the rest of the game.

The fake field goal was not the only good thing Contreraz did, as he nailed all three of his field goals throughout the game.

Along with Contreraz’s incredible day, wide receiver Jaylin Noel wowed on kickoff returns while the rest of special teams locked down Cincinnati on kickoffs to keep the Bearcats from getting good field position.

Higgins and Noel: The one-two punch

Although Noel did not have his usual production in the air, only catching three balls for 24 yards, he was dominant in the return game.

Noel broke off a big return early in the game to set the Cyclones up for a scoring opportunity. As the second half rolled around, Noel ripped off another big gain as he returned the opening kickoff for 72 yards.

By the end of the day, Noel had 110 return yards, which put his total yards on the day up to nearly 150 yards.

Noel’s lack of production in the passing game was not all too bad, as wide receiver Jayden Higgins picked up the slack. Higgins was ready for another breakout game, as he was quiet to start Big 12 play.

Higgins did not disappoint, as he finished the day with six catches for 172 yards. Higgins’ biggest play came early in the game, as he caught a 75-yard catch to set the Cyclones up for more points.

Both Higgins and Noel continuously set the Cyclones up for scores, which helped in the 20-point win.

No Sama, no problem

A surprise came when the Cyclones traveled to Cincinnati, as true freshman running back Abu Sama was inactive against the Bearcats.

After earning his first touchdown on a long run against TCU, Sama would not have a chance to keep his solid season going. The loss of Sama also forced the Cyclones to find other backs to step up in his place.

The running game appeared to take strides in the right direction again, as the room finished with over 100 yards. The three running backs alone, Eli Sanders, Cartevious Norton and Carson Hansen, finished with 27 carries and averaged over four yards per carry.

Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht kept the ball more than normal, as he was avoiding sacks left and right. Becht finished the game with 12 yards rushing.

Sanders was the lead back, rushing for over 50 yards, but the other two backs showed flashes of greatness. Norton and Hansen averaged around five yards per carry throughout the game, which was a major uptick since the start of the season when they were averaging under three yards per carry.

The running room appears to be growing each week and complementing the passing game well. Having the ability to move the ball well without one of the big playmakers was a good sign for the group going forward.

Defense locks in to stomp Jones

Iowa State’s defense has been airtight in the last two matchups, keeping its Big 12 opponent to two scores or less for the second game in a row.

Although the offense did not need the defense to hold Cincinnati to 10 points, they still did. Any time that Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones tried to get something going in the air or on the ground, an Iowa State defender was there to stop it.

Jones made the defense look shaky in the run game early on, but after Iowa State settled down, there was no chance of a Bearcat comeback. Besides Jones, Cincinnati’s running back room struggled against Iowa State.

Iowa State also made Jones’ day rough in the air. Jones finished the day under 100 yards passing while also throwing two picks.

Throughout the day, it seemed that Cincinnati was falling further and further behind while not moving forward at all. As the Cyclones go deeper in Big 12 play, defensive performances like that will be necessary.

Jeremiah Cooper leads the pack

Defensive back Jeremiah Cooper kept his hot season going against Cincinnati.

Although Cooper only had two tackles, interceptions are what makes him the player he is.

Cooper entered the game, co-leading the nation in picks with four. As the first half was wrapping up, Jones made a desperation pass into the end zone, which fell right into Cooper’s waiting hands.

That interception helped keep Cooper at the front of the pack. He now co-leads the nation with just one other player. Kentucky’s Maxwell Hairston is the only player in the nation with five picks.

Cooper will have to keep his ball-hawking skills up to help the defense get its offense back on the field and create wins.

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