Run game opens up for Cyclones in loss to Red Raiders


Redshirt junior running back DeVondrick Nealy runs the ball against Texas Tech on Nov. 22 at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones lost to the Red Raiders 34-31.

Beau Berkley

The ISU football team has seen flashes of its running game several times throughout the season, but those flashes hadn’t been enough to propel the Cyclones to a win.

That changed Nov. 22 against Texas Tech, as Aaron Wimberly rushed 19 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. DeVondrick Nealy and Sam Richardson rushed for 87 and 70 yards, and when it was all said and done, Iowa State (2-8, 0-7 Big 12) racked up 265 yards rushing, its highest total this season.

But still one thing did not change. Those numbers were not enough to keep the Red Raiders (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) at bay, as Texas Tech overcame a 24-14 deficit to win 34-31.

“We came out to start the second half and got ourselves a good lead and an opportunity a couple times in the second half to take control and not allow a team to respond, and again we didn’t do that,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads. “We let them respond.”

The loss keeps Iowa State in the cellar of the Big 12, the only team in the Big 12 to not beat a conference foe. But this game, like others Iowa State has played this season, fit the bill. Iowa State had leads against North Dakota State, Kansas State and Texas before allowing those teams to claw back and win.

“We had a chance to close a door and secure a lead and keep a lead, and we did not do that,” Rhoads said.

But those losses — and certainly not the loss to Texas Tech — were not for lack of effort. In his first game back since playing against Oklahoma on Nov. 1, quarterback Sam Richardson aired the ball out for 24 completions, 304 yards and two touchdowns, one of which was to tight end E.J. Bibbs, a semi-finalist for the John Mackey Award.

But the biggest stand-out performance came on the ground. The ISU offense was able to exploit a TTU rush defense that ranks 120th in the NCAA, only two spots down from Iowa State.

Nealy had the biggest run play against the Red Raiders — a 49-yard scamper that was also the longest rush this season for the Cyclones — but it was Wimberly who carried most of the load and finished with his second 100-yard rushing game this season.

Wimberly said his goal heading into the game was to get both facets of the running game going, inside the tackles and outside.

And while Wimberly and the backfield were successful, other woes persisted for the Cyclones. Cole Netten, who was perfect on the season before missing his first field goal against Kansas on Nov. 7, missed two field goals from more than 40 yards.

Netten was on the wrong end of a big hit during a first half kick-off and stayed down on the field for several minutes before getting back up and jogging off the field. Netten said his first miss was not due to any sort of injury.

“I just hit it wrong, and it was a technical problem,” Netten said. “We will find out more when we watch film.”

The ISU defense again struggled to contain big plays. The Red Raiders scored three touchdowns through the air that were longer than forty yards, including an 82-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter.

Arguably the biggest game changer came in the third quarter as Texas Tech was down 24-14 when they lined up for a punt on fourth down but opted for a fake and ran the ball 44 yards up the middle. Texas Tech scored on the next play.

“We have been practicing that play for months waiting to run it,” said Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington. “…it was a good play though. It brought a lot of energy to the sideline.”

With the loss to Texas Tech, Iowa State remains winless in the Big 12 and is still looking for answers as the season winds down.

“It’s frustrating,” Wimberly said. “We have another game next week, and we just have to get ready and need to focus on that.”