Publisher's Note: This is the eighth 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
May 23—Iowa State 27, Nebraska 20
May 30—Iowa State 35, Baylor 14
June 6—Missouri 28, Iowa State 16
June 13—Iowa State 31, Oklahoma State 27
June 27—Kansas State
July 11—at Kansas
July 25 (pending expected baby arrival)—2005 Preview
Texas A&M 21, Iowa State 7
College Station, Texas –The national media wanted to know if the Cyclones were for real. With this being just one of two games this week pitting ranked teams against one another (Boston College-Virginia Tech being the other), it received more than its fair share of pre-game hype. This was a chance for Iowa State to put its best foot forward while a lot of folks were watching and paying attention.
Unfortunately, the Cyclones stumbled.
No. 25 Texas A&M took advantage of three interceptions and an inept kicking game to get past 18th-ranked Iowa State, 21-7, in front of a sellout crowd at Kyle Field and a national cable audience on TBS. The Cyclones are now 3-2 in conference play and 6-2 overall. ISU is still all alone in first place in the Big 12 North Division. The Aggies are back in the South Division hunt at 4-1 and are also 6-2 overall.
"We didn't play our best football game today," ISU Coach Dan McCarney said. "But all the credit goes to them. They're a fine Big 12 football team, no doubt about it."
The one bright spot in this game was the resurgence of an ISU defense that had struggled the past two weeks after a scintillating start. That unit is what kept the Cyclones in the game early despite the breakdowns on offense and the kicking game. A year after getting absolutely manhandled by Reggie McNeal and the Aggies' offense, ISU rebounded to hold Texas A&M to under 400 yards of total offense and only one legitimate scoring drive.
"We remembered what happened last year and wanted to make a statement that we wouldn't let that happen again," said Nik Moser, who had a game-high 11 tackles. "Still, I could care less about playing well if we don't win. That's the bottom line. I would rather play like crap and win every time."
So what sparked the inspired effort of ISU's defense? It would be hard to argue against the decision to start Jason Berryman at rush end for the first time this season. The former Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and team MVP in 2003 provided a lift with a sack and two tackles-for-loss, all in the first half.
Berryman, seeing his first meaningful action of the season after his controversial return from a felony robbery conviction in 2004, was not made available to the media afterwards for comment.
"He's done what we asked him to do off the field, in the class room, and on the practice field so he earned this chance to start," McCarney said. "He gave our defense a bit of a lift but as a team we're disappointed with the way things turned out."
Both defenses were stout early, which led to a scoreless first quarter. The Cyclones clearly wanted to establish a ball-control running game, to no avail. Their inability to consistently create that balance on offense would come back to haunt them later.
The Cyclones actually had a chance to get on the scoreboard first after two pass interference penalties on Texas A&M kept the drive alive. However, echoing memories of his abysmal day in College Station four years ago, Tony Yelk just missed a 44-yard field and ISU came up empty-handed.
The Aggies took the good field position and put together their only legitimate scoring drive of the game, driving 66 yards and reaching the end zone on McNeal's 12-yard touchdown pass to DeQawn Mobley. ISU attempted to get some points before halftime after Bret Meyer completed a 36-yard pass to Todd Blythe. However, Meyer was intercepted two plays later by Japhus Brown ending the drive.
Texas A&M tried to add to its lead to start the third quarter on a time-consuming drive, but Nick Leaders deflected Todd Pegram's 31-yard field goal attempt. The Cyclones moved the ball to midfield on Steve Hicks' 16-yard run – by far his best effort of the afternoon – and a 15-yard completion to Walter Nickel. Yet the drive would end there after Meyer was intercepted again – this time by Jaxson Appel – who returned the ball to ISU's 26-yard line.
"It seemed like we had an answer on defense every time they put a drive together," Appel said.
From there, McNeal went to work again, hitting freshman tight end Martellus Bennett in the flat for a four-yard touchdown pass. The Aggies now led, 14-0.
"Turnovers killed us and then we missed some field goals that might've put us back in the game, although those were long field goals," McCarney said.
The missed field goal would loom large again for ISU on its next possession. An offensive pass interference call on Blythe in the end zone for pushing off negated an ISU touchdown, forcing another three-point try. Yelk's 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide of the left upright keeping the Cyclones scoreless.
But just when it appeared the Aggies were driving for the game-clinching touchdown, the ISU defense came up big again when Brent Curvey stripped Courtney Lewis to force a fumble that was recovered by Moser at the Aggies' 18-yard line.
Once again, however, an interception did in the Cyclones. Trying to hit Ben Barkema on an out-route on a third-and-two, Meyer instead found linebacker Justin Warren, who returned the pick-off inside the ISU 20-yard line. It took McNeal just two plays to reach paydirt after that: a 14-yard completion to Jason Carter and then a six-yard keeper on the option for the touchdown.
Game over, essentially. Sure, the Cyclones averted a shutout when Meyer hit Blythe for a 42-yard touchdown pass, but it was all over but the crying at that point.
Nonetheless, ISU still controls its own destiny in the North Division and will clinch the crown if it sweeps its final two home games of the season against Kansas State and Colorado.
"We've got a very resilient team that is still young but has some tremendous leadership, no doubt about it," McCarney said. "I'm confident that we'll bounce back again."
Iowa State 0-0-0-7=7
Texas A&M 0-7-7-7=21
A&M—Mobley 12 pass from McNeal (Pegram kick)
A&M—Bennett 4 pass from McNeal (Pegram kick)
A&M—McNeal 6 run (Pegram kick)
ISU—Blythe 42 pass from Meyer (Culbertson kick)
Rushing—Iowa State (64): Hicks 13-32, Meyer 8-30, Scales 1-2; Texas A&M (112): Lewis 16-69, McNeal 7-36, Taylor 4-7. Passing—Iowa State (208): Meyer 15-29-3-217; Texas A&M (222): McNeal 17-24-217. Receiving—Iowa State: Blythe 4-109, Davis 4-39, Flynn 4-31, Nickel 3-29; Texas A&M: Carter 5-72, Mobley 4-47, Schroeder 3-33, Franks 1-28, Lewis 2-29, Bennett 2-13. Sacks—Texas A&M 4, Iowa State 2. Attendance—82,600.