One thing I like to do when I review games is to take a look at some of the most pivotal plays on a detailed level. But not just the plays that everybody remembers, more, the plays that were the most important that most have already forgotten about. I try not to just separate out pivotal third or fourth down conversions or highlight whatever happened before the big play.
Football is a funny game where inches matter and when you consider how all of the intricacies from one facet to the next are connected, one inch on one play can affect a play way down the line and change the game. That is true even when those smaller plays are forgotten.
With that, here is a look at the “little” big plays against Kansas State this past Saturday.
- Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Wildcats had already put a strangle hold on the Cyclones and were looking to squeeze. With a 10-0 lead, KSU was driving and looking to go ahead by three scores. The Cyclones finally forced a third down at their 19 yard line and the Cats needed five yards to continue the drive. But, before the snap KSU was flagged for a crucial false start penalty that sent them back five yards and made the situation much less manageable. Jake Waters threw an incomplete pass and while K-State converted on their field goal, a 13-0 deficit seems exponentially smaller than a 17-0 deficit.
- On the ensuing drive, ISU’s offense finally started to click. They notched a first down for the first time in the game and had a fresh set of downs from their own 36 yard line. It was then that Sam Richardson handed off to DeVondrick Nealy for what looked to be a five yard loss, at least. But Nealy bursted to the outside and shucked an over pursuing linebacker and plowed forward violently for nine yards. That meant ISU, who had struggled to move the ball at all up to that first down, now faced a 2nd& 1 as opposed to a 2nd& 15. That’s a big deal. The mojo kept on and six plays later Richardson found Jarvis West for a touchdown.
- On the next Wildcat drive, KSU had already gotten a first down and made it to their 47 yard line. On the next play, Cory Morrissey registered a sack to send KSU back three yards. And on second down, Robby Garcia matched that sack putting K-State to 3rd & 15. After the incomplete pass on third down, KSU punted the ball away to an awaiting Jarvis West…
- Late in the second quarter, the Cyclones were sporting a 28-13 lead when KSU trudged down the field (with some controversy) and scored a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in the first half. Surprisingly, Bill Snyder elected to go for two extremely early when something really unique happened. K-State pitched right and appeared to have the angle before T.J. Mutcherson entered the picture. Glenn Gronkowski committed a hip toss to prevent the failed attempt. What’s interesting is that Snyder was then force to kick the extra point that was good. Had “Gronk IV” not have heinously held then the play likely would’ve been stonewalled and ISU would have a 28-19 lead. Perhaps the game would’ve played out the same way and KSU would’ve just kicked an extra point on their next touchdown instead of going for two and getting stuffed…but also, perhaps not.
- On the first drive of the second half for the Cyclones, ISU had a 2nd & 6 before they committed an illegal shift that put them to 2nd & 11. On the next play, Aaron Wimberly ran for 10 yards and was oh so close to converting a first down then and there. As it played out, the Cyclones would then fail to convert on 3rd & 1 as well as 4th & 1. That stymied a drive that could’ve kept things rolling for the offense.
- With five minutes remaining in the third quarter, K-State commenced on a drive that would ultimately last 16 plays, take 8:29 off the clock and chew up 66 yards. On the first four fresh set of downs the ISU defense would grind the Wildcat offense to a third down only to have Kansas State eventually convert. On the fifth third down, though, K-State needed to make ten yards. Waters completed a pass to DeMarcus Robinson when Jevohn Miller made a clutch tackle to force a 4th & 1. On the next play KSU went for it but the ISU defense stood tall and got the stop on their 31 yard line.
- This is more of a “little” thing on a big play but as K-State drove for the go ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining they faced a 3rd & 1 from the Cyclone eight yard line. At this point, ISU was out of timeouts and desperate for a stop. But Waters ran left and was clearly picking up the first down. The best thing for ISU here was that he took it all the way in for a touchdown. Had he only gained the first down KSU would’ve wasted clock and had a chip shot of a field goal for the victory. Waters hitting pay-dirt gave ISU a chance to answer.
- The last “little” play to mention is probably up for debate and sounds completely cynical, but as ISU tried to salvage the game on two separate occasions they spiked the ball on first down. While that would seem entirely necessary, at the time I half-yelled, “we need that down.” The third down pass went through Jarvis West’s hands and could’ve negated all of this but it happened and ISU eventually ran out of downs.
All in all, the Iowa State football program and fan base has moved well past the concept of celebrating losses. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that I can’t rationally acknowledge how well they played and how close they were to wrapping things up. The offense had countless opportunities to cinch up the victory in the second half but never could. Eventually the young defense was going to relent, and they did.
The offense moved the ball reasonably well in the second half and avoided any three and out situations, but the entirety of the offensive scoring production occurred in a 15 minute stretch of the game clock from the end of the first quarter to the end of the second quarter; too similar to the performance against North Dakota State.
Had the offense converted on a couple of third and short situations, we would’ve seen one hell of a nice turnaround from week one to week two. Add to that the defense grinding and grinding to do almost enough with little help from the offense in the second half and I am encouraged.
If the Cyclones play the next 10 games like that, we’ll be happy far more often than we would’ve imagined after that week one result. The main question I think we all have to wonder about, “is Kansas State really a top 25 team?” Either way, performances like that will put the Cyclones in position to win some games this year.