Then the Aggies caught a break on a pass interference call, quarterback Ryan Tannehill finally found his rhythm and Texas A&M was in business.
Tannehill threw for 263 yards and two pivotal touchdowns late in the second quarter and 17th-ranked Texas A&M held off Iowa State 33-17 on Saturday for its third straight Big 12 win.
Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray each rushed for more than 100 yards for the Aggies (5-2, 3-1 Big 12), who used Tannehill's scoring passes to Jeff Fuller and Michael Lamothe to jump ahead 20-7 at halftime after a sluggish start.
Michael had 142 yards on 18 carries and Gray added 125 yards.
|More on Texas A&M-Iowa State|
"Iowa State was forcing us to throw the ball and get us out of our run game and they made us play left-handed," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "We just started completing some passes. Simple as that."
Michael's 9-yard TD run early in the third quarter gave Texas A&M a 30-7 lead. Though Iowa State quickly cut it to 30-17, the Aggies kept the Cyclones scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Freshman Jared Barnett, who replaced a struggling Steele Jantz in the first quarter, was 16-of-36 passing for 180 yards for the Cyclones (3-4, 0-4), who have dropped four in a row.
"I thought we played with good energy. I thought we did a lot of good things but not good enough to beat the 17th-ranked team in the country," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
Texas A&M had been as good as anyone in the first half this year, with 170 points through six games. But the beleaguered Cyclones defense kept them scoreless on four straight possessions in the first half.
"They were playing a little differently than they were showing on tape," Tannehill said. "Whether it was a bad throw, a drop, a missed block, we just weren't making the plays."
The Aggies needed some help to finally find the end zone.
Iowa State's defense was flagged for offsides, and Tannehill chucked it downfield on what was essentially a free play late in the second quarter. The Cyclones then got called for pass interference, keeping the Aggies drive going, and Tannehill found Fuller for a 10-yard touchdown reception to put A&M ahead 13-7 with 4:08 left in the half.
Tannehill then took A&M 79 yards in less than two minutes, and his 18-yard TD toss to Lamothe made it 20-7 with just 42 seconds left in the half. Randy Bullock tacked on a 47-yarder to open the second half -- his seventh made field goal in eight tries from 40 yards or longer this season.
"It's big. Any time you go on the road and play it's good to win," Tannehill said.
Rhoads didn't guarantee Jantz would start this week after a lackluster outing in last week's 52-17 loss at Missouri.
Jantz opened the game behind center -- and promptly threw his first pass into the arms of Texas A&M's Trent Hunter. Bullock's 25-yard field goal gave the Aggies a 3-0 lead just two minutes in.
After three sputtering possessions, the Cyclones went to Barnett.
The move gave Iowa State the spark it desperately needed, as White capped an 83-play drive with a 19-yard TD run to put the Aggies down 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Though Barnett did enough to likely earn the start next week at Texas Tech, it wasn't enough for the scuffling Cyclones. They've lost four straight for the first time since losing their last 10 in 2008.
Texas A&M's season has been defined in part by the big halftime leads it blew against Oklahoma State and Arkansas.
For much of the second half, it felt like it could happen again.
The Cyclones answered Michael's touchdown run with a 1-yard TD run from Duran Hollis to get within 30-14. Zach Guyer made it 30-17 on a 43-yard field goal with 2:16 left in the third quarter.
Tannehill then nearly fumbled the ball away on the final play of the third quarter, and the Cyclones stuffed the Aggies on fourth down deep in Iowa State territory with 12:58 left.
But Texas A&M's defense stiffened, and its offense answered with an 85-yard scoring drive. Though it ended in Bullock's fourth field goal, from 20 yards, it ate up nearly four precious minutes and put the Aggies ahead 33-17 with just 7:30 left.
Iowa State's final gasp came with four minutes left, when the Aggies stopped them a yard short on 4th-down-and-18.
Josh Lenz had a career-high eight catches for 117 yards for the Cyclones.