You wouldn't be too far off base for wondering what the hell happened to the offense Iowa State football showcased in its 72-point explosion against Louisiana-Monroe.
Where did it go when the Cyclones could muster a big fat nothing in the first half of Saturday's 23-21 defeat to a now 4-0 Baylor?
Well, it all starts with the Baylor defense. And if you felt a little bit of déjà vu watching the Bears stifle what was thought to be a resurgent passing attack, you're not alone.
Iowa State has had one of the best (if not the best) defenses in the Big 12 for three years now, and it started with Jon Heacock's strategy of essentially building a shell over the offense and not allowing big plays. This 3-3-5 approach has led to plenty of wins for the Cyclones and a strong reputation.
But when recognition comes along, you have to expect others to take notes and copy. Baylor has done exactly that, and it worked to great effect Saturday in the Texas heat.
The Bears were in a base 3-3-5 formation for most of the game, not bringing pressure but instead making sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy work through his progressions and eliminating the home run pass. With not much of a running game to speak of, the Cyclones were very one-dimensional, which played right into Baylor's hands.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said he was proud of the defense's performance overall.
"I thought our defense played three of the best quarters you could expect to see them play," Rhule said. "You know, at the end, in the fourth quarter, they found some rhythm."
Sure, Purdy still wound up throwing for over 300 yards, but much of it was during the Cyclones' frantic comeback from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Other than in the fourth, Iowa State had two missed field goals to show for its offensive play.
Coach Matt Campbell handed it to the Bears for their defense postgame.
"You gotta have the ability to adjust," Campbell said. "Baylor did a couple of different things in the first half; I think we had the opportunity to understand it and adjust. We just didn't finish drives."
Baylor's defense got winded in the final frame, which led to three straight touchdowns from the Cyclones' offense to take a 21-20 lead with less than four minutes left. But after Baylor kicker John Mayers hit a 37-yard attempt to get Baylor a 23-21 lead with 20 seconds left, Purdy was sacked and fumbled the ball, ending any chance at a comeback.
This game was a failure to launch for Iowa State, who has yet to end September with a winning record under Campbell's watch. This was a game the Cyclones should have been up for, given their conference expectations and the way the offense played against the Warhawks. But instead, Baylor schemed the Cyclones perfectly (for three quarters) and Iowa State wilted.
Will changes come for the offense? The running game has been reliant on Kene Nwangwu and Brock Purdy for any consistent production. Nwangwu has struggled with injuries all season and was limited to a handful of plays on Saturday, though he brought a spark each play he was involved. If Johnnie Lang, who scored two touchdowns, can emerge as a solid second option, it would help the offense avoid situations like Saturday.
Secondly, Iowa State is going to see a lot of its own defensive schemes over the rest of the season. Oklahoma State has incorporated familiar schemes to solid effect, and Kansas State's bend-but-dont-break approach has continued under Chris Klieman.
Iowa State will improve as the year goes on, as it has each of the past two seasons. The Baylor loss has served as a warning shot that the Cyclones have a long way to go before they reach their season-long goals.