AMES, Iowa — Iowa State had no answer when Iowa turned up its defensive pressure in the second half on Saturday.
The Cyclones managed only 66 yards on 31 second-half plays, let a 17-10 halftime lead slip away and lost to Iowa 31-17.
C.J. Beathard threw three touchdown passes, including the tie-breaker to Riley McCarron with 2:14 left, to lead the Hawkeyes (2-0). But Iowa State's inability to get anything going offensively in the final two quarters had just as much to do with the outcome.
"It's disappointing, obviously. I feel like we should have won," Iowa State running back Trever Ryen said. "One thing I'll tell you is that I've never seen a team like this work so hard for something. To get a loss from an in-state rival sucks."
Iowa State's second-half struggles contrasted sharply with a strong first half, when the Cyclones also ran 31 plays but amassed 244 yards and hit the Hawkeyes with some big passing plays.
But the Hawkeyes hassled quarterback Sam Richardson with a stronger pass rush in the final two quarters and his receivers found few openings in the secondary.
"I think it was more the back end than it was the front end, to be honest with you," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "I think our folks were covered. The pocket escaped (Sam) because people were covered and he had to move and slide and try to find somebody who was open and it allowed their pressure to get there."
Richardson finished 19 of 35 for 247 yards, two touchdowns and a late interception. But he was sacked four times and completed just seven of 20 passes in the second half for 71 yards.
"It was very frustrating actually," said wide receiver Jauan Wesley, whose one-handed grab of a 29-yard touchdown pass gave Iowa State its halftime lead. "We had a lot of plays, a lot of missed cues; a lot of things we could have capitalized on. We failed to do that."
Jordan Canzeri's fumble deep in Iowa State territory thwarted an Iowa drive earlier in the fourth quarter. But the Hawkeyes defense forced the Cyclones (1-1) to punt, Desmond King returned it to midfield and Beathard took his team to the decisive score, finding the 5-foot-9 Riley McCarron in the back of the end zone from 25 yards out.
An interception by King gave the ball right back to Iowa, and Canzeri scored on an 8-yard run to finish it off.
The victory followed an emotional week for the Hawkeyes, who are mourning the deaths, four days apart, of former football standout Tyler Sash and former basketball star Roy Marble.
The Hawkeyes wore Sash's jersey number, 9, on their helmets and fans of both schools in the sold-out stadium stood for a moment of silence in honor of the two athletes before the game.
On a perfect late-summer day that featured a pregame stadium walk-through by Donald Trump, Beathard finished 15 of 25 for 215 yards and no interceptions. Most of his passes went to Matt VandeBerg, who finished with career highs of nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown, though he didn't actually catch the ball on that play.
Teammate Henry Krieger-Coble fumbled on his way to the end zone after catching a pass, but the hustling VandeBerg picked the ball up on the bounce at the Iowa State 3 and carried into the end zone to tie the game at 17 earlier in the fourth quarter.
Both defenses then dominated until the Hawkeyes struck late.
Iowa State never established any sort of running game, finishing with only 63 yards in 27 carries. That enabled the Iowa defense to key in on Richardson and the receivers.
"When you don't get people blocked and have holes to run through," Rhoads said, "it's hard to have a successful running game."
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