Coach Gene Chizik said third downs, where A&M was 11 of 14, told the story for the game because the defense could not get off the field.
"They really exploited us everywhere," Chizik said. "They really had their way with us all night; at the end of the day, if you can't play defense well, you can't win."
The Aggies were not stopped in the first half, taking an 11-point lead into the locker room, which, despite a spirited effort, the Cyclones could not overcome in the second stanza because they once again could not get enough stops.
Quarterback Austen Arnaud said some key mistakes slowed the offense at key times, who was playing catch-up all night, down a little bit.
"We were pretty much scoring at will tonight," Arnaud said. "We could have scored fifty points in that game; it's just that we didn't execute to our full ability.
Arnaud had his first 300-yard passing game of his career, going 26 for 41 for 371 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for another. Jerrod Johnson of Texas A&M outdid him, though, going 31 for 39 for 381 yards, throwing for four touchdowns and running one in as well.
Iowa State was sharp on its first series, driving 79 yards to go ahead 7-0. Alexander Robinson ran for 49 yards a score on the drive, including a 32-yard sprint from the new "Wildcat" formation, where he lines up at quarterback and takes a direct snap from center.
The formation was used four times with mixed results.
The Aggies promptly drove 74 yards right back down the field to knot the score, however. Johnson hit Terrance McCoy wide open 35 yards down the middle after a series of successful runs lured the defense up for a playaction pass over the top.
The Cyclones drove deep into Aggie territory on the next series, but, after Grant Mahoney missed a field goal, A&M again drove down and scored with Johnson throwing his second touchdown pass to Jamie McCoy from 37 yards out this time.
Iowa State ran the ball well once again on the next series, with a Arnaud 26-yard run and six-yard penalty tacked on setting up a Jason Scales one-yard plunge to tie the score.
Johnson picked up his third touchdown pass of the game on the next series to give the Aggies another lead at 21-14. Another Mahoney miss came after the next drive stalled and the Aggies took a two touchdown lead on a Cyrus Gray 27-yard touchdown run where he sprinted untouched up the middle.
The Cyclones were able to get a field goal from Mahoney to make it 28-17 at the half, with a little help from A&M. Arnaud threw a pass to the Aggie 30 as time ran out but was roughed giving Iowa State an untimed down where they kicked the field goal. In an offensive first half, Iowa State did outgain the Aggies 300-275.
The Cyclones did get their first stop of the game on the first series of the second half but were stuck on their own 2-yard line after A&M downed a pooch punt.
Iowa State went on a 89-yard march but a Darius Darks drop inside the 10 on third forced the Cyclones to bring on Mahoney again and he made it 28-20.
"I was proud of our offense and the way they kept fighting," Chizik said.
The Aggies answered in hurry, though, with a eight-play, 73-yard drive that was capped by a Jovorskie Lane one-yard run to extend the lead back out to two scores.
Texas A&M tried to finish off Iowa State after Arnaud fumbled the ball and A&M recovered at its 48 by converting that into a touchdown.
The Cyclones did drive 80 yards to score on an Arnaud touchdown run and got the two-point conversion but that was all for not. Iowa State did appear to recover the ensuing onside kick, but the ball was controversially awarded back to Texas A&M. The two teams traded scores, with Arnaud hitting Collin Franklin for a two-yard score to close out the scoring.
Linebacker Fred Garrin said the defense just could not find a way to stop Johnson and his receivers.
"Third downs killed us," Garrin said. "Their quarterback was mobile so he could sit in the pocket and he moved around some."