Publisher's Note: This is the second in a 12-part series, projecting the outcome of the upcoming Iowa State football season. These are works of fiction, obviously, and all the information and quotes printed are figments of the writer's fertile imagination. However, they are also meant as analysis and prognostication. The schedule for the rest of the Monday Musings throughout the offseason are as follows:
May 2—Iowa State 38, Illinois State 3
May 16—at Army
May 23—at Nebraska
June 6—at Missouri
June 13—Oklahoma State
June 20—at Texas A&M
June 27—Kansas State
July 11—at Kansas
July 25 (pending expected baby arrival)—2005 Preview
Jack Trice Stadium
Iowa State 23, Iowa 21
Rarely do events such as these live up to the hype. Those that do go on to be called classics. Feel free to add this one to the history books and the memory bank.
An entire year's worth of build-up came down to 60 minutes of furious, fast-paced football on Saturday. When the dust settled, the Iowa State defense made Bret Culbertson's 36-yard field goal with 2 minutes and 4 seconds left in the fourth quarter stand as the game's final points, and lifted the Cyclones to a 23-21 upset of sixth-ranked Iowa before a record crowd of 54,481 at Jack Trice Stadium.
The last time a network television audience on ABC-TV tuned in to watch the Cyclones in a marquee game they witnessed Culbertson's career low-point, the shanking of a chip-shot that would've given ISU an outright Big 12 North Division title last November. This time, admittedly fighting pre-kick jitters, Culbertson came through.
"I won't lie I was nervous but I knew it was good as soon as I hit it," said Culbertson, from Des Moines Lincoln High School. "Then the defense did its job."
After a Tony Yelk touchback forced the Hawkeyes to start their final drive on their own 20, there were a lot of nervous cardinal-and-gold clad fans as Drew Tate led the Iowa offense back onto the field. The Cyclone defense had stalled the Iowa running game throughout the afternoon, limiting the trio of Albert Young, Marques Simmons, and Sam Brownlee to just 95 yards on 22 carries.
However, handling the Hawkeye passing game was an entirely different story. Tate surgically took the Cyclone secondary apart when he had time to throw. He was sacked four times, but it seemed as if the only thing that could stop Tate was, well, Tate. Tate's 331 yards and three touchdowns passing were offset by his three interceptions. Two of which came off deflected balls that could've been caught by receivers Scott Chandler and Ed Hinkel, the other on a brilliant play by Nik Moser in the back of the end zone that ended an Iowa scoring threat late in the third quarter.
"(Tate is) good," Moser said, stating the obvious. "For a while there I wasn't sure we would ever stop him. He was something like 6-for-8 on third-and-long. We kept bending and bending but we didn't break at the end."
On the final drive, Tate drove the Hawkeyes over 40 yards to the ISU 39-yard line. With 48 seconds remaining, and Mr. Automatic Kyle Schlicher warming up on the sidelines for a potential game-winning three-pointer, ISU defensive coordinator John Skladany rolled the dice. Skladany altered course from the soft zone coverages he had been utilizing, hoping to get sufficient pressure on Tate with his front four alone. When that didn't happen, Skladany sent DeAndre Jackson on a corner blitz that surprised Tate and led the gunslinger right into the waiting arms of Shawn Moorehead for a nine-yard loss that severely reversed field position.
Iowa was clearly rattled by the sack. Tate's third down pass was incomplete and perhaps his most inaccurate throw of the day. On fourth down Tate connected with Clinton Solomon for a seventh time, but the play came up several yards short of the first down marker.
"That was a gutsy call by (Skladany)," ISU Coach Dan McCarney said. "I was surprised when he called it, so I'm not surprised Iowa was surprised by it as well. It's not like we're tremendously deep in the secondary as it is, so sending our best corner in on a blitz is a high-risk, high-reward thing. Thank goodness it worked."
With 33 seconds left, the ISU offense took the field. Bret Meyer took a knee to expire the clock and then the celebration began. Students and fans poured out onto the Jack Trice Stadium turf, in a scene reminiscent of the 2002 victory over Nebraska. Players, led by Moser, took off for the enemy sideline seeking to reclaim a Cy-Hawk Trophy that had been held in exile by the Hawkeyes the last two years. Despite the chaos, McCarney and his good friend Kirk Ferentz still found a way to meet each other afterwards for the obligatory post-game handshake.
"This is a big, big win," said McCarney, who posted his sixth win in the last eight years over his alma mater. "I think this, on top of how we finished last season, tells everyone that this program is not only back but ready to take the next step. We still don't get a lot of respect nationally, and there's still a lot of football to be played, but this is a great way to kick-start a season."
The Cyclones, who have now won six of their last seven games going back to last season, can now expect to see themselves listed among the elite when the new top 25 is released on Sunday. On the other hand Iowa – considered a national championship contender heading into 2005 – must regroup for a run at a repeat Big Ten title.
"We've been here before," Ferentz said. "We're down right now but we'll be back. A few years ago we faced this situation and ended up having a great season. I tried telling everyone that we weren't a top 10 team but nobody wanted to listen, I suppose. We may be there again by the end of the season, but obviously we're not now by the way we played today.
"That's not to take anything away from Dan's team at all, but we didn't play Iowa football today. We did some good things at times, but there were way too many mistakes."
Iowa won this game on the stat sheet, but ISU won it where it counts the most. Iowa had more first downs (19-16) and more total offense (412-345). Nonetheless, a minus-3 turnover margin combined with eight penalties – most of them of the holding and false start variety – turned out to be too much to overcome.
Meanwhile, ISU's offense thankfully took advantage of the opportunities afforded it, because on its own it struggled to sustain and maintain consistent momentum.
Stevie Hicks was held to just 89 yards on 24 carries, while Meyer (46 yards rushing) was pretty much held in check as well on the option. So much for that revamped Iowa defensive line being a weakness the Cyclones could exploit.
"The story of this game, as has been the case for us the last couple of years now, was turnovers," McCarney said.
After a three-and-out to start the game, the Cyclones gave the ball back to Iowa. Tate promptly drove the Hawkeyes deep into ISU territory, but suffered his first interception when Stevie Paris viciously connected with Chandler just as the ball was connecting with his hands. Matthew Robertson picked up the loose change and ISU had its first turnover. Six plays later, Meyer hit Todd Blythe for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
It was the first catch of 2005 for the sophomore co-captain, who suffered a torn ACL during winter workouts eight months ago.
"I was more concerned about us scoring first than I was me getting my first catch," said Blythe, who finished with five catches for 78 yards.
The next points weren't scored until the second quarter, when Tate found Matt Melloy wide open for a 38-yard scoring toss in a third-and-long situation.
"That was just a broken coverage," Moser said. "When they spread you out like that it's tough, especially when you have some young guys in the game. We just lost track of him."
The only points the Cyclones scored in the first half without the aid of their opponent came on their next drive. ISU drove 65 yards on 11 plays, consuming over five minutes of clock. However, the drive stalled when Jon Davis dropped a sure-fire first down pass inside Iowa's 15-yard line. Culbertson came on to hit a 38-yard field goal that gave ISU a 10-7 lead.
On its ensuing possession, Iowa drove to the Cyclones' 36-yard line, but ended up punting it away after back-to-back false start penalties thwarted the scoring drive.
"Their crowd was loud, but I guess I didn't realize it was that loud," Ferentz said. "It will be even louder than that in a couple of weeks (at Ohio State) so we need more composure there."
Tate's second interception occurred on Iowa's first drive of the second half. Tate attempted to hit Hinkel deep over the middle. The ball sailed on him somewhat, but still appeared to be catchable. However, Hinkel was unable to reel it in and Paris intercepted the deflection near midfield.
On the very next play, Meyer hit Ben Barkema for a 22-yard gain on a play-action pass to the Iowa 25. Two plays later, Hicks took a draw on third-and-five and galloped 18 yards for a touchdown, ISU's longest running play of the game. The Cyclones took a 17-7 lead and appeared to be in the driver's seat.
"I'll tell you what, as long as Tate is back there you're never comfortable," McCarney said.
Indeed, it only took Tate five plays to drive the Hawkeyes 80 yards for a touchdown on their very next drive, which culminated with a 39-yard pass to Solomon in the end zone. Just like that ISU's lead was down to three and some uneasiness settled in among the hometown faithful.
After a Yelk punt was partially blocked – come on, there has to be at least one kicking mishap, right? – the Hawkeyes took over their next possession on ISU's side of the 50. On first down, Young raced 14 yards to the ISU 33-yard line, which was Iowa's best run of the day.
After another Young rushing attempt went nowhere, Tate hit Solomon for another big play, this one to the ISU 12. Iowa appeared poised to take its first lead heading into the fourth quarter. That's when Moser stepped in front of Solomon to pick Tate off in the back of the end zone, preserving ISU's lead.
"Next to Bret's kick, that was probably the biggest play of the game right there," McCarney said. "They had all the momentum going their way. If they score right there things might've been a whole lot different for us."
The two teams then traded punts, but ISU got a big special teams play of its own when Ryan Baum picked the perfect time for his season-high 17-yard punt return. Meyer hit three straight completions, two to Blythe and one to Walter Nickel. But again the Cyclones went nowhere in the red zone, settling instead for a 32-yard Culbertson field goal to take a 20-14 lead with 8:10 to play.
Again Iowa started at its own 20, and again the field position did little to contain Tate and the Iowa passing game. The Hawkeyes marched 80 yards again, all but one on passing plays, taking 3 minutes and 58 seconds off the clock. Iowa capped the drive with a fade pass to Hinkel over LaMarcus Hicks that, along with the extra point, gave the Hawkeyes their only lead of the game.
With just over 4 minutes left, the Cyclones found themselves behind for the first time. Starting at its own 23-yard line, ISU began the drive that ultimately won the game. On the first play of the drive Meyer hit a streaking Davis for a 34-yard completion into Iowa territory. The following Hicks carry gained little, and on second down the Cyclones avoided disaster when Chad Greenway dropped an easy interception that hit him right in the chest. Meyer shook off that scare on third down, calmly connecting with Davis for a nine-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Meyer found Blythe on a slant to the Iowa 20-yard line. Suddenly the Cyclones were in field goal range.
Hicks carried twice into the line for minimal gain after that, but those two plays forced Iowa to use its final two timeouts instead of saving them for its own attempt at a game-winning drive.
Then Culbertson nervously approached the field and came through with the eventual winning kick, his third of the game. Last season the Cyclones lost a 17-10 heartbreaker in Iowa City, missing four field goal attempts.
"I'm glad we have a bye next week," McCarney said. "We need a week to get healthy and refocus after a game like this."
Iowa State 7-3-7-6=23
Iowa State—Blythe 27 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
Iowa—Melloy 38 pass from Tate (Schlicher kick)
Iowa State—Culbertson 38-yard FG
Iowa State—Hicks 18 run (Culbertson kick)
Iowa—Solomon 39 pass from Tate (Schlicher kick)
Iowa State—Culbertson 32-yard FG
Iowa—Hinkel 7 pass from Tate (Schlicher kick)
Iowa State—Culbertson 36-yard FG
Rushing—Iowa (81): Young 13-52, Simmons 7-31, Tate 6-(-12), Brownlee 2-10; Iowa State (141): Hicks 24-89, Meyer 14-46, Scales 2-6. Passing—Iowa (331): Tate 22-38-3-331; Iowa State (204): Meyer 15-28-204. Receiving—Iowa: Solomon 7-138, Hinkel 5-78, Chandler 3-28, Majerus 2-20, Davis 2-19, Melloy 1-38, Young 1-6, Simmons 1-4; Iowa State: 5-78, Davis 5-59, Flynn 3-27, Barkema 1-22, Nickel 1-18. Sacks—Iowa State 4, Iowa 1. Attendance—54,481.
(Steve Deace can be heard each weekday on the radio in Iowa from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)