ISU began the Rhoads era on a high note, tallying seven points in its opening drive of the season. The Cyclones were successful on two third-down conversions in their 9-play, 81-yard scoring drive. Alexander Robinson scrambled for 18 yards on a draw play up the middle to give ISU an early 7-0 advantage.
"We started fast," Rhoads said. "It is great effort when we go right down the field and score like we did and then the defense comes out and gets a stop."
The Bison appeared on the verge of tying the game late in the first quarter after Pat Paschall squirted away for a 62-yard run to the ISU 18-yard line. Three plays later, quarterback Nick Mertens was closing in on paydirt, but ISU's Jesse Smith jarred the ball loose where it was recovered by Josh Raven at the 1-yard line, halting a potential NDSU score.
The Cyclones increased their lead to 14-0 with 14:23 left before the half behind another impressive drive. This time ISU went 80 yards on 10 plays with Arnaud finishing it off with a 5-yard touchdown run. Robinson accumulated 45 of ISU's 80 yards in the scoring march.
A costly turnover by the Cyclones helped the Bison get on the scoreboard for the first time. After NDSU recovered an Arnaud fumble, Mike Sigers rambled 42 yards to the ISU 1-yard line on the ensuing play. Paschall made it a 14-7 game two plays later with a 1-yard dive with 4:21 remaining in the second quarter.
Both teams added field goals in the closing minutes of the first half, as the Cyclones went into intermission with a 17-10 lead.
The Cyclones forced a turnover on NDSU's first drive of the second half, as David Sims picked off a Mertens pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage. ISU made the Bison pay for the miscue, going 65 yards on six plays to push the lead to 24-10 with 8:31 left in the third quarter. Arnaud picked up a safety blitz and hit Hamilton on a slant for a 39-yard touchdown strike to cap off the drive.
It took less than five minutes for the Bison to answer ISU's second-half score. Matt Veldman snagged a Mertens toss in the back of the endzone on an 18-yard scoring strike to keep NDSU close at 24-17 with 3:26 left in the third period.
On ISU's next drive, Grant Mahoney booted a career-long 50-yard field goal to improve ISU's cushion to 27-17 with 1:53 remaining in third quarter. Mahoney's bomb was the Cyclones' first successful kick from 50 yards or longer since Bret Culbertson drilled a 52-yarder against Texas Tech in 2006. It ties for the 13th longest kick in school history.
The Cyclones eventually padded their lead to 34-17 with 9:58 remaining in the game when Arnaud connected with Hamilton again, this time from 42 yards out. It was the second two-touchdown game in Hamilton's career.
Hamilton ended the game with four catches for 97 yards and Arnaud recorded 227 yards through the air and 78 yards on the ground. Robinson churned out 83 yards on 16 carries, 75 of those yards came in the first half. Paschall finished the contest with 146 yards on 21 carries to lead the Bison.
"We think Alexander is a heck of a player in this system," Rhoads said. "He's intelligent and tough, and he can block and run. He is a very valuable part of our offense and I think he carried us in the first half."
ISU committed just one penalty in the contest and Jesse Smith recorded a career-high 15 tackles to lead the Cyclone defense. Rashawn Parker had two of ISU's four sacks in the game.
The Cyclones are back in action next Saturday, playing host to Iowa in the Hy-Vee Cy-Hawk Series with an 11 a.m. kickoff.