When the dry spell reaches 32 years, most coaches will take anything that slakes their thirst.
Paul Rhoads knew the task was difficult. Starting quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson were sidelined and the Cyclones were dogged all week with illness.
But some opportunistic play and a little trickery at the right time vaulted Iowa State to a 9-7 victory against Nebraska on Saturday.
“You come into a stadium like this and play without the Big 12’s leading rusher, and you play without your starting quarterback, not to mention a lengthy list of players who were sick,” Rhoads said. “If you pick the place for your backup quarterback to start a game, I promise you it wouldn’t be Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
Redshirt freshman Jerome Tiller stepped in at quarterback and had 167 yards of total offense. Jeremiah Schwartz, also a redshirt freshman, rushed for 50 yards.
The opportunistic play came in the form of recovering five Husker fumbles and intercepting three passes. David Sims and Michael O’Connell had one of each and James Smith recovered two fumbles.
“They have an outstanding defense. Are you kidding me? Eight turnovers we gained and the final score is 9-7?” Rhoads said. “Anybody else that had that kind of turnover advantage would have won by 30 or 40 points. Credit Nebraska. They have an unbelievable defensive football team.”
The trickery was a fake punt by Mike Brandtner midway through the second quarter. His 20-yard run gave the Cyclones a second chance, and they didn’t waste time. Tiller lofted a 47-yard pass to Jake Williams on the next play to give Iowa State a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
“The last time I ran a fake here, I was a yard short,” Brandtner said. “This time, I definitely pulled it off. Coach Rhoads had it perfect. He called it at the right time. Luckily, there was green field out in front of me.”
Rhoads said the timing was important.
“We’ve gone into every game with a fake punt. It was an opportunity for momentum to possibly swing,” Rhoads said. “At that point, we thought, ‘How much are we going to drive and how much will we be able to score?’ It was the right place on the field to run. And the boys executed it awfully well.”
It was Tiller’s first career touchdown pass and the longest scoring pass of the season for the Cyclones.
“You have to make plays when they call on you,” Williams said. “I have a feel for them (defenders), but my eyes are just focused on the ball. It was in the air for a while. It seemed like to me it was in the air forever.”
Reach Ryly Jane Hambleton at email@example.com or 473-7314.