The Iowa State Cyclones (2-4, 0-3) took a hiatus from conference play in its annual homecoming game on Saturday as they welcomed the Toledo Rockets (4-3, 3-0) into Ames. The Cyclones, having lost 2 of its last 3 games to ranked conference opponents, could not afford this game to be another defeat. Toledo started off strong by yielding Iowa State to just 9 points in the first half and went into the break with a 13-9 lead. They held Iowa State’s offense in check as Cyclone kicker Cole Netten had to kick 3 field goals inside of 40 yards. Opportunities were there for Iowa State to score touchdowns, but Toledo’s defense refused to budge.
After the break, junior quarterback Sam Richardson and the Cyclone offense took control en route to 34 first downs and 454 total yards. Richardson finished the game completing a school-record 37 passes and 3 touchdowns, with no interceptions, as Iowa State held on for a 37-30 victory over the Rockets. As the back half of the season unfolds, success in the passing game for the Cyclones is critical, since the rushing attack continues to struggle. On the season, Iowa State averages less than 110 rushing yards a game and still has not had a running back eclipse the 100 yard mark this season. DeVondrick Nealy rushed for 71 yards against the Rockets.
A victory in October might just be what the Cyclones needed to change the team’s mindset. ISU fans are still dreaming of scenarios of reaching a bowl game at this point. The Toledo game arrived at the appropriate time in the midst of a tough season for the Cyclones. At the halfway point, the Cyclones are now 2-4, including a 0-3 record in the Big 12. All of the conference losses have been to ranked foes, and although “easy” games cease to exist in the Big 12, the schedule does lighten up in November. After the #11 Oklahoma Sooners on November 1st, the Cyclones play Kansas, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. Not easy … but “easier” than it’s been so far in Conference play. Ironically, ten years ago, the Iowa State Cyclone squad began the 2004 season at 2-4 also, losing its first three conference games by a combined score of 89-24. A gutsy 26-25 win at Baylor in October sparked the Cyclones, as they ripped off four straight victories to become bowl eligible after a disastrous 2-10 2003 season.
Winning the homecoming game brings confidence to a team that was playing tough, but beginning to drop its chin a little. If the Cyclones had lost against Toledo, we could have officially written off the 2014 Iowa State season. They would’ve had no chance at getting to a bowl game, and a 1-11 or 2-10 season would have looked entirely possible. Now, a tough but winnable game against the Texas Longhorns waits. Texas looked drastically improved last week in a loss to Oklahoma. Cyclone fans can only hope the confidence from the Toledo win comes with them to Austin… because we know they’ll need it.