By every account, Iowa State took care of business against Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, but without one side of the ball’s early heroics, this might not have been the case.
Iowa State's offense can thank the defense for latching onto the momentum.
“We played like a football team for the first time this year,” said coach Matt Campbell. “You felt like we were playing off each other for the first time all year.”
On the first offensive play from scrimmage for the Cyclones, sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy threw an ill-advised pass that landed in the arms of Louisiana-Monroe defensive back Corey Straughter.
This looked like a catastrophic start to the game for the Cyclones, but the defense held at the goal line thanks to a third-down diving pass deflection from safety Greg Eisworth.
Eisworth has been the Cyclones’ rock this season on defense and the players named him captain before the season started in only his second year with the program.
The Warhawks ended up missing the ensuing field goal, but their luck would give them another chance.
On the very next possession for Iowa State, Purdy fumbled the ball before the transfer to running back Kene Nawngwu and the Warhawks recovered to take over again in Cyclone territory.
Despite another instance of good field position, Iowa State’s defense was able to hold the Warhawks and force a turnover on downs when Louisiana-Monroe tried to convert a fourth and ten on the Cyclones’ 32-yard-line.
From there, the Cyclones never looked back.
“Those were big-time plays as a defense,” said safety Lawrence White. “We just came together as a defense and told them we [have to] find a way to stop these guys and we did that.”
White had a pivotal interception when the game was still somewhat up for grabs in the first quarter.
After a tip from sophomore cornerback Anthony Johnson, White caught the ball and returned it for a chunk of yards to set up Iowa State with good field position.
Iowa State’s offense took the momentum from two great defensive stops and waltzed through Louisiana-Monroe’s defense.
The offense was the story of the game, but without the momentum from those first two stops, the game could’ve looked much different.
“It’s a team game, you have offense and defense for a reason,” Purdy said. “When we slip up like that we know that they have our backs.”
The Cyclones' defense played fine for the rest of the game and even added a score of their own, thanks to a 48-yard interception return by Jake Hummel. They still had troubles stopping third downs, and they struggled mightily with the dual-threat quarterback on the other side in Caleb Evans who ran for 122 yards and a touchdown.
The biggest defensive woe came in the run game. Iowa State gave up over 200 rushing yards to the Warhawks thanks to solid performances from Evans and running back Josh Johnson.
The game got so out of hand, however, that Iowa State was able to put in its backups on offense and defense — so take the first few possessions with a grain of salt. But it could have gotten ugly quickly for the home team.
“Those were critical moments,” Campbell said. “Their ability to rise up in critical times and critical moments [was] really big.”
Instead, the Warhawks were the ones trampled on Saturday in a game Iowa State sorely needed.