By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com ColumnistFollow Brent on Twitter @BrentBlum
To quote the modern-day philosophers Bruno Mars and Lil Wayne, "Mirror on the wall, here we go again." To think a mere 18 days ago, Iowa State was 3-0 and riding high on a momentum wave that would have taken them into the top 25. And now the Cyclones are in serious need of some self-examination after dropping their last three by an average of four touchdowns. And there is no respite in sight.
It is an all-too familiar story in Cyclone football history. Promising beginnings seemingly overwhelmed by the time any of the design majors can break out their finest Halloween costumes on Welch Avenue.
The last two weeks played back like reincarnations of Cyclone efforts from the ’90’s. The opposition galloping through canyons of Iowa State defenders. Tackles being shed from all angles and safeties hanging on for dear life.
Iowa State has allowed 685 rushing yards the past two games. The worst two game stretch by the Cyclones since 1997. Average yards per carry has jumped from a respectable and middle-of-the-pack 3.70 yards during the first four games to a Kansas Jayhawk-esque 6.0 yards over the last two.
Steele Jantz, in his best Todd Doxzon and Todd Bandhauer impression, trying to avoid oncoming rushers admirably, yet unsuccessfully. After allowing just four sacks in the first three games, the Cyclones have given up twelve in the past three.
And the kicking woes. We don’t even have to mention those – I’ve had enough Mike McKnight flash-backs the past few weeks.
If Iowa State busts out the helmet car, hot tub and the Jock Jams at the A&M game Saturday I will definitely think someone has accidentally pressed the time-machine button. (Yes, Iowa State once had a an actual hot tub they auctioned off for people to sit in during games. It was placed near the south endzone. Since I was a teenager at the time, I was always envious of the people in that hot tub, but always wondered how they would pack for the occasion? What happens if the hot tub goers had to use the john? Did they clean that thing between games? These questions may never be answered).
The missed tackles and gaping holes on defense are easy to spot, but the offensive problems are a bit more complex. And just as problematic.
In the first 40 minutes of the Missouri game (the part of the game where the outcome was still in question), Iowa State ran 16 plays on first down. They gained 16 yards total in those 16 plays. Ten of the 16 plays went for no gain or for a loss of yardage. That’s not very good. Steele Jantz could have fallen forward each play and the Cyclones would have been better off.
As Tom Herman has been known to say, "First down is the most important down."
Playing behind the sticks essentially every drive makes finding the endzone a difficult proposition.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Missouri ran 36 first down plays in that same period. They gained a remarkable 365 yards.
This is what one of their drives looked like in the third quarter (trust me it was more painful in person):
MISSOURI drive start at 07:07.
1-10 MU 12 Josey, Henry rush for 16 yards to the MU28, 1ST DOWN MU.
1-10 MU 28 Franklin, James rush for 12 yards to the MU40, 1ST DOWN MU.
1-10 MU 40 Franklin, James pass complete to Washington, L’D for 29 yards to the ISU31, 1ST DOWN MU.
1-10 ISU 31 Franklin, James pass complete to Egnew, Michael for 28 yards to the ISU3, 1ST DOWN MU.
1-G ISU 03 Josey, Henry rush for 2 yards to the ISU1
2-G ISU 01 Franklin, James rush for 1 yard to the ISU0, TOUCHDOWN, clock 05:01.
Six plays, 84 yards in 2:06. Everything but the touchdown was a first down play. Yikes.
They couldn’t be stopped.
(That said, the Tigers first down performance finished second in the most impressive performance of the day rankings in Columbia. First place went to an extremely obese man I saw at the Columbia Denny’s the morning of the game. This portly fella had a Denny’s slugging percentage that would make him a 1st ballot hall-of-famer. He inhaled the All-American Slam, the French Toast Slam and the Lumberjack slam in the 35 minutes I was in attendance. It was a 12 RBI morning for that dude. I struggled to get down the ‘Moons over my Hammy Omelette’; it was a sign of the dominance to come).
The last three weeks have not been kind to the Cardinal and Gold, but the season is not a lost cause. It’s time to look in that mirror that Mr. Wayne and Mr. Mars talked about. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
These 19 seniors are halfway through their final season at Iowa State. Six games to help decide what their legacies are going to be.
When most of these men committed to play for Iowa State, they knew it was going to be a challenge. The easy way would have been to go to a Mountain West or Sun Belt school and fester in relative obscurity. They took the hard route, coming to Ames to make the Cyclones relevant again. To compete against the best.
Paul Rhoads has proven time and time again that his Cyclones thrive when in the underdog role. Well, here we are again.
The same can be said for the fan-base. The negativity is starting to creep in and the bandwagon brigade has found their way back east to the school in Iowa City. The same questions always seem to arise as the Cyclones try to climb back out of the valley of insignificance: "Can we really compete in this conference? Will we ever get to prominence? Why do we do this to ourselves every year?"
It’s a common reaction. But the Cyclone Nation has to look in the same mirror. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
As odd as it sounds, games like Saturday’s are my favorite as an Iowa State fan. It is easy to find the motivation to go see an undefeated Iowa State team play Texas, but nobody outside of Story County thinks Iowa State has a chance to beat the Aggies. We only have three more trips this fall to see these ‘fellas battle the nation’s best in our back-yard. Don’t give up now.
It’s like a throw-back to the astro-turf and hot-tub days of Jack Trice. The same reason all of us showed up back then remains true today. The celebration is always sweeter when it is unexpected. Loyal sons forever true.