Williams: Back to basics

AMES — When a program hits a low, low, finger pointing is unavoidable. Fans do it. The media does it. While it won’t ever be publicly acknowledged, my guess is that some student-athletes within the Iowa State football program have done it a time or two over the past couple of weeks. It is human nature for one person to blame another when things go wrong. This is how how we are all wired. 

So if finger pointing after Iowa State’s recent 58-27 loss to Oklahoma State is your thing, then consider this – you don’t have enough appendages to cover all of the misses so quit trying.

Is Iowa State is young? Yes.

Are the Cyclones are beat up (to start the second half on Saturday, ISU was missing seven starters). Uh huh.   

I can respect both of those fact (not excuses). 

Unfortunately though, the most glaring problem that faced this program on Saturday was its failure to execute basic football plays. From missed blocks to missed throws (easy ones) to missed assignments (defensively) and penalties (across the board), the Cyclones did it all against the Cowboys. 

David didn’t slay Goliath because he was undisciplined.

Iowa State has to win by being smarter than the other guy, which was anything but the case on Saturday afternoon.

If I had a dollar for every missed tackle and/or assignment, I’d be driving a shiny, new, tricked out Wilson Toyota Tundra instead of a used Tacoma. Against a backup quarterback who completed only 10-of-26 passes (Clint Chelf), Iowa State somehow gave up 342 yards on the ground to a Cowboy team that has struggled to run the football all season long. 

The Cyclones lost the turnover battle 3-1 (two of those turnovers led to defensive touchdowns by Oklahoma State), just one week after losing it 3-0 to Baylor. For you non-Math majors out there, that is a 6-1 deficit, which ultimately led to being outscored 129-34 in a two-week span.

The above is a recipe for disaster, not victory in the mighty Big 12.

The stat that really stings though is Iowa State’s 10 penalties for 72 yards. This comes from the team that was one of the least penalized teams in the league a month ago. 

To sum things up, Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and still led the Cyclones in rushing with 78 yards. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State became the third team in a row to gash the Cyclones for 250 rushing yards.

There are multiple reasons as to why Iowa State is 1-6, but it all starts up front folks. If you can’t run the ball, you can’t stop the run, you turn the ball over and you commit 10 penalties, you aren’t going to win many football games.

A point that has to be made…

This isn’t an excuse. It is a fact. Below is a list of players who were injured and could not play in the second half for Iowa State against the Cowboys.  

Starting QB: Sam Richardson
Starting RB: Aaron Wimberly
Starting LT: Jacob Gannon
Starting TE: E.J. Bibbs
Starting WR: Jarvis West 
Backup OT: Kyle Lichtenberg
Backup TE: Ben Boesen
Starting LB: Luke Knott

Correction from earlier: Defensive end Willie Scott missed Saturday’s game due to a violation of team rules, not injury. 

What is wrong with Iowa State’s defense?

Obviously, missed tackles are a major issue. But the bigger problem is guys totally whiffing on their assignments. Saturday’s rush defense performance was eerily similar to that of the UNI game. Without singlehandedly throwing Jevohn Miller under the bus (this is a team deal, not one guy), missing Luke Knott (injury) hurt more than most people understand. In fact, I think that an argument can be made that he has been the most consistent player on Iowa State’s defense all season long. 

And that is the thing about Wally Burnham’s system that has worked for the past four seasons. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to have success within it. You need guys who are in the right spot at the right time and execute the basic ability to tackle. A lot of those long runs that you saw Oklahoma State rip open on Saturday were the results basic missed assignments by the defensive line and linebackers, not missed tackles. 

If Iowa State doesn’t clean that up in a week, Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats will look like the 1997 Nebraska Cornhuskers next Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

What now?

Iowa State is 0-4 against the best four teams in the Big 12. While that it isn’t a necessarily a positive, it’s also a sign that things should get easier in the coming weeks for an Iowa State program in desperate need of a win.

For more details on Saturday’s loss, CLICK HERE to check Ian Smith’s recap.