Publisher's Note: This is the fourth 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 9—Iowa State 23, Iowa 21
May 16—Iowa State 26, Army 14
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
Iowa State 27, Nebraska 20
Lincoln, Neb. – It was a win 28 years in the making.
In 1977, we were still almost a decade away from any member of this current Iowa State football team being born. In 1977, George Lucas was still considered a great film director. In 1977, Dan McCarney was still a Hawkeye.
That year, on the afternoon of October 15th, an unranked ISU team coached by Earle Bruce escaped Lincoln with a 24-21 victory over 9th-ranked Nebraska. It was Bruce's second-straight win over the Huskers. However, since then the Cyclones had been 0-13 at Memorial Stadium, losing by an average of 38.3 points per defeat.
But sooner or later all bad things must come to an end. Saturday was that day, and it will go down as a day long remembered by Cyclone Nation.
It was the day their team proved to the nation that they are for real, and they did it by winning before a sellout crowd of 73,918 at Memorial Stadium for the first time in generation. Bret Meyer passed for two touchdowns and ran for another to lead No. 21 Iowa State to a 27-20 victory over 25th-ranked Nebraska.
"I didn't think anything could top what happened last year at Kansas State," said Meyer, who now has two exemplary performances against Nebraska in his young Cyclone career. "But when you come in here and win at a place like this with all of its tradition it's hard to describe how satisfying it is."
Meyer completed 16-of-25 passes for 186 yards with no interceptions. He also rushed for 74 yards and accounted for all three of the Cyclones' touchdowns. ISU is now 4-0 for the first time since 2000 and just the second time since 1980. The Cyclones have already beaten two ranked teams this year, something that's only happened two other times in school history (1973 & 1976).
"Bret played really well, no doubt about it," McCarney said. "This was as big a road win as we've had since we've been here. We sure played a lot better than we did last week."
Still, as thrilled as he was with the victory, McCarney said it's way too early to talk about national rankings and North Division titles.
"We took a big step today, no doubt about it," McCarney said. "But there is a long, long way to go. An injury here, a turnover there, and suddenly our backs are against the wall again just like they usually are. It will be a challenge for us now to continue to play with a chip on our shoulders because winning at Nebraska in any year will get you some respect."
The Huskers, who entered the rankings after a thrilling upset of Pittsburgh last week, suffered their first loss of the season and third in the last four years to the Cyclones.
"We kind of gave back all the progress and positive feelings we built up after last week," said a low-key Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan afterwards. "We had some chances that we didn't take advantage of, but clearly the better team won today. Dan has a pretty good football team. We took a step back."
So many times over the years the Cyclones have cried uncle in Lincoln by halftime. This time they were asking, "who's your daddy?"
There was no Big Red avalanche that buried ISU early. Instead, there was a Cyclone team executing on the road in one of college football's toughest environments. ISU set the tone early by using a precision offense to drive 80 yards on 11 plays in almost 7 minutes for a touchdown on the first drive of the game. Meyer crossed the goal-line on a 6-yard option keeper and Bret Culbertson knocked in the extra-point to make it 7-0, good guys.
"I'll be honest, I was surprised we did that," ISU offensive lineman Korey Pence said. "We were confident heading in, but I don't think we thought we'd be able to take it to them like that right off the bat."
The Huskers attempted to come right back behind the running of Cory Ross and the passing of Zac Taylor. However, the drive failed to yield any points when Nick Leaders got just enough of David Dyches 40-yard field goal try to alter is trajectory and force it to come up short.
"I haven't had as many chances to block kicks as I did last year," said Leaders, a Nebraska native. "It was good to finally get a hand on one."
From there the Cyclone offense went to work again, driving to the 25-yard line before stalling out. Unfortunately, Tony Yelk's 42-yard field goal attempt was wide right. The ensuing Nebraska drive was three-and-out after Leaders sacked Taylor on third down to force a punt. On the first play of the next possession, Meyer caught the Huskers thinking run and hit Todd Blythe for a 38-yard gain that put ISU back in Nebraska territory.
Five plays later, Meyer found Walter Nickel all alone in the back of the end zone on another play-action pass. After the extra point the Cyclones had a 14-0 lead.
"It's not often the people here see their team down by two touchdowns in the first half," Leaders said. "I think we stunned them a little bit."
Nebraska finally got on the scoreboard when Dyches connected from 44 yards out to make it 14-3, but the Cyclones still weren't done.
Stevie Hicks broke free for a 45-yard run, his longest of the season thus far, to put ISU back within striking distance of paydirt yet again. Two plays later, Meyer found Jon Davis on the rollout for an 18-yard touchdown pass. ISU now held a 21-3 lead, and already had scored its most points in Lincoln since 1983. Remember, ISU was shutout here just two years ago.
For their part, the proud Huskers didn't give up. They used their passing attack to march back down the field before halftime, but were kept out the end zone again when LaMarcus Hicks dropped an interception at the goal-line. Dyches hit a 21-yard field goal to make it 21-6 at the half in favor of the Cyclones.
"We came here wanting to show everyone that doubted us after the Army game that we are for real," Blythe said. "I think we did that in the first half."
Nevertheless, McCarney knew there was still 30 minutes of football to play so his team could take nothing for granted.
"Whereas I wasn't that upset at halftime against Army when we weren't playing well, this time I was really on them not to let up," McCarney said. "No doubt about it, no lead is safe with the passing attack they have, especially when you haven't won in a place like this in something like 30 years."
The Huskers finally got their first touchdown of the game on their first drive of the second half, thanks to the running of Ross. He carried four straight times on draws that caught ISU off-guard. His fourth straight attempt was a 22-yard dash to the end zone, cutting ISU's lead to 21-13.
The Nebraska defense maintained the momentum; forcing ISU to punt on its next possession after Adam Carriker sacked Meyer. Taylor then hit Terrance Nunn for a 41-yard completion over the head of DeAndre Jackson that set the Huskers up at ISU's 21-yard line.
Then, just as the Memorial Stadium crowd was getting back on its feet, came ISU's biggest defensive stand of the game.
A Ross run netted just one yard on first down. On second down Taylor completed an 8-yard pass to Isaiah Fluellen to set up a third-and-one run by Ross that was stopped behind the line of scrimmage by Tim Dobbins. On fourth-and-2, Callahan eschewed the field goal attempt and instead went for it, but Jackson broke up the slant pass to Nunn and the Huskers turned the ball over on downs.
"He had just beaten me deep so I knew I had to come back and make a play on him," Jackson said.
ISU then used a balance attack – four runs and four passes – to drive into Culbertson's field goal range, and he was true on a 35-yard attempt that gave the Cyclones a 24-13 lead they held going into the fourth quarter.
The game's lone turnover happened two drives later, when Jason Berryman forced a Taylor fumble that was recovered by Brent Curvey near midfield. On the next play, Meyer hit Nickel over the middle for a 19-yard gain. Two straight Hicks runs netted eight yards, but on third down Meyer was stopped just short of the first down marker by Steve Octavien, forcing McCarney to make a decision. Would he go for it or elect to bring out Culbertson or Yelk for a 40-yard field goal attempt?
McCarney did send the offense back on the field, but it never had to run a play after Titus Adams jumped offside to give ISU the necessary yardage for a first down.
Were the Cyclones really going to go for it, or were they trying the old "make them jump offside play" that hardly ever works?
"That's our little secret," a smiling Meyer said.
ISU did get inside the Nebraska 15, but the Huskers stiffened and the Cyclones settled for a 29-yard field goal from Culbertson to make it 27-13.
Nebraska came back to score once more when freshman Marlon Lucky scampered 19 yards for a touchdown on a third down draw with 2:18 left, but without any timeouts left the Huskers had to go with the onside kick and that was recovered by Blythe. The Cyclones ran out the clock, with Meyer fittingly taking a knee for the game's final play.
"We're on everyone's radar screen now, no doubt about it," McCarney said. "But we've got a 24-hour rule to savor this victory and we're going to take full advantage of it."
ISU returns home to Jack Trice Stadium for the first time since September 10th to host Baylor next week.
Iowa State 7-14-3-3=27
ISU—Meyer 6 run (Culbertson kick)
ISU—Nickel 5 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
Nebraska—Dyches 44 field goal
ISU—Davis 18 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
Nebraska—Dyches 21 field goal
Nebraska—Ross 22 run (Dyches kick)
ISU—Culbertson 35 field goal
ISU—Culbertson 29 field goal
Nebraska—Lucky 19 run (Dyches kick)
Rushing—Iowa State (182): Hicks 19-97, Meyer 15-74, Scales 3-11; Nebraska (155): Ross 18-101, Lucky 5-39, Taylor 6-15. Passing—Iowa State (186): Meyer 16-25-0-186; Nebraska (201): Taylor 19-39-0-201. Receiving—Iowa State: Blythe 6-87, Davis 3-35, Flynn 3-28, Nickel 2-24, Barkema 1-7, Sumrall 1-5; Nebraska: Nunn 7-90, Fluellen 5-73, Ross 3-19, Kenny 2-11, Keiser 1-8. Sacks—Nebraska 3, Iowa State 2. Attendance—73,918.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)