Two dynamic offenses faced off Saturday in Iowa State's Homecoming game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but in the end it would be early mistakes by the Cyclone defense that would loom large by the game's end.
Over the course of Iowa State's season, defense has been a consistent piece to rely on — up until early in the first half Saturday.
On paper, Iowa State's defense had the advantage over the Cowboys.
Through Iowa State's seven games prior to facing off against Oklahoma State, the defense ranked top-three in the Big 12 in total defense, allowing opponents to 333 yards of total offense per game.
Iowa State also had the second stingiest run defense in the Big 12, allowing 111.0 yards per game. With Oklahoma State having a Heisman contender in Chuba Hubbard, the Cyclones walked into their Homecoming game with a defense capable (on paper) of stopping the Cowboys' high powered attack.
Oklahoma State is killing Iowa State with the big plays here early on. Oklahoma State 14, Iowa State 7.— Matt Belinson (@BelinsonMatt) October 26, 2019
A much different story took place early in the game on Saturday. By the time the big plays had ended, it was too much for Iowa State to overcome.
Iowa State's defense faltered early in the game and was chasing Oklahoma State the whole day, with the Cyclones never having a lead the entire contest.
Oklahoma State got its big plays started on the second drive of the game on what looked to be a simple wide receiver screen. It turned into a 71-yard touchdown.
Quarterback Spencer Sanders threw the screen to wide receiver Tylan Wallace and once Wallace got the ball, the defense crumbled.
Wallace broke three initial tackles as he attempted to turn up field, and as he approached the Iowa State 20 yard line, he handed out a strong stiff arm to a sprinting Anthony Johnson.
Wallace then broke another tackle at the Iowa State five-yard line and walked into the end zone to put Oklahoma State up 7-0 in the first quarter.
Before Wallace picked apart the Cyclone defense on the 71-yard touchdown, Iowa State's defense was almost immune to giving up big scoring plays.
Prior to the Cowboys' opening score, the longest scoring play the Cyclones' defense had given up was a 38-yard touchdown pass by Caleb Evans of Louisiana-Monroe.
That was on Sept. 21.
Coach Matt Campbell said his defense didn't play like themselves against the Cowboys.
“Defensively, we gave up big plays; It is hard to beat anybody, especially a really good football team, that way," Campbell said. "My disappointment comes in the fact that we really didn’t play Iowa State football today."
Big plays continued to hurt Iowa State as the second quarter began, where the Cowboys poured it on with big plays coming on their first two drives of the quarter.
Sanders once again threw a simple wide receiver screen that would turn into a touchdown for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State comes back with another long TD! Screen pass to Braydon Johnson goes for a 50 yard TD! pic.twitter.com/HhNOGXYNOH— I'M SEEING GHOSTS (@FTBeard11) October 26, 2019
Junior defensive back Lawrence White said the Cyclones were out of position on multiple plays, leading Iowa State to be the victim of Oklahoma State's big-play attack.
"We just weren't in the right spots at the right time and we needed to be and that really hurts our defense," White said. “We really want people to drive down the field and big plays really hurt us.”
White said the defense was lacking communication early on and Oklahoma State took advantage.
Braydon Johnson caught a screen pass from Sanders and was able to run almost untouched for a 50-yard touchdown. Johnson broke a tackle at the 20-yard line and would not be caught making the score 14-7 Oklahoma State at the time.
In the very next drive for Oklahoma State, the defense gave up its third big play of the half to a running back that is no stranger to the big play.
Chuba Hubbard leads the nation in rushing yards and had 15 touchdowns coming into Saturday's game. Hubbard — like the rest of the Cowboys' offense — took advantage of Iowa State's poor tackling to open up the Cowboy lead to 21-10 with six minutes remaining in the half.
Hubbard took the run-pass-option handoff and burst through the middle of Iowa State's defensive front. Hubbard broke the the first tackler he saw and proceeded to turn on the jets and run past three Iowa State defenders on his way for a 65-yard touchdown run.
Iowa State's defense had a streak of nine straight games of not allowing a 100-yard rusher until Saturday.
Hubbard rushed 22 times for 116 yards and a touchdown against the Cyclones.
"They’re a big play team and you know that hurt us early in the first half," White said. "They went 72 yards and 65 yards, which is their game. We harped on that all week and in the first half we failed at doing that.”
Campbell acknowledged that Oklahoma State had weapons on all three phases of its offense but said that making mistakes to a team like the Cowboys that feed off those big moments will cost any team.
Campbell said missed tackles were key in multiple scoring plays for Oklahoma State.
"There are missed tackle opportunities on two of them for sure; again, those are things we still have to own as coaches, those are not player-driven," Campbell said. “Obviously give those guys credit, they’ve got some really talented players that have the ability to make you pay if you are not perfect.”
While Oklahoma State only found big scoring plays in the first half, the hole was too much for Iowa State to battle back from.
Campbell said the Cyclones' defense settled down in the second half and allowed the Iowa State offense a chance to win the game, but in the end, Iowa State could not rebound after giving up three big scores so early in the game.
White said a loss like this hurts for everyone, but he said the team knows there is plenty of season left for Iowa State to reflect and bounce back on both sides of the ball.
“For me personally, this hurt," White said. “I just got the three big plays in my head that I wish I could get back. We gotta take the loss and grow from it because we have a lot of season left.”