enCYCLONEpedia: Burnham’s Boys

By Kirk Haaland, Contributor

As background, some of the stats that will follow are based on percentage of opportunities instead of raw numbers in an effort to level the playing field.  The “percentage of potential yards” is based on the most possible yards an offense can gain in a given game by figuring the total number of yards that could be gained based on starting field position and scoring a touchdown on every drive.

For complete conference roundup stats each week as well as a myriad of other Iowa State Cyclones content, check out

There seems to have been a sentiment starting Saturday night and overflowing into the start of the week that the ISU defense “struggled” against Baylor on Saturday.  While it sounds strange, the Cyclone defense actually performed quite well, even though they gave up 42 points to Baylor’s offense.

The Baylor offense is as potent as they come, in the nation and the Big 12.  The big play has been the catalyst for their offensive explosions, especially through the air.  On Saturday, their longest play from scrimmage was a 25-yard completion and their longest gainer on the ground was a 22-yard scamper by Terrence Ganaway.  The Cyclone defense effectively kept everything in front of them and forced Baylor to drive the ball in chunks at a time.  In every previous game for Baylor on the season, they had at least one play go for 40-plus yards (60-plus yards in three of the previous four games).

The Bears quickest scoring drive of the night occurred three times with seven plays to the endzone; drives in length of 58, 50 and 74 yards. In their past two games alone, the Bears scored touchdowns on drives of less than seven plays on six of their 11 touchdown drives.

The Cyclones tallied three sacks while holding Robert Griffin to a season low passing yardage of 212 yards.  Griffin also compiled his lowest quarterback rating on the season with 143.7 — his next lowest was 214.7 against Kansas State. This was also the lowest output of touchdown passes in a game for Griffin, with just one.  In his other four games he had five touchdown passes on three occasions and three touchdown passes in the other (in a game against Stephen F. Austin that was called after three quarters of play due to weather).

Prior to the contest with the Cyclones, Baylor was averaging an astronomical 8.3 yards per play.  In their game against Iowa State, Baylor racked up an average of 6.2 yards per play.  Still a huge number, but it is inflated and skewed with such a potent offense.

Here is further proof as to how I reached the conclusion that the Cyclone defense played very well:

It can be argued that Kansas State has the second best defense in the league.  They are second in points allowed per drive, second in percentage of drives that allow points, third in percentage of drives that allow touchdowns, third in the total percentage of potential yards allowed, all while being fifth most successful team in forcing turnovers — meaning they aren’t necessarily achieving their strong numbers with “smoke and mirrors”.

Now, compare the numbers of the Kansas State defense when they played Baylor just over a week ago versus the numbers of the Iowa State defense against the Bears:

stats 550x73

By and large, many of those defensive numbers are very similar or favoring the ISU defense.  Now consider that Kansas State played them at home while Iowa State traveled to Waco for their game.

The fumble return for a touchdown by Baylor was a back breaker for the Cyclones on Saturday.  Not to play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game because the game was played on the field, but if the Cyclones scored there and can conjure up another turnover along the way somewhere over the course of the game, that game likely would have gone down to the wire.

It isn’t often you can say that the defense played well enough to win when they give up 42 points, but that statement is appropriate in this instance.

Another week in the Big 12 and another spread attack will be waiting ISU on a road trip to Columbia to play Missouri.  Can the defense again play well enough to give the offense a chance to win the game?  If so, can they offense make the plays to put points on the board?  It will be tough, but it may be necessary if ISU is to make a bowl game…otherwise opportunities will be rapidly diminishing to reach six wins.