Defense emerges in tough loss to Texas

Reggie Wilkerson looks to the ref after running the ball into the end zone during the Iowa State vs Texas Football game. Longhorns won 17-7. 

Aaron Marner

The spotlight that comes with playing on ESPN in primetime on a Thursday night can be pretty bright.

Iowa State’s defense has been a question mark all year with mixed results through three games. Northern Iowa, Iowa and Akron all had their bright spots against the Cyclone defense, but a combination of good offense and timely turnovers kept the Cyclones in games.

Based on everything Cyclone fans had seen from the first three games of the year, the offense was supposed to shine. Instead, the offense faltered under the pressure while the defense had its best performance of the season.

On the night of a bad loss, Iowa State’s defense provided some optimism, head coach Matt Campbell said.

“I thought [defensive coordinator Jon] Heacock had a great plan tonight,” Campbell said. “It was so good for us to get into that bye week defensively. I thought we were able to make some really good adjustments.”

If it weren’t for some poorly-timed penalties, along with the bad showing by the offense, Iowa State’s defense could have been the talk of the college football world for a day.

Texas ran 78 plays Thursday night to just 64 from Iowa State. Time of possession was in Texas’ favor as well, with the Longhorns controlling the ball for 40 minutes and 31 seconds of the 60-minute clock.

“Time of possession and rushing yardage are certainly key indicators of why it’s a 17-7 loss in this football game,” Campbell said.

When the defense plays twice as much as the offense, it’s difficult to win. When the offense completes less than 50 percent of its passes, it’s difficult to win. When the offense gains 10 rushing yards on 15 attempts, it’s difficult to win.

Joel Lanning starred with 20 tackles for a Cyclone defense that held Texas to its fewest points of the season.

“It’s hard,” Lanning said of playing 40 minutes on defense. “If it was my first game I probably would be dying. Luckily I’ve had some experience with that. I felt pretty good, I think defensively we were rolling.”

The offense simply couldn’t give the defense a chance. Twice, Iowa State punted within the Texas’ 40-yard line rather than attempting a long field goal or going for the first down.

“We were playing so good on defense,” Campbell said about the punts. “You try to put the game in the defense’s hands.”

But defensive stops don’t win games if the offense can’t score points.

Even when the Iowa State defense forced turnovers, like with Kamari Cotton-Moya’s interception in the third quarter, the Cyclone offense just couldn’t capitalize. Iowa State took over after that play at the Texas 38-yard line, but three plays later, the offense had moved backwards to the Texas’ 43 and had to punt.

The one issue for the Iowa State defense was third downs. Texas converted on several long third down plays, including a 3rd-and-17 when Iowa State was starting to gain momentum.

“We just gotta get off the field,” Cotton-Moya said. “Third down is about making plays and getting off the field. I think we did a great job besides a couple penalties and a couple big plays.”

Even Texas acknowledged how impressive Iowa State’s defense was.

Texas scored 41 in its season opener, followed it up with a 56-0 shutout in week two and took No. 4 USC to double overtime in its third game.

Yet Iowa State is the team to hold Texas to its lowest point total of the year.

“Hats off to the Iowa State defensive staff,” said Texas head coach Tom Herman. “That was an incredible game plan by them. They were playing fronts and coverages that we had scouted two years of video since Matt Campbell had arrived here at Iowa state and we hadn’t seen any of that.”

While the 2-2 record isn’t what Iowa State hoped to have at this point, the defense’s improvement should keep the Cyclones in games from here on out.