Saturday marked a brutal open to the season for the Big 12, but an equally incredible one for the Sun Belt.
The two Big 12 vs. Sun Belt matchups early Saturday went the Sun Belt’s way with Louisiana upsetting No. 23 Iowa State in Ames and Arkansas State pulling out a dramatic final-minute victory over Kansas State in Manhattan.
The Rajun’ Cajuns used two special teams touchdowns — one kick return, one punt return — to its advantage in a 31-14 victory. Arkansa State, though, needed a special performance from star receiver Jonathan Adams Jr. to pull out the win over the Wildcats.
Adams registered eight receptions for 98 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 17-yarder from Layne Hatcher with 38 seconds left in regulation. From there, the Red Wolves defense got the stop it needed to finish off the 35-31 upset.
The Big 12, amid the coronavirus pandemic, adjusted its scheduling from a usual 12-game season to a plus-one model with nine conference games and one non-conference game. After Saturday, fans of Iowa State and Kansas State are probably wishing the Big 12 stuck with only conference games.
Iowa State opens season with another dud
Saturday’s game marked the second straight year that Iowa State laid an egg in its season opener.
In 2019, the Cyclones followed an offseason of hype by narrowly beating Northern Iowa, an FCS team, in triple overtime. This time around, No. 23 Iowa State dropped its season opener to Louisiana, 31-14.
Matt Campbell’s Cyclones were thoroughly outplayed by the Ragin’ Cajuns in all facets of the game — from offense to defense to special teams. Especially special teams.
In what was the first road win over a ranked team in program history, Louisiana scored two of its touchdowns on kick returns. First, after Iowa State took a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, Chris Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to tie the score at 7-7. And early in the fourth, after taking a 17-14 lead on a 78-yard bomb from Levi Lewis to Peter LeBlanc, the Ragin’ Cajuns put the game out of reach when Eric Garror reeled off an electric 83-yard punt return for a score.
Garror’s touchdown completely knocked the wind out of Iowa State’s sails. And to make matters worse, Louisiana added another touchdown in the final minute of regulation — after an ISU turnover on downs — to put the final nail in the coffin.
It was a stellar effort from Louisiana, particularly on defense. Brock Purdy, ISU’s star quarterback, was limited to just 145 yards on 16-of-35 throwing. The Cyclones mustered just 303 yards of offense in all.
Louisiana didn’t exactly light things up on offense, but the big play to LeBlanc was the play of the game for ULL. The 78-yard strike put the Ragin’ Cajuns ahead 17-14 with 2:02 to play in the third, and the shell-shocked Cyclones would never recover.
Behind Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, Purdy is considered by most to be the top returning quarterback in the Big 12. Now a junior, Purdy threw for 3,982 yards and 27 touchdowns last fall, but he did not look like that kind of player on Saturday.
Matt Campbell has coached the Cyclones to three straight winning seasons and has rapidly raised expectations both in Ames and around the country. Last year’s 7-6 record was a bit of a disappointment relative to preseason expectations, and Saturday’s loss to ULL is another tough pill to swallow for a program looking to establish itself as a legitimate Big 12 title contender.
Jonathan Adams’ 3 TD catches leads Arkansas State
Kansas State controlled things early on in Saturday’s game, jumping out to a comfortable 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter. But the Red Wolves hung around.
After falling behind by 14, Arkansas State quickly responded with a trick play where receiver Jeff Foreman caught a backwards pass and then launched one downfield to Rashauud Paul behind the defense for a 48-yard score.
Arkansas State would tie the score at 21-21 late in the third and later used another trick play to its advantage. Following a Kansas State missed field goal, Arkansas State moved into K-State territory but brought out the punt unit on fourth-and-5 from the K-State 34. Instead of pinning the Wildcats deep, the Red Wolves faked a punt and drew a pass interference penalty. That set up a five-yard touchdown pass to Adams that gave ASU its first lead, 28-21, with 11:49 to play.
Kansas State would respond with a score of its own to tie the score, but that only set the stage for Adams’ final touchdown grab of the game. This one would prove to be the game-winner.
8 catches— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 12, 2020
The Jonathan Adams Football Clinic.
More from Yahoo Sports: