Takeaways: Cyclone offense sputters, defense steps up

Wide receiver, Hakeem Butler, tries to escape the grasp of University of Akron players during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Sept. 22. The Cyclones won 26-13.

Aaron Marner

Iowa State fell to TCU on Saturday by a final score of 17-14. The Cyclones dropped to 1-3 (0-2 Big 12) with the loss.

The Cyclones’ offense struggled all night, while the defense kept a dangerous TCU offense at bay.

Passing game stays grounded

Iowa State’s offense has been a weak spot this season. The Cyclones are last in the Big 12 in yards per game, thanks to low outputs against Iowa and TCU.

Coach Matt Campbell’s offense also ranks last or tied for last in first downs per game, passing touchdowns per game and rushing touchdowns per game.

Simply put, the Iowa State offense hasn’t kept up with its opponents through four games.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Zeb Noland went 14-for-28 through the air but mustered only 79 yards.

Noland didn’t throw an interception but did lose a fumble. TCU’s Ben Banogu recovered the loose ball and returned in 47 yards for a touchdown to give the Horned Frogs a 14-7 lead early in the third quarter.

“The reality of it is we’re not where we’re at in the football game without Zeb’s big response,” Campbell said. “I think my most pride is how Zeb responded and gave us a chance to go right down the field.”

Noland picked up a big third-down conversion in the fourth quarter with Iowa State trailing by seven.

A 15-yard penalty led to an Iowa State third-and-25. Noland evaded a sack, turned left and ran upfield for a 28-yard gain to convert for a fresh set of downs.

Still, the passing game struggled all night, as redshirt junior receiver Hakeem Butler was held to two catches on eight targets and no receiver gained more than 23 yards through the air.

Montgomery keeps rolling

The Cyclone offense got a boost last week against Akron when junior running back David Montgomery had his first 100-yard game of 2018.

He followed that up with another 100-yard game against TCU. Montgomery ran for 101 yards on 21 carries, good for a 4.8 yards per carry average.

He also plowed into the end zone for his third touchdown of the season.

Montgomery’s production has been inconsistent this season, but that may be partially a function of Iowa State’s inexperienced offensive line. The Cyclones have mixed-and-matched linemen so far, starting three different lineups in the trenches in the first three games.

Montgomery’s performance didn’t shock anybody — his longest run was just 15 yards and his touchdown was on a carry from about a yard out — but his consistency and ability to pick up first downs will be critical for the Iowa State offense moving forward. It could also help open up passing lanes as teams are forced to stack the box to key on Montgomery.

Defense holds strong again

Iowa State’s offense has struggled this year, but the defense has been stellar.

That continued again on Saturday as TCU was held well below its season averages.

Through TCU’s first four games — which includes games against Ohio State and Texas, both ranked in the AP Top 25 — the Horned Frogs averaged 35.3 points, 443.8 yards and two rushing touchdowns per game.

Against Iowa State, TCU scored 17 points (less than half of their average,) gained 299 yards (over 140 yards below average) and didn’t rush for a touchdown.

Redshirt senior linebacker Willie Harvey had one of the best games of his long Cyclone career, totaling 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and breaking up a pass. He had multiple big hits, including a play where he sniffed out a quick receiver screen and blew the play up in the backfield.

Iowa State’s defense will have its hands full next week at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are 4-1 and have scored 44 points or more in four of their five games.