Lanning, Iowa State defense stand tall but fall short of comeback bid at Baylor

Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads celebrates a touchdown during the game against Kansas Oct. 3. The Cyclones would go on to beat the Jayhawks 38-13.

Max Dible

The Cyclones defended the Bears more successfully than any other team this season, and it wasn’t even close to enough.

Iowa State (2-5, 1-3 Big 12) blanked No. 2 Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) for a nearly 33-minute span from the middle of the rain-soaked second quarter until late in the drizzly fourth, yet Iowa State still fell in Waco, Texas, 45-27.

The Cyclones held the Bears scoreless in the third period, only the third time this season Baylor has failed to put points on the board for the entirety of a quarter. But the 35-0 lead the nation’s No. 1 offense built in the first 21-plus minutes of play proved too great an obstacle for Iowa State to overcome.

Despite the lackluster effort early on, ISU coach Paul Rhoads was proud of the way the Cyclones finished the game — on a 27-10 run.

“You do that on the road in conditions like this against the second-ranked team in the country, you’re pleased with the energy and the effort they gave,” Rhoads said, “not pleased with the outcome.”

Moral victories abounded Saturday, though they may offer little solace to an ISU fan base, as its team now sits only two losses from statistical bowl disqualification. But perhaps the way Saturday’s game finished made room for a sliver of postseason hope to remain.

Baylor fell 235 yards short and nearly 19 points shy of its nation-leading averages, compiling 485 yards of total offense and posting a 45-spot on the scoreboard. Iowa State forced two turnovers and a season-high five punts from Baylor.

The Cyclones were also the first team in 2015 to hold the Bears under 60 points since Southern Methodist surrendered 56 points to Baylor in the first week of the season. Rhoads credited the defensive success to faster play and gang tackling, among other factors.

“I thought our secondary kids did an excellent job of getting their eyes around and putting themselves in position to deny some deep balls,” Rhoads said. “We batted several balls at the line of scrimmage and quite honestly, they missed on a couple plays, which helps a lot too.”

Weather may also have played a role, as it rained heavily throughout the game, though Rhoads said he didn’t believe the soggy conditions favored either squad.

More than that, Baylor seemed to fall asleep at the wheel after amassing a five-touchdown edge early — a factor impossible to measure in regards to its effect on the game’s ultimate result.

The Cyclones, though, were roused from their early slumber when the coaching staff made its most significant move of the season — yanking quarterback Sam Richardson, a fifth-year senior, after his second interception of the game in favor of redshirt sophomore Joel Lanning.

Lanning led Iowa State to its first touchdown on his first drive under center, and would carry them to the end zone three more times on his way to a 12-for-17 performance, highlighted by 144 yards through the air and three passing touchdowns.

“Scoring right before the half — that touchdown — and the defense stopping them … we kind of had momentum going into the second half,” Lanning said. “We just kept rolling. The offense kept chipping away.”

Rhoads was quick to share the wealth of credit for the Cyclones’ competitive effort on Lanning’s behalf, however.

“You can credit [Lanning], but he wasn’t blocking for the guy who was carrying the ball, and he wasn’t running the football, and he wasn’t catching the football that he was throwing,” Rhoads said. “But he performed very well, and that drive was a pivotal point for us from an energy level. With that drive … our whole sideline, our whole football team picked up and responded.”

Running back Mike Warren agreed the touchdown before half was the crucial energy play in the game, even though it wasn’t enough to vault the Cyclones back into real contention. The closest they would get was a 15-point deficit at 35-20.

Warren — the country’s most prolific freshman running back — picked up his play after Lanning entered, though, notching his fourth 100-yard rushing performance of the season.

Warren went on to amass 145 yards on a workmanlike 28 carries after coughing up a costly fumble earlier in the game — the first of four ISU turnovers.

Rhoads didn’t elaborate on whether Lanning and Warren will be the team’s starting backfield tandem the rest of the way, but considering how a stalled ISU attack came alive as soon as the former read-option specialist Lanning began taking snaps, a shift in the signal-caller position appears likely.

Iowa State must do something to shake things up, as moral victories won’t cut it when Texas comes to town for homecoming weekend on Oct. 31.