A 15-minute edge in time of possession, 192-82 advantage in total yards (139-yard edge overall) and plus-two margin in turnovers easily could have been the storyline in recent history. However, those were three key ways 19th-ranked Iowa State toppled the 20th-ranked Huskers Saturday night 36-14.
The win snapped a 30-game Cyclone losing streak to ranked opponents and was the first time since 1992 in Ames that they had knocked off Nebraska.
“I thought it was just a tremendous effort and great team win,” said ISU head coach Dan McCarney, whose team improved to 5-1 on the season. “I don’t think there is any one person that won this game today. I thought it was a real complete victory. I’m really proud of my kids and coaches.
“We’ve come a long ways and have a long ways to go. These are the kind of games if we’re going to take it to the next level, these are the kind of wins that you need to start getting.”
The fact that ISU beat the Huskers in Ames wasn’t as surprising as how it knocked off the perennial power. After struggling mightily to run the football against Iowa and Troy State, the Cyclone offensive front opened up an array of holes in the Nebraska defense Saturday.
Backup tailback Mike Wagner rushed for 107 yards on 19 carries, while cohort Hiawatha Rutland added 42 yards and a touchdown. After rushing for just 65 yards all season, Seneca Wallace sliced and diced for 51 and two touchdowns on seven carries.
“Last year week we weren’t able to run the ball that much and it puts us one dimensional,” said Wagner, who himself had rushed for only 90 yards in four games. “This week we were two-dimensional. They had to cover two sides of our offense and I think that gave them more of a struggle. That helped us out a lot more and now we’ve got confidence in our run game.
“You dream about it as a little kid and I never thought I’d be on the team that beat Nebraska. We stood up to the challenge today. Everyone was talking about beating the big team and we beat the big team today. Right now it’s just an emotional high. I don’t know to feel, maybe I’ll feel some tomorrow.”
Wallace added 220 passing yards and one touchdown on 19-of-32 completions. Whereas Jack Whitver had been Wallace’s go-to guy in the past two weeks, Lane Danielsen became the biggest threat this week by catching nine passes for 111 yards and one score.
“As receivers we’re going to go in there and try to make plays,” said Danielsen. “Big plays are few and far between in a football game. As receivers we want to go in there and make as many as possible, because that’s a momentum shift in the game. They were bringing a lot of man and soft man. They weren’t coming up and bugging us. We just came out as receivers and beat the DBs one on one and Seneca got us the ball.”
While moving the ball so effectively against Nebraska was a first, so was the fact that ISU put a complete stranglehold on a Husker rush offense that ranked seventh nationally with 255.5 yards per game. The Huskers compiled just 15 yards on the ground during the first half and finished with 81.
Capitalizing on opportunities in the run game and stopping the rush defensively added up to a 15-minute edge in time of possession.
“I think we ended up a major advantage in time of possession and had about 25 more plays from the line of scrimmage,” McCarney said. “You always put yourself in the position to win games if we can do that. That goes right back to our ability to play defense and run the football. That usually always does a good job of equating to time of possession.”
Defensive coordinator John Skladany set out to stop the run first and foremost, allowing quarterback Jammal Lord the option of man coverage in the passing game. Cyclone defenders packed a punch and made some big plays and packed a mighty punch while carrying out the game plan.
ISU set the tone on Nebraska’s opening drive by limiting them to three-and-out. That carried on for much of the game, as the Huskers managed just three first downs through 45 minutes and 10 in the game.
“After those first three plays, I felt that we had a good shot today,” said Skladany. “They tried to power us right off the bat and it was nothing, nothing, nothing, and I said we could hang with them now. It just kept going and going from there.
“It was a matter of us being physical. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Our defensive front was attacking the line of scrimmage and our linebackers were fitting. The biggest thing to stopping these guys, if you’re going to be option sound, you need to match them with bodies and be physical when you go to do it. That’s what happened today. We executed and were where we were supposed to be, but we did it with some authority.”
Skladany’s aggressive defense forced five Nebraska fumbles and recovered four, and picked off a Jammal Lord pass.
Senior linebacker Matt Word, who compiled five tackles and a forced fumble, could not find enough superlatives to describe ISU’s performance.
“This is the biggest win since I’ve been here,” he said. “We went out there and played our hardest. Nebraska has been slapping us around the past few years and we knew that to get our program to the next level we’ve got to beat teams like this.
“We saw it all week in the newspapers, we saw it everywhere. It was up on the walls. When somebody is taking shots at your family and everything like that, you’ve got to step up and become a man and go out there and fight back. We were the most aggressive team out there today, definitely.”
Perhaps the biggest victory in McCarney’s tenure as coach didn’t come without a price, however. In just his second game back from a broken left ankle, offensive lineman Luke Vander Sanden suffered a broken right leg in the third quarter. He is most likely lost for the regular season.
“My heart just breaks for Luke Vander Sanden,” McCarney said. “It’s the only negative of the day. He broke his other leg, a bone in his lower leg, and will probably have surgery in the next day or two. It just breaks my heart. He’s got more courage than anybody on our football team. Hopefully if we’re lucky enough to win some more games and go to postseason play, he’ll get back for that.”
The Cyclones will further approach the top-10 this week and face a bye, then another home game when Texas Tech comes to town on Oct. 12.