Iowa State’s defense grinds out a victory over No. 4 TCU


Garrett Kroeger

Iowa State defensive end J.D. Waggoner thought linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. dropped the interception.

If Spears dropped TCU quarterback Kenny Hill’s pass, it would have been third and 10 with less than 90 seconds to go in the game. The way the Horned Frogs were moving the ball late in the game, 90 seconds would have been enough time to tie the game.

But, Spears did pick off the pass and when Waggoner noticed it was an interception, he had one thing running through his mind.

“Games over,” Waggoner said.

For the second time in less than a month, the No. 25 Iowa State Cyclone football team upended a top-five opponent. The first was the then-No. 3 Oklahoma Sooners, 38-31, on the road and this time being No. 4 TCU, 14-7, in Jack Trice Stadium.

Unlike the win down in Oklahoma, it was the Cyclone defense that led the cardinal and gold to an upset victory.

Series after series, the Iowa State defense seemed to have the recipe to stop the TCU offense. A stop on third and short, only allowing four third conversions on 14 tries, or create a turnover. The Cyclones always found an answer to stop the Horned Frogs on Saturday.

“I think the biggest thing I would say about our kids is [Iowa State] played harder for longer,” said coach Matt Campbell.

Although Spears came up big once again for Iowa State for the second straight week, it was the fumble recovery down in the red zone that made the difference for the Cyclones in Campbell’s mind.

TCU had first and three on the three. The Horned Frogs looked like they were going to tie the contest at 14 apiece. But, TCU coach Gary Patterson called a timeout.

“[Iowa State] came to the huddle and just said ‘Listen, just keep playing’,” Campbell said. “That’s the niche, the mantra of this team. Just keep playing. Keep your poise. Keep playing and get a great stop on first down.”

The Cyclones did just that.

Linebacker Joel Lanning and defensive lineman Jamahl Johnson would stuff TCU running back Sewo Olonilua for no gain. Then the ensuing play after, Hill would be hit by linebacker Willie Harvey causing a fumble that would ultimately land in the hands of Waggoner.

While the Iowa State defense got the Cyclones out of some tricky situations, it didn’t even play its best game.

In Campbell’s mind, Iowa State didn’t tackle great in the first or second half. At moments the offense had to bail out the defense and visa versa. But the defense knew it had to play as one today if it wanted to get the job done.

“[Iowa State] just kind of knew, defensively, we needed to play 11 as one today,” Lanning said. “We were in some situations that weren’t normal. We came out with a turnover out of them. One step and one breathe at a time is what coach [Jon] Heacock preaches to us.”

Going into games, the Iowa State defense holds a mindset that they are going to shutout its opponent. They technically did on Saturday, as the Horned Frogs’ lone touchdown was on a kickoff return. Plus, the Cyclone defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in five straight quarters.

“When we [shut teams out], we know we are playing at a high level,” Lanning said. “We are just playing fast, reacting off each other. It’s huge.”

In Campbell’s eyes, the Cyclones have bought into the process. And now, they have been rewarded with bowl eligibility.

But that won’t be what Campbell goes to bed thinking about. He will be thinking how Iowa State ground out a victory against the No. 4 team in the country and knowing this is how the Cyclones will continue to play this season.

“It says a lot about who we are,” Campbell said. “Again, our mindset. I just got done telling our team, attitude, effort and discipline still matter.

“Staying the course, playing hard for 60 minutes, putting your head down and not looking at the scoreboard, that’s really hard. That’s easy to say up here, but it’s really hard to do it. But our kids have bought into that.”