It was bad enough in the first quarter as Iowa State sophomore quarterback Joel Lanning was doing all those things that Heisman Trophy candidate and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin wanted to do the week before to the Oklahoma State defense but couldn't. Lanning, a local high school standout from Ankeny just 15 minutes away from the ISU campus, won't be confused for Boykin as the TCU quarterback looks like a track athlete and the 235-pound bruiser in Lanning, while quick, was a 220-pound standout wrestler at Ankeny.
Yet here was Lanning mixing up zone-read keepers with designed quarterback draws for 85 rushig yards and a 24-yard touchdown run to start the scoring. He was also hitting 6-of-10 passing in the first half for 128 yards and another touchdown.
In the second quarter, after being pushed around on an 11-play, 80-yard drive ending with a Joshua Thomas one-yard dive for a score, the Cowboys defense came off the field walking slow, not with heads down, but with a few eyes opened wider. This didn't feel like when Central Michigan took the lead in the opener or when either Texas or West Virginia battled the Cowboys or Kansas State and Texas Tech surged out to similar leads. This had a different feel, like the OSU defenders were tired, heavy-legged. They looked out of sync.
Halftime was not a screaming and cussing session. There was the acknowledgement that the defense had its butts kicked and their was ownership of that thought. Primarily, that came from defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who said he called a bad half and it was on him, but the defense needed to get together as the second half would be called much better.
It was and they were. The biggest adjustment was a change in blitzes in three-down and passing-down situations as Lanning was prepared and seemed to attack the blitz into the blitz each time. That was easy to correct and for Spencer, who has great leaders from defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who had two sacks, to linebackers Seth Jacobs and Chad Whitener, who despite illness came through with a huge stop on fourth-and-one with about two minutes to go and got the Cowboys the ball back.
"I was proud of our defensive coaches and Glenn because they made some huge adjustments at halftime and the defense came back to play so hard in the second half," head coach Mike Gundy said of the defense. "I was worried because we had defended over 200 plays the past two games and we had that respirtory stuff go through the team last week. Whitener was really coughing and struggling with it. Our medical people did a great job helping those guys."
The first half Iowa State and Lanning had a whooping 307 yards, 222 yards in the first quarter. In the second half, they had 104 yards of total offense and one touchdown that was set up off a fumble by Blake Jarwin and allowed for a shortened 38-yard drive.
"We are better on defense. Four years ago, we could not rush the ball. I probably failed our team four years ago on doing the same thing over and over again, and we didn’t function well," Gundy said of the second half. "We talked about that as a staff, that we would not be out-coached or out-schemed. We had some advantages in X’s and O’s this year, that we had not had."
"Coach Spencer had all the right answers at halftime and in the second half we just executed the plan and got after it with our effort," Whitener said. "We missed [Lanning] some in the first half, I missed him some coming on blitzes and then not taking the right path to get there. Give him credit, he is a good quarterback."
Despite not looking or feeling good, Whitener played well with seven tackles including a critical fourth-down stop of Iowa State running back Michael Warren, the top freshman running back in the Big 12.
"I was able to work my way back around and credit the guys up front for stacking him up," Whitener said. " I was just trying to get to work around and I was able to. I would have had to cough up a lung not to play."
Another key stop on the series was made by defensive tackle Eric Davis. "You know Eric is one of those guys that has come up and improved this season," Gundy said. "Eric proves if you keep working then you can make a difference and he did. I remember the play where he got Lanning in the open field."
Lanning was taking off again in the second half and this time it looked like he had room again like he did when he was patient and ran right back at Cowboy blitzes. Davis was blocked to the ground but got up and played off the blocker and then was patient in waiting for Lanning to pick a path and Davis stopped him at the line of scrimmage.
There were plenty of issues with the Cowboys getting beat in man coverage, including safety Jordan Sterns in the first half and Kevin Peterson got lucky in the second half as Lanning overthrew a receiver wide open on what would have been a touchdown. There were missed tackles and Jordan Burton and Seth Jacobs proved you can't always pick the right path when you go unblocked. The Cowboys may want to pay attention to self scout this week and switch up any clear tendencies an offense can take advantage of.
There were also highlights like with Whitener and Davis. Emmanuel Ogbah had two sacks and Sterns had that pick to finish off the game.
Whether it is rest, more study, or lighter or heavier practices the Cowboys have to be much better on Saturday night at 6:30 against Baylor. The Bears may be really out of the playoff picture, but they still could win a third straight Big 12 title and the Bears on offense won't be confused with Iowa State or even Kansas State.