AMES, Iowa -- Alexander Robinson rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns and Iowa State beat Northern Illinois 27-10 Thursday night
Austen Arnaud added 265 yards passing and a TD run for the Cyclones (1-0), who raced out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Iowa State's offense stalled much of the second half, but its new-look defense held the Huskies (0-1) to just 249 yards of offense.
Robinson's 63-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter put the Cyclones ahead 14-0. Northern Illinois pulled within 17-10 midway through the fourth quarter, but Robinson's 5-yard touchdown run with 5:05 left put the game out of reach.
Quarterback DeMarcus Grady threw three interceptions for Northern Illinois, which fell to 4-10 against the Big 12.
The Cyclones looked set to cruise to an easy and encouraging win against the preseason favorites in the MAC's West division, but the Huskies sprung to life early in the second half.
Northern Illinois quickly drove to Iowa State's 2-yard line on their first series of the third quarter. But Iowa State's defense, which only had three returning starters, buckled down and held the Huskies to a 19-yard field goal that made it 17-3.
Iowa State sophomore Jake Knott had two interceptions, and the first pick bailed the Cyclones out deep in their own territory late in the third quarter. Daniel Kuehl's shanked punt gave the Huskies a short field, though, and Grady's touchdown run with 8:51 left made it 17-10.
The Cyclones put the pesky Huskies away on their next drive. Arnaud found Collin Franklin for a 34-yard reception, and a personal foul on a failed third-down conversion gave Iowa State new life.
Robinson followed with his second TD of the night, and Knott's second pick set up Grant Mahoney's 23-yard field goal with 2:37 left.
Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill had three choices at quarterback, and few knew Grady had won the job until he trotted onto the field.
Grady showed promise running the ball, with 54 yards on 14 carries, but he was just 14-of-29 passing for 93 yards.
Chad Spann had 80 yards rushing for the Huskies.
Iowa State opened the scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Arnaud late in the first quarter, which came after his apparent 53-yard TD run was called back for illegal procedure.
Iowa State safety Zac Sandvig, in for the suspended David Sims, picked off Grady to open the second quarter. On the next play, Robinson ran through a massive hole up the middle and shook off a few late tackles to make it 14-0. The 63-yard run was the third-longest of Robinson's career.
Cyclones appeared set to cruise into halftime until Tracy Wilson intercepted a tipped Arnaud pass and brought it back to the Iowa State 23. But Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads burned a pair of timeouts icing Michael Cklamovski on a 33-yard field-goal try and it worked, as Cklamovski hooked it left.
Arnaud, who spent the offseason tweaking his throwing motion, was 27-of-36 passing but threw a pair of interceptions.
Though it was only the opener, this was a crucial win for the Cyclones given how tough their schedule looks to be. Iowa State plays four preseason top 10 teams, starting with next week's trip to No. 9 Iowa.
The rival Hawkeyes figure to be a much tougher test than the Huskies.