"We played better in earlier games during this year," said linebacker Brandon Brown. "We let them come out and get a quick start on us. We weren't doing our jobs to start the game. We weren't as focused as we should have been, so we've got to focus more, get better this week, and prepare for Colorado."
Much of Iowa State's lack of focus could have been due to the play of A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal. The junior had been known more for his rushing prowess – as he entered the game leading the team in yardage. However, McNeal took to crushing the Cyclones by air.
When the dust had settled on Saturday night's blowout, McNeal had completed 16-of-27 passes for 222 yards and three scores.
Brown and his defensive counterparts did manage to hold him to just 15 yards on eight carries. But that stat line didn't matter as much as McNeal's two scoring passes in the first 8:16 of the first quarter. He found Tydrick Riley for an 18-yard touchdown on the game's opening drive, then followed that up with a 13-yard strike to Joey Thomas to make it 13-0.
"We watched film and he was a good passer," said ISU's Nick Leaders. "We didn't get enough pressure on him. When he sits back there, he throws it about as good as anybody in the nation. But you've also got to be careful in your lane, and can't get too far out because if you do he's going to take it straight up the middle. It's pretty much a lose-lose situation going against somebody like that."
That final statement couldn't have been more telling, especially midway through the second quarter when McNeal commandeered a 96-yard scoring drive that spanned more than seven minutes. Early in the drive, he escaped what would have been an ISU safety to complete a 23-yard pass to Jason Carter on 2nd-and-21 at the A&M two.
"It's backed up," said ISU head coach Dan McCarney, "we almost had him for a safety down there. It was a brilliant play by Reggie to get out of there. Then they go 98 yards. You talk about giving your team a shot of confidence from that standpoint. The game sure isn't over, but it's great execution on their part. We did not get off the field. Then they have a little more space, air, and point differential in that football game."
From that point on, the Cyclone offense went further into the tank. Starting quarterback Bret Meyer left the game after a big hit in the second half, and handed the keys to Austin Flynn. Either way it didn't seem to matter for a unit searching for confidence.
Flynn finished the game with 89 yards passing on just 9-of-24 completions and two interceptions. Meyer, meanwhile, completed 50 percent of his passes (9-for-18) for 72 yards.
Stevie Hicks again approached the 100-yard barrier, rushing for 78 on 17 carries, but ISU's ground game was non-existent when the game was still in doubt.
But unlike a week ago in Stillwater, the Cyclone offense was not haunted by turnovers. This time they were unable to sustain drives for long periods of time. They tallied 23 first downs in the game – to A&M's 20 as a team – but that didn't lead to many points.
"It seems like there is a big door that we've got to knock down in the red zone right now, and we're not doing that," McCarney said. "We did move the ball at times, but this is an offense that's all about points. It's not time-of-possession or yards. We have not done a good job. Ten points in the past two games is not what we're looking for. We've got to do a better job. When we got down there in those situations we stalled."
ISU now goes back to the drawing board, hoping a repeat of last season's slide in Big 12 is not on the horizon.
"It's disappointing," Leaders said. "We've got a different team this year and we expect different results. It hasn't shown on the scoreboard yet. We know we're making progress and have to get a few breaks to go our way. We need to play a clean game and hopefully we can get one next week.
"We can't remember what happened in the past. We've got to forget that and go on to next week. Hopefully we can go out to Colorado and get a win. With a lot of young players, we'll need to get the crowd out of it early and turn it into a good game."
ISU kicks off at 12:30 p.m. next Saturday in Boulder against Colorado, a team that was manhandled 42-14 by Oklahoma State this week.