Publisher's Note: This is the 11th 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 20—Texas A&M 21, Iowa State 7
June 27—Iowa State 17, Kansas State 16
July 4—Iowa State 34, Colorado 10
Kansas 12, Iowa State 10
Lawrence, Kansas – This was simply a case of one team needing a win more than the other.
Redemption and urgency are two intangibles that often decide college football games in a sport often governed by emotion. Those two mitigating factors worked for the Cyclones two weeks ago against Colorado, but they went against them on Saturday against the Jayhawks.
In front of a national cable audience on Fox Sports Net, 15th-ranked Iowa State ran into a spirited Kansas defense desperately playing for bowl-eligibility. Although the Jayhawks never crossed ISU's goal line, they did get four field goals from Scott Webb and that was enough points to post a 12-10 upset victory.
"Two weeks ago (at Texas) we took a beating," Kansas Coach Mark Mangino said, referring to a 41-10 loss to the Longhorns in Austin. "Since then I really challenged our guys' pride, and they responded in front of a national TV audience against the North Division champions. I'm very proud of the way our defense played."
ISU Coach Dan McCarney said the Jayhawks put forth the stingiest defensive effort the Cyclones have seen this season.
"They may not be the most talented defense we've played this year, but they certainly played the hardest," McCarney said. "They just kept coming and coming and were ready for us, no doubt about it."
McCarney dismissed any notion that the Cyclones overlooked Kansas in anticipation of next week's Big 12 Championship Game against South Division champion Texas.
"This was a national TV game, so any hint that we weren't ready to go is a joke, who we kidding," McCarney said. "They may have had more to play for than we did, but they didn't want it more. They're a good football team so give them more credit than that."
Nevertheless, the level of execution ISU brought with it on the road to Lawrence was a far cry from what was witnessed at home in the division-clinching victory over the Buffaloes. Emotionally, ISU matched Kansas' defensive intensity, but mentally the Cyclones weren't sharp.
ISU was just 6-of-17 on third down conversions, and only 2-for 9 when it was 3rd-and-long (more than five yards). The Cyclones only had one turnover, but dropped six passes and the Big 12's most-disciplined team was penalized a season-high 10 times.
"I thought we were ready but we just didn't have our A-game for whatever reason," said wide receiver Todd Blythe, one of ISU's team captains. "I dropped a couple of passes, one of which that would've been a big play. This isn't the way we would've wanted to play heading into the Big 12 Championship Game."
Blythe certainly wasn't the only Cyclone wideout to suffer from a lack of concentration, although his momentary lapse of focus was probably the costliest. In the second quarter, Blythe broke open downfield after All-American Charles Gordon slipped on the turf in coverage. Bret Meyer lobbed what looked like a perfectly thrown pass, but Blythe was unable to reel it in after it hit his fingertips. Had he hauled that reception in he would've easily scored a touchdown, and those points would've ultimately made the difference on the scoreboard.
"It's easy to say that was the biggest mistake of the game, and I'm not excusing him dropping that ball, but we had plenty of penalties and other mental errors that cost us big time," McCarney said.
One player who didn't miss when he got the chance was Webb, who connected on field goals of 40, 36, 39, and a 33-yarder with 2 minutes and 19 seconds left.
"He doesn't have the strongest leg, but he's more than reliable from within 42-yards or so," Mangino said. "The old adage is says that the kicking game can either cost you a win or give you a win over the course of a season. Today, it was the difference."
Oddly enough, this was the third ISU game this season that was decided in the closing minutes by a field goal attempt. Against Iowa and Kansas State, the Cyclones were fortunate. Against Kansas the third time wasn't the charm.
"We've played in several close games this year and won our share of them," McCarney said. "Sooner or later that goes against you."
After a scoreless first quarter, Webb's first field goal gave the Jayhawks a 3-0 lead. He kicked a second one later in the third quarter after a 34-yard punt return by Gordon gave Kansas excellent field position. The Cyclones made it 6-3 before halftime on Bret Culbertson's 28-yard field goal.
ISU had to settle for the field goal after Austin Flynn and Jon Davis each dropped passes in the end zone. Neither would've been a routine reception, especially Davis' leaping attempt, but they were certainly catcheable balls.
"That's why they say football is a game of inches," Davis said.
The Cyclones had just one of their patented time-consuming scoring drives all afternoon, and that came at the start of the third quarter. Meyer guided ISU on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that culminated with Stevie Hicks barreling into the endzone from three yards out. That would give ISU its first and only lead of the day.
"You would've thought that drive would've given us some jump for the rest of the second half but it didn't," McCarney said.
Much of the credit for that goes to Kansas' defense, which answered the bell every time the Cyclones rang. That included two separate stands on fourth-and-short yardage. On the first try Hicks was stopped cold in the backfield by Banks Floodman on a fourth-and-one. Later, early in the fourth quarter, Meyer was flat-out stoned at the line of scrimmage while attempting a quarterback sneak.
"Down in the trenches it's all about manhood," said Floodman, who had a game-high 16 tackles, including three-for-losses. "Coach said our manhood was in question after the Texas game, and that gave us something to prove (today). We proved something on those two plays."
Nevertheless, the Jayhawks still found themselves trailing, 10-9, in the final minutes. That's when Adam Barmann directed Kansas on the game-winning drive. It wasn't pretty – in fact it was really just one big 39-yard pass play to Brian Murph – but it was effective. That pass, and a 12-yard scamper by Gary Green, set up Webb's eventual game-winning three-pointer.
"Hopefully this was enough to get us some notice from the bowl scouts," Mangino said. "We beat a top 25 team on national television. However, that makes it 10 teams in this league that are now bowl-eligible, and we don't have enough slots for everybody. So, we're going to need some help."
ISU already knows it's going bowling for the fifth time in six years, but the level of prestige of its eventual postseason destination could've been negatively impacted by this loss. One way to change that would be to shock the nation next week and win the Big 12 title.
There has been a history of upsets in the Big 12 Championship Game. A 7-4 Texas team upset a top five Nebraska squad in 1996. Texas A&M upset undefeated Kansas State in 1998. Colorado upset a top five Texas team in Dallas in 2001. And K-State routed #1 Oklahoma in 2003 in one of the most shocking results in recent college football history.
"We're going to have to play a lot better than this if we're going to pull the upset next week," ISU guard Korey Pence said.
Kansas finished the regular season 3-5 in the Big 12 and 6-5 overall. North Division champion ISU closed out 2005 with a 5-3 record in the Big 12 and 8-3 record overall. The Cyclones will next face No. 3 Texas (7-1, 9-2) next Saturday night in front of a national TV audience on ABC in the 2005 Big 12 Championship Game. Expect the Longhorns to drop in the rankings following today's surprising loss at arch-rival Texas A&M.
Iowa State 0-3-7-0=10
Kansas—FG Webb 40
Kansas—FG Webb 36
ISU—FG Culbertson 28
ISU—Hicks 3 run (Culbertson kick)
Kansas—FG Webb 39
Kansas—FG Webb 33
Rushing—Iowa State (148): Hicks 26-98, Meyer 10-39, Scales 4-11; Kansas (129): C. Green 14-56, G. Green 13-41, Barmann 6-14, Gordon 1-18. Passing—Iowa State (124): Meyer 13-28-1-124; Kansas (187): Barmann 14-29-1-187. Receiving—Iowa State: Blythe 3-35, Nickel 3-26, Davis 2-22, Flynn 2-19, Barkema 2-12, Hicks 1-10; Kansas: Murph 4-81, Simmons 4-59, G. Green 3-20, Fine 2-13, Henry 1-14. Sacks—Iowa State 3, Kansas 3. Attendance—40,391.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Central Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)