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‘A hair off’: Cyclones’ defensive mistakes prove costly in tight homecoming loss

Joseph Dicklin
Devin Neal of the Kansas Jayhawks gets chased down for a tackle by Joey Petersen of Iowa State during the Iowa State vs. Kansas football game on Nov. 4, 2023 in Jack Trice Stadium.

AMES — From the start, it appeared that Kansas had Iowa State’s defense figured out. The Cyclones never found footing, and in the end, the Jayhawks spoiled Iowa State’s homecoming comeback to come out on top 28-21.

The first drive of the game caught the defense off guard, as Kansas quickly showed its dominance. Although Iowa State was stopping the run, the Jayhawks found big chunk plays in the air to move the chains.

With Iowa State’s interception leader Jeremiah Cooper sidelined with an injury, new guys had to step up into his role. However, it took time for them to get comfortable.

Myles Purchase was also sidelined to start the game but made an appearance later. The two new guys to fill starting spots were Blake Thompson and Jontez Williams. However, those two players did not get off to the start they hoped for.

“I just think Myles is continuing to work through maybe a little bit of a slow start to the season at times,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “Honestly, Jontez Williams is playing great football… Man, It’s just a process right now.”

Immediately, Kansas found success in the air. Jason Bean found Quentin Skinner on the sideline for a 31-yard pass over Williams.

The next play, Bean found Tanaka Scott in the middle of the field for 21 yards. Two plays, 52 yards.

Matteo Bender

“I think it just came down to discipline,” Iowa State defensive back Beau Freyler said. “Getting aligned on the right people, and just covering your man.”

Those two plays set up the Jayhawks for an easy touchdown, which ended up being the only score given up by the defense through the first half.

Kansas had a pair of opportunities later in the half to put points on the board, but two missed field goals later, and Kansas still sat with just one score over Iowa State’s defense.

“Defensively, you’re right there on a couple things,” Campbell said. “Our precision and detail was a hair off.”

Going into the game, Kansas’ run game was expected to be an issue for the Cyclones. However, as the half rolled on, the Cyclones consistently stuffed the rushing game before the Jayhawks could get anything moving.

The second half started the exact same for the Cyclones. The defense locked down most rush attempts before they broke out but gave up big passing plays that eventually led to a touchdown.

With the offense marching back in hopes of a comeback, the defense had one job: Do not let the Jayhawks score.

“Second half, I felt like we were still in it. We were resilient,” Iowa State quarterback Rocco Becht said. “We just kept fighting.”

Iowa State cut the lead to 21-18 after being down 21-3 at one point. As the “Juicy Wiggle” finished playing, Kansas took the field.

All eyes were on the defense. All they needed was one stop.

However, as Bean stepped back into the pocket, he found a crack in Iowa State’s defense.

Bean connected with Lawrence Arnold deep in the middle of the field. With no one in a position to make a play on the ball following the catch, Arnold found open field for the 80-yard touchdown.

“Credit to them, great call. We’ve got great players. I believe in our kids, and certainly believe in our scheme,” Campbell said. “But you can’t be a hair off, and we were. We gotta do a better job.”

With half a quarter left to play, Kansas went back up by 10 points. One mistake on defense was all it took to quell the Cyclones.

One drive later and the Cyclone offense cut the lead back to one score. The defense had one more shot to stop the Jayhawks and give their offense a chance at winning the game.

After two run plays, the Cyclones were faced with a short third-down play. With three minutes left in the game, they needed a stop. A false start also pushed the Jayhawks back, making the attempt at a first down even harder.

However, another miscommunication on defense caused Kansas’ Luke Grimm to find himself wide open. Kansas picked the first down, and just two plays later, the clock ticked under two minutes.

“Man, I don’t think we played up to our standard at all,” Freyler said.

One more chance at a stop on third down, and again, the Cyclones could not get it done. Bean tossed the ball over the line to Jared Casey for 13 yards. One final passing play to finish the game the same way it started.

With the lights on in Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State’s defense could not play lights out when it mattered most.

“Man, we were a hair off on a couple of opportunities to swing the momentum totally back our way,” Campbell said.

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