AMES — Iowa State is back on the right side of the ledger.
The Cyclones rebounded from last weekend’s last-minute loss to Baylor with a 59-7 thrashing of Kansas on Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium.
Certainly, the Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2) won’t be mistaken for Big 12 contenders, but the Cyclones (3-2, 1-1) did exactly what a good team should do against a bad one – run them out of the building.
Iowa State put together a brilliant first quarter to put the game on ice after just 15 minutes of action, and carried on through the rest of the night. It was the ideal evening against a bad team.
Brock Purdy looked to be on his A-game, as did Iowa State’s other offensive stars Breece Hall, Charlie Kolar and Xavier Hutchinson.
And the defense does what Iowa State’s defense does — smother opponents.
What’s it mean going forward, especially with a punishing seven-game run against Big 12 opponents with little room for error? That’s the important question heading into the bye week for the Cyclones.
So let’s get into this week’s postgame mailbag.
Can Cyclones execute at this level versus better foes?
I honestly have no idea.
I don’t anticipate Iowa State thoroughly dominating an opponent the way they absolutely bullied the Jayhawks. That was a truly inferior team playing in a difficult situation after the springtime coaching change, and that makes them a murky measuring stick.
The fact of the matter is Kansas lets you get away with things other teams won’t, and the Jayhawks give you more opportunities than the rest of the Big 12 will surrender.
I’m just not sure this game is analogous to any other the Cyclones will play in the season’s finals months.
That said, Iowa State delivered in a lot of areas we’ve seen it struggle this season, and given we know the level this team is capable of playing at — because we saw it last season with much the same roster — I think there is something to the idea that a get-right game could put them back on a better path.
I also think the bye week is going to be really beneficial for Iowa State. The Cyclones, mostly, played really good football coming out of their three byes last season, and getting a chance to regroup while guys like Kolar and Hall get closer to 100 percent healthy is a real opportunity.
What seems clear to me is that Iowa State is going to have to play at near max-capacity for the rest of the season as it’s going to be an unrelenting grind now that the Jayhawks are behind them. If the Cyclones makes another Big 12 championship game run, they’ll have earned it.
What does this Cyclone defense have to do to be considered ISU’s best in the last 20 years?
It’s hard to give a firm answer on that because the game has changed so much in the last two decades, and few of those changes have been kind to the defense.
This group has to be putting itself in that conversation, though.
They essentially had three bad drives against Baylor, and have been incredibly stout otherwise. They’re not elite in terms of creating turnovers or delivering big play after big play, but they just so consistently and impressively bottle up offenses.
I think the linebacking trio of Mike Rose, O’Rien Vance and Jake Hummel are as good going sideline to sideline as any group of linebackers I’ve seen at Iowa State. The three of them cover so much ground so quickly that the second level of the Cyclones’ defense is just rock solid.
Rose should be talked about with Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Jeremiah George as one of the best linebackers in recent Iowa State history.
Up front, Will McDonald is obviously a star while Enyi Uwazurike and Zack Petersen are stalwarts. Anthony Johnson doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his work at corner while Greg Eisworth and Isheem Young are every-down players.
It’s a fantastic defense.
Is the defense’s second half dominance adjustments, conditioning, scheme, all of the above?
While more defenses are playing the 3-3-5 alignment the Cyclones utilize, it’s still rare enough that I think Iowa State may not always have a perfect idea of what an opponent is going to try week in and week out.
We’ve seen that translate into early points — never more so than at Baylor — but it’s a seasons-long trend under coordinator Jon Heacock. As has the adjustments that almost invariably shut down offenses after halftime.
I think you have to give Campbell, Heacock and their staff a lot of credit for making changes on the fly, but certainly their personnel’s resiliency in the face of some early-game struggle needs to be noted as well.
While giving up points early isn’t great, it’s a positive sign that the defense only gets stronger as it gets deeper into the game.
Travis Hines covers Iowa State University sports for the Des Moines Register and Ames Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com or (515) 284-8000. Follow him at @TravisHines21.