Sep 26, 2020; Fort Worth, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Mike Rose (23) and linebacker O’Rien Vance (34) react to an interception in the fourth quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State star linebacker Mike Rose’s outstretched and overturned left hand grazed the grass. His right hand, dexterously cupped the quivering football.
It was a crazy-clutch play. A relatively rare interception. A tense late fourth-quarter moment turned into a “game-changer” for the Cyclones in a 37-34 Big 12 season-opening win Saturday over TCU at Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Wow? Whew? All of the above.
“I was just glad I was able to make that play for my team,” Rose, who snared just the second pick for ISU in the past six games, said on the Cyclone Radio Network’s postgame show. “Your good players (have) gotta make game-changing plays and I feel like I did that. I was just real happy because I know I put my team in a better spot to win.”
Tailback Breece Hall essentially cemented the triumph with a 32-yard touchdown run with 2:54 left as ISU won consecutive matchups with the Horned Frogs (0-1) for the first time in series history. The Cyclones won 49-24 last season in Ames.
“Our coaches had a lot of confidence in us up front today and we had a lot of confidence in our running backs, receivers, Brock — all these guys making plays all day,” said center Colin Newell, who executed a key block that helped spring Hall for the score that effectively cemented the triumph. “They just really kept us in it and (Hall) made a big play when it counted.”
The Cyclones (1-1) are now 9-5 in their past 14 conference road games — and showed resilience and grit in the wake of a week one loss at home to No. 19 Louisiana.
“The toughness that embodies this group has been elite,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said. “And nobody else sees it, but I get to see it and I’ve seen it since March when this thing became a circus. This team’s never flinched. I think it showed up today in this kind of football game. They just kept playing and it’s really what you’ve gotta do right now. You’ve gotta keep showing up, you’ve gotta keep getting better and you’ve gotta keep playing and I thought our kids did that really well today.”
Brock Purdy — aside from one embarrassing and costly pick-six that wobbled out of his hand during a sack — was heady, poised and efficient as ever, completing 18 of 23 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown to Darren Wilson.
Hall, led by strong blocking from a depleted but determined offensive line, rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns — including a 75-yarder that broke a 0-0 tie just over five minutes into the second quarter.
Kene Nwangwu added a deft 49-yard one-cut and sprint to the end zone jaunt for the Cyclones, who totaled 212 yards rushing. They hadn’t rushed for that many or more since gobbling up 244 yards on the ground in a 30-14 win over West Virginia on Oct. 13, 2018.
“I think for us and what was really fun is (big plays) came in the running game,” Campbell said. “A running game that had some positive things happen the first week, then you lose a great player like Trevor Downing and all of a sudden you just continue to respond. I think one of the things with this shortened season that we’ve had in terms of preparation is offensively it’s gonna take a little bit longer than the defense to catch up, especially in our world where you’ve got so many new guys in new positions. I think the world sees Brock Purdy, the world sees Breece Hall and everybody’s ready to claim you king. The reality of the other nine guys, a lot of those faces are new at new positions. So today was huge to see some in synch offense really starting to come together. Still a lot of work to do, but it was great to see.”
So was seeing senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey record 3.5 sacks to become ISU’s all-time career leader with 22. The Cyclones totaled six sacks Saturday, but Bailey was so dominant in a first half that included a strip-sack and recovery that the Horned Frogs deployed double teams and special schemes to slow him down after halftime.
“I couldn’t be prouder of JaQuan,” Campbell said. “You talk bout leadership … playing your best when your best is needed, that’s what great seniors do and that’s what JaQuan did today.”
The defense struggled in zone coverage at times but also was on the field a lot for the second straight game.
ISU averaged 8.3 yards per play on offense. TCU managed 5.9 yards per snap and ran 33 more plays than the Cyclones.
“It was a hot one today,” said Rose, who along with fellow linebacker Jake Hummel led ISU with 10 tackles. “A lot of snaps on D, but we just kept chipping away.”
And Rose gripped that interception like an ace wide receiver with the game on the line. Big plays come from “elite” players when they’re needed the most. Rose, Bailey, Hall and others showed that on Saturday.
“A tip of the hat to Michael, who’s an elite player and has elite standards,” Campbell said of Rose. “That was a huge play and a game-changer as well.”
Now it’s on to the Big 12 home opener against Oklahoma (1-1), which was stunned 38-35 by heavy underdog Kansas State Saturday in Norman.
“Tonight (we’ll) celebrate, then tomorrow, we’ll turn (to) the next page,” Bailey said. “We’ll be on the Oklahoma train.”