Blum: Big 12 Blitzkrieg

By Brent Blum, ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum

I’m not even mad, this is amazing. We are smack-dab in the middle of the best offensive season by a conference in college football history. The Big 12 is generating numbers at a pace that is truly incomprehensible. The stats are so engorged that even Barry Bonds’ over-sized head is spinning. And Iowa State is stuck in the background trying to assess the damage.

The Cyclones held Texas A&M to 510 total yards and 33 points and it felt like a the defense played pretty well. Such is life in the tricked up Big 12.

Defensive coordinators in this league must feel like they’ve spent 12 rounds with Tyson in his prime, followed by a duel with Brock Lesnar and finished off with a night on the town with Lindsay Lohan. (Assuming she’s not in prison. This changes by the week.)

Where should we start?

The Big 12 has four of the top five offenses in the nation (Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech). Five of the top seven (Texas A&M). And six of the top 12 (Missouri).

The team that is last in the conference in total offense (Kansas State) has put up 100 points the last two weeks,  is undefeated and eighth in the BCS rankings.

To put things in a Cyclone-perspective, arguably the best offensive season in Iowa State history was 2002. They gained a school-record 5,338 yards in 14 games that year with Seneca Wallace at the helm. It was thought of as a fairly potent offensive attack. But their average yards per game (381) that season would put them eighth out of 10 teams in this year’s Big 12.

When I was leaving Jack Trice well after 8 o’clock on Saturday night, I walked by a mural of Iowa State’s Football All-Americans in the Jacobson building. It’s a who’s who of course: Troy, Seneca, Dexter, Mike Busch and Mr. Clean himself, Ben Bruns.  As I was glancing over the names, this hypothetical popped in my head: Even with all of these All-Americans, could Iowa State crack the top three best offenses in the Big 12 right now?

I would hope so, but the fact that there is even a question is startling.

And there is no break in the schedule.

The Cyclones next opponent, Texas Tech, just went on the road and thru three quarters dismantled the supposed best team in the conference, before holding on to win 41-38. The Red Raiders junior quarterback Seth Doege put up 441-yards passing against OU, this following his 461-yard performance the week prior against K-State. If Doege were at Iowa State, he would now have the first (461), 2nd (441), fifth (391) and eighth (366) highest passing yard performances in Cyclone history. And those four staggering performances came in the past four weeks.

I don’t envy you Wally Burnham. Doege’s two 400-yard games this year are more than the Big Ten, SEC and ACC schools combined. But trail Oklahoma’s Landry Jones’ three 400-yard games.

(Just for kicks:  Jones threw for 412-yards in the loss to Tech on Saturday. It was his 31st career start and his 19th career 300 yard passing game. Iowa State has had just twenty-eight 300 yard passing performances as a team in their 119 year football history. The Cyclones last 300-yard outing was against K-State in November of ’08.)

It used to be that if you scored 30 points, you were almost guaranteed a win. Now 40 is a must and even that is not assured.

There have been 19 conference games so far. The average point total for the victorious team is 44 points. A&M’s 33 points against the Cyclones on Saturday was the third lowest total for a winning squad in conference play this year. Only one team has won a conference game this season scoring under 30 points: K-State’s 24-17 win against Missouri. And if you are keeping track, Iowa State’s high point total in regulation this year is 26 against Baylor.

Statistically, it’s the best offense Paul Rhoads and Tom Herman have had at Iowa State. But in comparison, the Cyclones are driving a go-kart, while the rest of the conference has the top down, windows up in their Bentley. (Just channeling my inner Ludacris, don’t mind me.)

Heck even KU’s Jordan Webb  tossed a 300-yard game this year. Although that dude probably has the confidence of Mick Jagger in a room full of groupies after practicing against the Jayhawk D all week .

And the beat goes on.

Unlike Major League Baseball putting a humidor at Coors Field, there is not much opposing defenses can do to slow down the onslaught. Iowa State has been legitimately salty against the pass this year, trailing only Texas and Texas Tech in pass defense at under 230 yards per game. But if you put a finger in one dyke, expect a tsunami approaching from the other direction.

It’s not ground-breaking strategy, but the best way to slow the opposition down is to keep your offense on the field. And lately, the Cyclone offense just hasn’t been on the field enough. In the first three games of the season, Iowa State was a combined 31-61 on 3rd and 4th down conversions. That’s a stellar number. But in the four game losing streak, Iowa State is 25-for-78 on 3rd and 4th downs.

Against the Aggies, seven of Iowa State’s 15 drives were three and outs or worse.

Paul Rhoads said after the A&M game that they have to do a better job on 1st and 2nd downs to make the 3rd downs more manageable and thus stay on the field. The coaches realize this and will certainly do everything they can to rectify the situation.

The question some of you may be pondering is, how in the name of Bill Snyder is K-State undefeated despite being dead last in the league in total offense?

K-State has provided an interesting blueprint for how "less-potent" offenses can hang with the other high-powered attacks. They are winning the time of possession battle against Big 12 opponents by an average of 36 minutes to 24 minutes. Seventy percent of their offensive plays are running plays (Iowa State’s percentage is 51 percent pass/49 percent run.) They lead the league in fewest turnovers lost with seven total. They are also incredibly solid in special teams. The Wildcats kickoff return squad is 2nd in the nation at almost 30 yards a pop on returns. And they trail only Oklahoma in the conference in fewest penalty yards per game and net punting average. In essence, they do a masterful job of what every coach likes to say, "controlling what we can control."

It is a plausible assumption that Iowa State will rely more on the ground game in the coming weeks. I’m just not sure the Cyclones have the offensive weaponry to keep up with the rest of the conference pass for pass.  Iowa State has proven this old saying correct a few too many times, "Three things can happen when you throw the ball and two of them are bad." That’s where Jared Barnett comes in. His ability to run the zone-read play and also his effectiveness in straight run plays could be an advantage for the Cyclones. Whether it’s inexperience or injury, Steele Jantz’ running ability decreased exponentially once conference play hit. It goes without saying that the offensive line is a key component as well.

Regardless, Iowa State has to do something to keep up with the remarkable Big 12 blitzkrieg. It’s an astonishing display to view from afar. But not so fun to be stuck in the middle of it.