Blum: Avoid Regret

"We know what we want to do. We’re going to run the football. We think we need to be a run first football team."

The preceding statement was said by Paul Rhoads at Iowa State’s Media Day in early August. Half way into the season, Iowa State is 85th in the country in rushing offense at just over 140 yards per game. A perceived strength of the Cyclone attack has been thwarted by the opposition.

In the Kansas State loss, the Cyclone ground game accounted for just 65 yards on 24 carries. The longest run of the game for the cardinal and gold was Jeff Woody’s 11-yard bull-in-a-china-shop 4th down conversion in the 1st quarter. K-State owned the ever-important battle up-front and in turn came out the victor on the scoreboard.

In Rhoads’ tenure manning the Iowa State sideline, there have been some consistent indicators for success:

1. The Jack Bauer Rule — Iowa State is 19-1 when opponents score under 24 points against Rhoads coached teams.

2. The Mark Mangino inspired Baker’s Dozen — GET IN MY BELLY! Iowa State is 12-2 when they win the turnover battle with Rhoads on the sideline. And haven’t lost a game in two years when they’ve had the turnover advantage. 

3. Not running, not winning — After this week’s effort against K-State, the Cyclones are now 0-6 under Rhoads when they don’t rush for 100 yards or more.  

Success on the ground equaling success in the win column is not a revolutionary idea at Iowa State. The Cyclones are zero for their last 16 when running for 100 yards or less and 4-31 in the last decade when they don’t reach the century mark.

During his Monday press conference this week, Rhoads emphasized the need to be more successful running the ball while literally banging his fists on the table, "Our offensive staff thoroughly understands that and our football team understands that,” Rhoads said. “I am not a (bangs fist on the desk) you got to run the ball guy. But (bangs fist on the desk) you got to run the ball.”

It has to be especially irritating to the coaching staff when the defense has been good enough to keep Iowa State in striking distance in every game.  

History has an unfortunate way of repeating itself. I have heard time and again that the 2012 Cyclone defense is the best defensive unit to take the Jack Trice Stadium field since the 2005 squad.

Check this out:

Team A’s defense: Allowed 19.1 points, 345 yards and held teams to 3.0 yards per carry.

Team B’s defense: Allowed 17.6 points, 343 yards and held teams to 3.3 yards per carry.

Team A = 2005 Iowa State  B = 2012 Iowa State. Creepy.

The 2005 squad finished a respectable 7-5, but I will go to my grave convinced that they could have won 10 games. The ’05 defense also forced an incomprehensible 35 turnovers. Only two teams finished in the top 20 in rush defense and turnovers gained that year: Florida and Iowa State.

What held back Dan McCarney’s squad from turning the corner that year? They couldn’t grind out first downs when it mattered most. Iowa State finished 96th nationally in rush offense at 110 yards per game. In their final regular season game of the year at Kansas, Iowa State led 21-14 with 2:53 on the clock. The Cyclones had just forced the Jayhawks to turn the ball over on downs. One first down would have iced away the Big 12 North and likely sent the Cyclones to the Holiday Bowl. Instead, the Cyclones got stuffed twice at the line of scrimmage, threw an incomplete pass, took only 50 seconds off the clock, punted the ball away and…I’m starting to get queasy again.

The ’05 team would also turn the ball over at the most inopportune times (sound familiar)? In a home game against Baylor, Cyclone running back Greg Coleman had a controversial fumble at the goal-line that would have salted the game away. Instead, the Bears recovered, drove down the field, scored a touchdown and never looked back. The win was Baylor’s first ever road win in their Big 12 history — 10 years after the conference started.

That game also led to one of my more regrettable journalistic decisions. I wrote this line in a column for the Iowa State Daily the week after the Baylor loss: "How do you keep Greg Coleman off your Homecoming lawn display? Put up goal-posts."

I was young and dumb. It was an awful joke that actually got worse when I ran into Mr. Coleman the following week underneath the stadium at Mizzou, "Hey, you’re that guy who wrote that thing in the paper, right?" Coleman said. "Uhhhh…." I uttered in extreme fear while looking for the closest exit. "Real funny man, real funny," Coleman said. To this day, I don’t know if he was serious or not, but I had more fear in that moment than if I were to sky-dive from 24 miles above the ground like that German dude did this week.

Point is, with a more competent running game, the Cyclones were a few 1st downs and costly turnovers from rewriting Iowa State football history.

In their five losses in 2005, the Cyclones averaged a paltry 83 yards on the ground. This season, in Iowa State’s two losses, the Cyclones are averaging an equally concerning 90 yards rushing. Both teams were/are last in the conference in yards per carry. The same "what if" questions are starting to fester among the fan-base. The "we are so close to being undefeated" vernacular is eerily reminiscent as well.

Iowa State has already played the top three rush defenses in the Big 12. Theoretically there is nowhere to go up. Shontrelle Johnson is too electric to continue to be held in check — "the rabbit" will eventually bust free. And Jeff Woody appears to finally be at full strength. Not having James White is a huge detriment to the offense, but part of building a program is picking up the pieces and putting the puzzle back together.

It has been eleven long years since a Cyclone running back went over the 200 yard mark in a game. Now is as good of time as any to end that skid and run the rock.

The great news is we are only halfway through this year’s chapter of Cyclone football. The best way to avoid regret is to change the future.