In impressive fashion, the Cyclones won their final tune-up before embarking on the toughest conference schedule in school history. ISU outscored the Trojans 21-6 each half and got solid play once again from quarterback Seneca Wallace, who threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-25 completions. ISU out-gained Troy State by a 363-313 margin.
A stout defense limited run-happy Troy State to just 118 yards on the ground and was in control from the start. This just one week after the Trojans got 100-yard rushing games from three different running backs.
"It was one of our goals this week to shut down their rushing game," said defensive tackle Jordan Carstens. "They have had some success in the past couple weeks, so that was one of our goals. We gave up a few passes and they were hitting a few short gainers in the air. We were able to seam that up and play some pretty good defense."
But special teams play is what made the performance that much more pleasing for McCarney, who saw his team score 14 points on a blocked punt recovery and punt return.
JaMaine Billups blocked a first-quarter punt and Andy Kohler returned it 22 yards for a touchdown to give ISU its first score just 2:49 into the game. Todd Miller put the capper on a 30-point victory in the fourth quarter by returning a punt 45 yards for a touchdown.
"Special teams had a huge impact on the game tonight and that's nice to see," McCarney said. "We thought we had a chance to go after it and planned that. We wanted to go after the first one and see if we could get it. It was a great job. JaMaine blocked it and Kohler got his first touchdown. Then Todd Miller along with that whole unit did a tremendous job. It takes a lot of people doing things right on one play to take a punt back the whole way like he did."
Miller's return for touchdown was his second of the year, who also took one the distance against Tennessee Tech.
"Everybody is taking a little more pride in it," said Miller, referring to ISU's overall attitude on special teams. "They know that making a special teams play can make a huge difference in a ball game. We're trying to go out and win every game and make plays every game. Everybody is giving the best effort they can."
Although the Cyclones weren't able to muster much in the way of rushing yards, Wallace and a dangerous receiving corps accounted for that in the passing game. The ISU signal-caller completed passes to eight different players and found Jack Whitver five times for 101 yards. It was the second time in as many weeks that Whitver has eclipsed the 100-yard marker.
Making his first career start, Lance Young finished just 13 yards shy of 100, but caught four passes overall, two of which went for touchdowns.
"All week we knew that their game plan was going to be to stop the run," said Whitver, who now has 20 catches for 327 yards in four games. "As receivers, that's what we like to see. We know we're going to get the ball thrown to us a lot. Seneca made plays in the passing game. We knew all week that we were going to have to pass the ball."
As a result of ISU's success in the passing game, its trio of tailbacks struggled finding much room to run. Hiawatha Rutland, Mike Wagner and Brian Thompson combined for just 74 yards on 27 carries and did not score a touchdown.
Troy State had a lot to do with limiting those totals by playing a defensive front dedicated to stopping the run. ISU's offensive line, meanwhile, had a new look with Collin Menard starting at guard and Luke Vander Sanden seeing his first action of the season.
Either way, Bob Montgomery said his unit needs to start showing some better results in future weeks.
"Running the ball has got to be a key for us," he said. "It's got to be more (than what we had tonight). There are no excuses that I can really throw out there. No matter who we're playing or how good the defense is, we've got to be able to run the ball."
Vander Sanden, the starter heading into fall training camp before breaking his ankle on August 9th, hit the field for 20 plays on Saturday and will most likely get the starting nod against Nebraska.
"First of all it's just great to have him back," McCarney said. "He's one of our two best guards on the team and everybody knows that on our football team. It's just great to have him back. He just gives you a good feeling, knowing what he's been through and how patient he's been. Tom Gruenwald did a fabulous job on the surgery and he's back two weeks before we thought he could be. He's not only back two weeks, but is playing good football."
The Cyclones and Huskers kick off at 2:30 p.m. next Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The game will be televised on ABC.