Blum: Wax on Wax off

By Brent Blum, Columnist

On the team plane back from Austin Saturday afternoon, the movie Karate Kid was shown. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the one with Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi. It was the newfangled version with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan. I actually enjoyed the film and little Will Smith is quite a bit better than I thought he’d be.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the movie and the Iowa State football team. Yes I’m nuts. But, think about it. Upstart young ‘fella gets bullied, beat up and humiliated to the point that he can’t take it anymore. He turns to a charismatic leader that prepares him to take down the big bully on the biggest stage. The bully is instructed to not only beat little Will Smith at the karate tournament, but to "break him." After enduring a couple of the bully’s biggest shots and seemingly left for dead, Lil’ Smith responds with tenacity, fights back and finishes the bully off with the infamous one-legged "crane kick." He  wins the tournament and gets the girl in the process. (Sorry to spoil it for you, I’m sure you all were on the edge of your seat waiting to catch that one on Netflix.)

It was a fun film to cap off an extraordinary day. The movie was fairly predictable, the football game was most certainly not. (Just think if the Karate Kid storyline was the equivalent of how most thought the Texas game would turn out–Jaden Smith would have been destroyed in the first round of the karate tournament, the girl he was chasing would have laughed at him, he would be mocked on Twitter and… karate-talk show hosts would be deriding the start time of the next tournament– commenting that nobody would be in attendance to see the next beat-down. That would not make for a very good movie.)

Thankfully the football game followed the story-book script and we were all treated to a monumental win in Cyclone football history.

It was truly a privilege to be in Austin to see how the weekend unfolded. There were several little moments that weren’t captured on TV that made the weekend even more memorable.

On Friday night, several Iowa State folks were hanging out in the hotel lobby. In walked former Cyclone players Joe Parmentier, Marc Cortez and James Elmore. They were all members of the Iowa State squad that beat Iowa for the first time in 16 years in 1998 and a part of several other big Cyclone wins. To overhear some of the stories they exchanged with each other and Ben Bruns, also a member of the Cyclone squad during that time period, was simply awesome. They all look like they could still line up and play today. The only thing that would have made it better was if Chin Achebe was in attendance. Big fan of that guy. After a few minutes of conversation with each other, Austen Arnaud and a couple other current Cyclones approached and introduced themselves to the former Cyclones. It was a very cool moment to see two eras of Iowa State football talking shop and swapping stories. It set the table for what would come the next day.

I got to the stadium around 6 a.m. on Saturday to setup for the pre-game so I wasn’t able to witness this first hand, but apparently as the players were hanging around waiting for the busses to leave the hotel,  the Cyclone offensive players decided to run through mock plays in the parking lot. They might be on to something. When they finally did arrive at Texas Memorial stadium, there was a definite bounce in their step. It also helped that the dude in charge of the music at the stadium had an uncanny remix flowing during the pre-game warm-ups. The guy managed to mix some Lil Wayne with Timbaland, Drake, Katy Perry, Tupac, Notorious B.I.G and Usher. It was pretty stellar. Even John Walters was nodding his head along to the beat. And Walters knows good music. I’m convinced the upgrade in the music mix and sound quality at UT had a small part in the fast start for the Cyclones. Chris Williams needs to award that guy a helmet sticker.

The analysis of the game itself has been pretty well covered at this point. It was a complete performance from all involved. But we have to give extra credit to Wally "The Witch" Burnham. ( In this case, "witch" is a good thing.)

To get his defensive squad to bounce back after the throttling they experienced the previous two weeks is unfathomable. It was like seeing Todd Wellemeyer throw a no-hitter after serving up 12 bombs the game before. And big props to new Ames cult hero Jacob Lattimer, who seemingly came out of nowhere to have a huge impact on the win. His play Saturday reminded me of the scene in Major League when Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) enters the spring training 40-yard dash shoeless and still dressed in his pajamas. After Hayes blows away the competition in the race, one of the Indians coaches says, "Who the hell is that?" And Lou Brown comments in his phenomenal voice, " I don’t care. Get him a uniform."

Lattimer’s play even elicited this tweet from fellow long-haired wild-man, Packers Linebacker Clay Matthews: "There’s a lot of great football names but nothing can compete w/ LATTIMER 4 Iowa State!! U think he’s Steve’s younger brother!? " …That of course in reference to the classic 1993 film The Program.

Lattimer was instrumental in a continuing trend for Iowa State’s defense: Turnovers. I theorized before the year started in this space that in order for Iowa State to get back to a bowl game, the Cyclones run defense and turnovers forced would tell the story: the "RDTF factor." At the time, I wrote that Iowa State would need their national rank in both categories to be under a combined total of 100 to reach the post-season.Currently, the Cyclones are 108h in the nation in run defense at 203 yards per game. Definitely not great, but they are 10th in the nation in turnovers forced with 19. For a RDTF total of 118. They are in the ball-park.

The Cyclones forced four Texas turnovers and had several other chances to get a few more. It got to the point in the third quarter where you were almost expecting the good guys to come up with another pick. It’s remarkable to see how this defense has forced turnovers under Wally Burnham. At this point it is not a fluke. Check this out:

Since 2009, in the 21 games under Rhoads and Burnham, the Cyclone defense has forced 51 turnovers (roughly 2.5 per game.) Here are the national rankings for turnovers forced during that time-span:

1. Ohio State-56  2. Iowa State-51  3. Oregon-50  4. Alabama-48

I would say that’s pretty good company. After the Kansas game, I’m going out on Welch Avenue for the numerous Halloween festivities dressed as Wally Burnham, because the man is most certainly a witch.

After the Texas game ended and FSN had done their wrap up on the field with sideline reporter Jim Knox, there was another fitting moment at mid-field. (I was anxiously awaiting to see Knox ride Bevo at some point during the game after his recent fiasco with the Colorado Buffalo, but I was sadly disappointed.)

The Cyclone players had all ventured over to the corner of the stadium to greet the small pocket of fans and sing the fight song. Most of the players had left the field and entered the locker room for the well-documented celebration. One of the last men off the field was Leonard Johnson, who played a spectacular game at corner. As he was walking across the 50-yard line, Leonard was stopped by Cy the mascot and the two did the always enjoyable chest bump followed by the half-hug/half-handshake pat-on-the-back maneuver. There was a legitimate joy for everyone involved. That’s what college football is all about.

Most tellingly, during the same plane ride home when most were relaxing to Jaden Smith and Karate Kid, the Iowa State coaching staff had laptops out and DVR clickers in hand. On the screen was tape of the Kansas Jayhawks. There was work to be done.

Even after a monumental win, it was BAU–business as usual.

Wax on, wax off.