By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Give Austen Arnaud credit – he is beyond tough.
Another gutty performance from the Iowa State quarterback nearly resulted in an upset of No. 9 ranked Nebraska. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, they fell just short.
The Cornhuskers (8-1, 4-1) edged Iowa State, 31-30, after a fake extra point attempt by the Cyclones (5-5, 3-3) failed in the first overtime.
“This program has no interest in moral victories,” Arnaud said. “We come out every Saturday expecting to win and today we didn’t. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
An up-and-down performance by Arnaud turned for the better in the fourth quarter. After throwing two interceptions in the third period – one of which was returned for a touchdown – Arnaud went to work on the Nebraska secondary.
The Ames native started the frame with three-straight completions on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring march that made the score 24-17. On the next Iowa State possession, Arnaud hit Alexander Robinson on a 13-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 24.
“We just came out in the fourth quarter and had the will to win,” Arnaud said.
It still looked that way even after Nebraska scored right away in overtime. It only took the Cyclone offense three plays to match the Cornhuskers with a touchdown of their own. This time, Arnaud lofted a perfect pass to Jake Williams in the end zone.
Arnaud finished 21-of-32 passing for 203 yards. The senior threw three touchdowns. He added 63 yards on the ground and another touchdown – all on a bum right ankle that he injured in the first quarter.
“In a lot of ways, I think Austen Arnaud played one of his best football games as a Cyclone today,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “He managed our team. He led our team down the field. He throws an interception for a touchdown. Then he throws another interception. And he just comes back and leads us to a tie game, then gets us in the end zone in overtime.
“People can malign him all they want. He is a dang good football player and a Cyclone all the way.”
After Saturday’s game, Arnaud owns 42 touchdown passes – good enough for second all-time in Iowa State history. Not that will make him feel any better. The dejected quarterback was nearly in tears during the post-game media session.
“The (locker room) was in shock,” Arnaud said. “You play so hard for 60 minutes, and like I said, you always expect to win. People in there were shocked. That’s why I love this program, and I love this team – the coaching staff, everybody. We are going to fight until the end. We are going to give it all we got.
“No matter the outcome, this team is going to stay together because we are a family.”
The Nebraska football team is explosive with quarterback Taylor Martinez. Without him, the Cornhuskers are just better than average.
Nebraska escaped without its electric signal caller in Saturday’s 31-30 win over Iowa State.
Martinez – a one-time Heisman candidate – entered Saturday’s contest with 1,004 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns. The redshirt freshman had also racked up 1,161 yards passing and nine touchdowns, but he didn’t play on Saturday because of an ankle injury.
It’s safe to say Cody Green is no where near Martinez’ level. Green – a sophomore – started in place of Martinez on Saturday. The 6-foot-4 quarterback connected on only seven passes for 79 yards. He also had 10 yards rushing.
“The game plan was designed to stop their offense,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “There were some things about it that changed as far as how much they ran the quarterback read play and the option stuff with Martinez not out there. With the wildcat stuff, with the fullback, it was very similar type of stuff.”
The Cornhuskers finished the game with only 314 yards of total offense. Nebraska ran the ball 52 times for 235 yards.
The best offensive weapon for Nebraska on Saturday turned out to be running back Rex Burkhead. The sophomore often lined up in the quarterback spot. He ran it 20 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.
Roy Helu Jr. added 99 yards on 22 carries and two scores.
“When they run the ball that many times, it’s hard to contain them,” linebacker A.J. Klein said. “With their quarterbacks being out, obviously they were going to run the ball and try and pound it down our throats. They were running the same plays we expected them too.”
A shaky third quarter turned into a dominant fourth for the Iowa State defense. Trailing, 24-10, the Cyclones stiffened and gave the offense a chance to catch up.
Cyclones ground game gains traction
The return of Iowa State center Ben Lamaak was noticeable right from the get-go. The Cyclones were able to run the ball against the Nebraska front with a heavy dose of Alexander Robinson. The senior carried the ball 32 times for 101 yards.
As a team, Iowa State rushed for 157 yards on 48 carries.
“Nebraska has been giving up some rush yardage,” Rhoads said. “We liked to believe we could run the ball effectively.
“I think our offensive line is playing well right now. Alexander Robinson wants the football.”
Home field advantage
A loud and boisterous Jack Trice Stadium gave Iowa State a big advantage on Saturday. Don’t think so? Here’s what linebacker A.J. Klein had to say about the 51,159 fans who packed the house.
“It was ridiculous,” the sophomore said. “We couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere. You could feel it. The crowd was behind us 100 percent.”
Other players echoed Klein’s sentiments, saying the crowd couldn’t have been better.