AMES — Huddle up.
Iowa State’s coordinators Wally Burnham and Mark Mangino provided midseason appraisals of their respective units Tuesday and the consensus grade was “incomplete.”
The Cyclones stand 2-4 and seek their first Big 12 win in four tries this season at 7 p.m. Saturday in Austin, Texas.
“Well, not very happy as far as wins and losses,” said Burnham, whose defense will seek to corral a Texas offense that showed signs of life in a 31-26 loss last weekend to Red River rival Oklahoma. “It’s our job, no matter what the score is, to keep them below what we can score offensively. So we haven’t done that four times, we’ve done it twice.”
Progress is one thing. Results on the scoreboard, another. There’s been plenty of the former, both coaches said. But for favorable numbers to consistently form on the latter, incremental improvements aren’t enough.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” said Mangino, whose offense racked up season highs in yards (454) and points (37) in Saturday’s win over Toledo. “I’m not going to dance around that.”
Both coordinators praised their players’ collective efforts — in practice and on Saturdays. They’re trying, but so far that hasn’t led to much winning. So what must change? Lots of things.
“I want to see us improve on our tackling, and I’m talking about physical tackling,” said Burnham, whose defense ranks 96th in points allowed at 33.2 per game. “I’m not talking about just getting someone on the ground. I’m talking about — you watch the Oklahoma kids tackle. They tackle. they don’t just get people on the ground. I’d like to see that come around and I’d like to see us create a little bit more confusion with pass rush and blitzes and things like that. We’ve kind of understood since last spring it’s what we’re going to do. Sometimes it’s impossible because of formations and down and distance and things like that, but I’ll guarantee you we’ve already blitzed more this year than we have the last two years. So we’ve go to improve in those areas.”
“We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage a little bit better," Burnham added. "Our defensive front four has got to do more. Our linebackers have got to do more in stopping the run. Our secondary — we use our safeties a lot in stopping the run, so they’ve got to get better in what they’re doing to do that. We’ve got to make people one-dimensional, then the next thing is third down. Especially third and medium and third and long. We’re not even close to what we need to be there.”
Opponents are converting 47.4 of their third downs against ISU.
A glimmer of hope emerged in the second half against Toledo, where the Cyclone defense prevented six of seven third downs from becoming another set of downs.
“We made some adjustments that were really effective and our kids took it to the field,” Burnham said. “So they’re still growing in all those kinds of things. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Much like Burnham’s.
“I act like I have patience,” said Mangino, whose offense sits 110th in FBS in yards per game at 337.3. “I’d always like to be better than we are. But I’ve said that when I was with teams that are 12-1 or 13-0 — I thought we could be better. But we can be better. And we will be.”
Mangino echoed ISU coach Paul Rhoads in noting that an up-tempo offense will be deployed at times.
“It’s a tool at our disposal,” he said.
That tool carved up Toledo’s defense in the second half Saturday, but recent offensive woes were on full display before halftime.
Most notably, three promising drives yielded just three Cole Netten field goals.
And while Netten’s performance did make him a co-Lou Groza Award star of the week, three points must become seven much more frequently if the Cyclones are to make a second-half push up the conference standings.
“The last two weeks we had some opportunities in the red zone and walked away with three points and that’s unacceptable,” said Mangino, who also cited the running game as an area sorely in need to improvement.
So, “incomplete” it is, while optimism for achieving a solid final grade remains.
“Every game in this league is a national stage and a great opportunity,” Rhoads said. “You’re talking about a league that has half its football teams in the top 15 in the country. Half of its football teams are in the top 15 in the country. That’s a pretty impressive number, so every week is a great opportunity.”