AMES — Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads asked for improvement, not perfection.
He saw some, but not enough, in Saturday’s 37-3 pummeling of outmanned Western Illinois before 55,783 fans at Jack Trice Stadium — the fourth-largest home crowd in program history.
“We put up a lot of good numbers,” Rhoads said after his team amassed 504 yards of offense while improving to 3-0. “We did a lot of positive things, but we didn’t finish things to the level I would have liked.”
Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz completed 19-of-26 passes for 209 yards and three touchdowns in two and a half quarters of mostly-steady duty.
But he also fumbled at midfield after ISU took a quick 14-0 lead and fired an interception, as well.
The Cyclones plunged to minus-three in turnover margin — in the game and for the season.
“God bless us,” Rhoads said. “We win more games losing the turnover battle than any team in America.”
Sprinkle in a drive-killing penalty and a third-down drop by wide receiver Albert Gary in the first half alone, and the offense served as exhibit A in Rhoads’ “good, but not good enough” post-game assessment.
“It was kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Jantz, who connected with Chris Young for two touchdowns and Aaron Horne for one. “I had a fumble. We had the drop on third down and then we had a third down where we had a penalty. So there’s three drives right there where the only reason they didn’t work was because of us. So we’ve just got to keep realizing that if we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot we can be pretty good.”
The defense remained well above that baseline measurement.
ISU didn’t allow a touchdown for the second consecutive game — and it hadn’t done that in back-to-back games since the end of the 1964 season and the start of the 1965 campaign.
The Cyclones also allowed the Leathernecks (2-1) just 178 yards of offense, the lowest single-game total since holding UNI to 99 yards in 2004.
“Defensively I thought we played a tremendous football game,” said Rhoads, who also guided ISU to a 3-0 start last season. “But not the level of improvement that I would have wanted out of our football team.”
Cyclone linebacker Jake Knott said it’s not just the offense that needs to ratchet up consistent and clean production.
“We didn’t force any turnovers; we’re going to have to work on that,” said Knott, who soared for the game-clinching interception in last week’s 9-6 win at Iowa. “We gave up three points, which — credit Western Illinois, but we really would have liked to keep that zero on the board.”
The Leathernecks’ lone scoring drive included a fourth-down conversion at the ISU 39.
“We wanted zero points on the scoreboard,” reiterated Cyclone linebacker Jeremiah George, who notched a team-high nine tackles. “They did get a field goal, but that’s something we can look at and see why they did that.”
Other ISU highlights included sacks from defensive linemen Cleyon Laing and Walter Woods III, and a 56-yard touchdown run from James White.
Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp uncorked a 59-yarder and still hasn’t had a kick returned on him.
Third-string tailback DeVondrick Nealy rushed for 70 yards and fourth-stringer Rob Standard dove into the end zone.
“Having the opportunity to get (Standard), DeVondrick and a lot of players playing time is great for team morale and also improvement going forward,” Rhoads said.
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