What was supposed to be a special season for Iowa State already feels like a disappointment.
With nearly all of its production returning from a team that reached the Big 12 title game in 2020, this group was considered a College Football Playoff darkhorse. Now, the No. 14 Cyclones will enter the month of October with a 2-2 record following a 31-29 road loss to Baylor on Saturday.
Baylor scored touchdowns on its first three possessions to jump out to a 21-10 lead. That proved to be too much of an obstacle for Iowa State to overcome.
The Cyclones got within five points twice in the third quarter and then nearly tied the game in the final minute, but just could not get over the hump.
Baylor tacked on a field goal to make its lead 31-23 with 5:36 to play. That gave Iowa State one more shot. The Cyclones would march down the field and eventually reach the end zone via a Brock Purdy touchdown pass to Breece Hall with 24 seconds to play.
But a two-point conversion was still needed to send the game to overtime. It would not come.
Baylor’s defense intercepted Purdy on the two-point try and the Bears held on for the upset victory.
Iowa State significantly out-gained Baylor on the day, but the biggest play of the game ended up coming via special teams. Following a field goal that cut Baylor’s lead to 21-16 midway through the third quarter, Baylor’s Tristan Ebner returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. That made Baylor’s lead 28-16 with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
Ebner later added a 41-yard punt return to set up Baylor’s final field goal. Those points would prove to be pivotal in an excellent win for second-year coach Dave Aranda.
While Iowa State dropped to 2-2 with the loss, Baylor is now a surprising 4-0. Before Saturday, Baylor’s level of competition was lacking. The Bears previously played Texas State, Texas Southern and Kansas.
With a win over a quality opponent like ISU, Baylor is a team to take seriously as Big 12 play progresses. ISU, meanwhile, just does not look as sharp as it did for much of the 2020 season.
The 2020 season was a historic one for the Cyclones — arguably the best ever. They won nine games, went to the Big 12 title game and beat Oregon in a New Year's Six bowl game.
Iowa State has never won 10 games in a season. ISU won nine games three times, including last year. The only time ISU has gotten to nine regular season wins was in 1906. The other two times (2000, 2020), ISU needed a bowl win to get to nine.
With the way they have played so far, this doesn't look like the year the Cyclones can reach that program milestone.