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Three Big Takeaways: Cyclones outmatched by No. 7 Texas in second half

Abu+Sama+III+of+Iowa+State+being+pushed+to+the+ground+by+Texass+defensive+line+during+the+Iowa+State+vs.+Texas+football+game+on+Nov.+18%2C+2023+in+Jack+Trice+Stadium.
Joseph Dicklin
Abu Sama III of Iowa State being pushed to the ground by Texas’s defensive line during the Iowa State vs. Texas football game on Nov. 18, 2023 in Jack Trice Stadium.

AMES— Low execution in the run game and defensive hiccups in the second half loom over the Iowa States’ 26-16 loss to No. 7 Texas in the final home game of the season.

The Cyclones’ Big 12 Championship hopes are put out by the Longhorns, who took control late in the second half after a tight first half where neither offense found much success.

Despite a pair of touchdown drives in the second half, Iowa State never got the complimentary football they desperately needed to pull off the upset. Down the stretch, the Longhorns’ offensive powerhouse was too much for the Cyclones to corral.

Here are the three big takeaways from the Cyclones’ final meeting against the Longhorns as members of the Big 12.

Another quiet first half

Following a season-high performance on the road last week against BYU, the running back room for Iowa State got back to its usual lack of success on the ground. The talented front seven of Texas held the trio of Abu Sama, Eli Sanders and Cartevious Norton to 13 combined rushing yards on eight carries through the first half.

Whether it was a run between the guards or to the outside, Texas was quick to swallow up the play no matter which back the Cyclones threw out on the field. Iowa State has been adamant all season about getting the run game going, and when it has worked it has taken a lot of weight off the shoulders of its young quarterback.

“They’re big and physical on the defensive line, obviously in their front six and front seven are outstanding,” head coach Matt Campbell said. “You’re kind of playing behind the chains most of the game and never put yourself in an advantageous situation in the run game, but certainly credit to them.”

Because of the familiar struggles in the run game, quarterback Rocco Becht was asked to be the one who makes plays for the offense.

In some spots, Becht looked solid, including a pair of connections for over 15 yards. In others, he was a hair-off on his throws, whether it was ahead or behind his receivers.

The pressure of the Longhorns’ front seven plagued Becht’s time in the pocket, forcing him to get rid of the ball which consistently put the Cyclones behind schedule on their first-half drives.

Despite being sacked twice in the first half, Becht defended his guys up front and took the blame for any plays that didn’t work in the passing game.

“I felt like I had a good pocket today with the offensive line, I felt like they played their ass off in the pass game,” Becht said. “There was maybe something I could’ve moved off from and gotten some more yards on a pass but the linemen blocked their ass off for me today.”

Becht managed to turn in a solid first two quarters, completing 11 of his 18 attempts for 110 yards, but the lack of production on the ground failed to complement his promising start to the game.

Bechts’ rollercoaster of a second half

The Cyclones opened up their playbook on their second drive of the third quarter and despite a couple of failed rush attempts, ignited the offense. To the tune of 83 yards on seven plays, Becht continued to dice up the Longhorn secondary with a 33-yard connection with Jayden Higgins and a 20-yard strike to tight end Benjamin Brahmer.

The drive ended with an inventive touchdown connection, which saw Becht throw across the field to Sanders out of the backfield.

A blocked extra point attempt from Contreraz resulted in a scoop and score for two by the Longhorns, and although the Cyclones still trailed by six, the offense was starting to find more success as they continued to trust Becht to make plays.

Becht and the offense would get the ball back after the Iowa State defense forced a three-and-out from the Longhorns and had a shot to take the lead midway through the second half.

However, things did not go so smoothly for Becht.

On the first play of that drive, Becht underthrew a deep attempt to wide receiver Jaylin Noel and a diving interception from Longhorn defensive back Jerrin Thompson killed the momentum edge that Iowa State was starting to gain.

Becht’s eighth interception of the year led to another touchdown drive by Texas to put Iowa State down by two scores.

Rocco Becht throws the ball against Texas at Jack Trice Stadium on Nov. 18, 2023.

“That really kind of hurt us and the defensive momentum,” Becht said. “I put them in a bad spot and I can’t do that, I gotta execute better. I’ll watch film and I’ll get better from that play.”

Iowa State and Becht got back on schedule on the following drive, and in a big way.

On a fourth and one in Iowa State territory, senior tight end Easton Dean slipped through the defensive line and got wide open up the middle to go untouched into the endzone. The 66-yard score put the Cyclones back within seven early in the fourth quarter and made Becht the program leader in touchdown passes thrown by a freshman (17).

Despite a couple more solid plays from Becht down the stretch, Iowa State was done scoring after that long catch-and-run by Dean.

Although his late third-quarter interception ended up being too big of a momentum swing to come back from, Becht ended the night with promising numbers for a freshman and has come a long way since the beginning of the season.

He finished the game completing 75% of his passes for 323 yards, the pair of touchdown throws and the interception.

Texas puts its horns up offensively

The Longhorns entered the game as the best offense in the Big 12 in terms of yards per game, but the Iowa State defense held down their home turf in the first half. The Cyclones brought the pressure on key down early on, racking up a pair of sacks in the first quarter and forcing a fumble in the redzone in the second quarter.

Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers and the rest of its offense were held to six points despite gaining over 200 yards in the first half.

Texas quit fooling around with their first drive of the second half and opened up their passing game with a pair of connections for over 18 yards.

The Longhorns’ nine-play 91-yard opening drive of the second half concluded when Iowa State left wide receiver Jordan Whittington open up the middle on a 23-yard connection, resulting in the first touchdown of the game and a 10-point deficit for the Cyclones.

That drive was one of three second half scoring drives that the Longhorns cashed off of the Cyclones, and although their offense responded with touchdowns of their own they could not get back to the success they had in the first half.

“I think we played our defense,” defensive back Beau Freyler said. “There’s a lot of areas we can improve on. We gave up some freebees to them so it just comes down to our execution and how we’re playing defense. When we’re on top of our stuff, we’re executing, I think the sky is the limit for this defense.”

Campbell addressed that while one of Texas’ scores came off of Bechts’ interception which gave the Longhorns a short field to work with, the defense also didn’t get in synch when they needed to late in the game.

“You never want to turn the ball over but again you gotta make a play on defense,” Campbell said. “We just never found a flow at times. Every opportunity that we had, we get the ball back we give the ball back we just never really played in a flow.”
Texas ended the game with over 400 yards of offense, including 10 plays that went for 15 or more yards. While Iowa State has had one of the better defenses throughout conference play, they were outmatched against the talented Longhorn skill players.

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    Cyclone61 | Nov 19, 2023 at 5:50 am

    Cyclones now have a chance to play in the Toilet Bowl.

    Reply