By Kirk Haaland, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
There’s probably one victory like this every year for the Cyclone football team…a decidedly large win over a lesser opponent that is looked at more for what didn’t happen as opposed to what did. Certainly, there will be no shortage of content for the coaches and team to address for improvements this week in practice—especially for the offense. (Slightly harsh ISU joke of the week: I*wa State Cycl*nes: Ask Tom Herman where the “o” went) but at the same time it was a blowout over a lesser opponent and a shutout, which can never be taken for granted.
I actually wrote this exact same column (no, I don’t write a blog, I write articles for a website—I have an ego to stroke) last year after the road win at Kent State. The Cyclones won their first road game since the second to last season of the McCarney tenure in blowout fashion, yet the overwhelming sentiment on the message board aftermath was what didn’t happen, as opposed to what did.
This past weekend was much the same. A 27 to zip win over a “thorn-in-your-side” instate team (note that I didn’t say rival). We Cyclone fans know far too well that Northern Iowa is a capable enough program to pull off the upset even if they are just an FCS program. The offense definitely did not perform how it will need to the rest of the year against UNI, but it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.
Let’s take the simplistic look at it. In the first half, ISU had compiled 147 yards of offense on six possessions. Three of those drives resulted in scores with only one being for a touchdown. What is the common denominator with the two drives resulting in field goals? On both occasions, as soon as ISU got inside the UNI 20 there were subsequent five yard motion penalties. The other three drives of the half had a couple of penalties as well, but largely the rhythm was never found.
Now for the point of clarity, yes, ISU only compiled 63 yards from scrimmage in the second half. But how many possessions did they have? Due to the two interceptions returned for touchdowns, three…THREE! With only one of them being in the third quarter while the offense was still mostly comprised of its starters. The only drive in the third quarter was a 15 play monster that lasted nearly a full eight minutes and gained 40 yards. The Cyclones made it to the UNI 23 before—change up coming—no, not a penalty a 15-yard sack was given up. Again, a costly mistake with a scoring chance in sight for an offense with a thin margin for error.
Yes, the offense was less than stellar and the yards per play numbers were also nothing to boast about against a so-so FCS defense, but the majority of the night the ball was moved fairly well. To add to that, Alexander Robinson only had two carries in the second half (probably a cautionary measure to avoid injuries) after accumulating 68 yards on 13 carries in the first half. Also, the Cyclones were without the services of starting quarterback, Austen Arnaud.
On yeah, the quarterback “controversy”. I’m failing to find the dispute from the numbers and even from the feel I had during and immediately after the game. Tiller managed the game, avoided any turnovers and from memory made one huge completion on a third down in the red zone to Sedrick Johnson that led to the only offensive touchdown on the night. That’s about it. He faced considerable pressure from an aggressive defense and gave up four sacks (not all his fault) that appeared to be due to his anxiousness and jumpiness in the pocket. He only completed 11 of his 22 attempts and had only one run—again, dangerously from memory—that was all that effective. This isn’t a shot at Tiller, at all, but right now Arnaud is the best we’ve got. Screaming and hollering for change just for the sake of change isn’t how I would like to go about improving the offense. It’s very likely that I’ll be saying the same thing about Tiller next year.
Last year’s bowl aspirations were salvaged with the unforeseen victory in Lincoln. Will another win like that be needed to make it to six wins? If so, that would require winning in Austin (not only has ISU never won in Austin, they’ve never beat Texas anywhere else) or Norman(hasn’t happened since 1990). Both Oklahoma and Texas appear slightly down from expectations but winning in either of those venues would be substantial to say the least for the program.
With the loss to Kansas State, bowl hopes this year will hang in the balance with every game going forward. The home game with Kansas and road game at Colorado are absolute must wins. Missouri, Nebraska, and Utah are games that will be more difficult than easy to pull off the victory, but they’re at home so there is always a puncher’s chance. Texas Tech is also a winnable game…
Speaking of the Red Raiders
Paul Rhoads’ former boss (Rhoads was the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2008 while Tuberville was the head coach) will be bringing his new team, Texas Tech, to Ames. The Cyclones have essentially been a punching bag for Lubbock University since the 2002 clash that gave us “The Run”. Now, though, the Pirate (Mike Leach) has sailed out of town and the Red Raiders are experiencing some growing pains under Tommy Tuberville. The defensive guru making his mark on a team that was best known for its video game offense still hasn’t taken hold.
Texas Tech still has a capable passing attack but the running game has yet to take off and only produces 70 yards per game. Their defense has been very solid giving up 360 yards per game, 22 points per game, and four sacks per game—good enough for third in the country.
Texas Tech will probably be able to move the ball pretty well throughout the day. What will hurt ISU is that the Raiders do pretty well in the turnover department as well as kickoff returns. The ISU kickoff coverage team has had its share of shaky moments, giving any easy yardage right off the bat to Texas Tech would be a bad thing. The Cyclone defense absolutely has to minimize big plays and force the Red Raiders to methodically drive down the field, more bending without the breaking.
The Iowa State offense needs to find its rhythm some how, some way. Texas Tech will likely force Arnaud to try to win the game with his arm and do whatever they can to stop the running game for the Cyclones. The offense needs to abandon the costly mistakes and score when the opportunity presents itself. I think the Cyclones hang tough but will lose a close one in the fourth quarter.
Red Raiders 31
Offensive MVP: Josh Lenz
Defensive MVP: AJ Klein/Jake Knott (it would take a lot to get me to pick anyone else at this point)