Some of the Cyclone Fanatics may know this about me and some may not. I am a guy who really likes school. Well, the subjects that are interesting. The other subjects were like pulling teeth. Football and science are interchangeably cool in my book. I couldn’t get a job teaching football, so I got a job teaching science at Des Moines Area Community College as an adjunct professor. And as a professor and student, I have seen a few students who remind me of this ISU team.
In the immortal words of Denny Green, "They are who we thought they were." Except we had no idea who they would be. We still don’t, really, but that phrase sort of encapsulates the view of this team. We, as fans, didn’t really know what to expect from Paul Rhoads’ team coming into 2015. They had totally overhauled the defense with junior college recruits and redshirt defenders who are now eligible to play. The offense returned a bunch of starters, including the quarterback and all of the wide receivers, but lost two NFL talents in Tom Farniok and E.J. Bibbs, and didn’t return a running back with more career carries than what Shock Linwood averages in one game. So how have they done so far?
Special Teams: B
There’s always one student in class who has hardcore ADHD. The kind of ADHD that makes him not only difficult to have in class, but hard to talk to out of class. However, that kid usually has a really high academic ceiling, it’s just a matter of getting him to apply it in the right avenue. During class, he doesn’t really pay attention and doesn’t actively participate. Come grading time, he is absolutely excelling in one portion, writing papers, and lagging behind in the other, testing. On the papers, they are all good, and a few of them are almost good enough to get published. That’s the high level of performance this student is having. But in another area, when there is no other way around taking the test, there is no free space to roam, no ability to feel out the direction of something, no wiggle room. When the time to answer a set of right-or-wrong answers arises, this type of student panics. They can’t execute the task at hand. That’s not to say they won’t get it together and learn how to take a test, but they have yet to do so.
The special teams unit has been either very good or very bad. The punt return team has already scored a punt return touchdown, and are in the top half of the NCAA in average yards per return. The punting unit has successfully downed numerous punts inside the 20, helping the defense with great field position. The kickoff cover team has been excellent. However, there have been some serious warts. The punt return allowed to Desmond King in the Iowa game set up the go-ahead touchdown. The missed field goals have been costly in each game, with none more so than the Toledo potential game-winner. This unit has a high ceiling, especially if Cole can get himself back on track.
In class, there is a guy who thought he was hot stuff when he got to college. He didn’t study in high school because he was smart enough to ace all his classes without trying so everyone told him how smart he was. When he got to his first test at the University, he got slammed with how tough it was, but managed to scrape out a B. He took that as a win, didn’t change, and got pummeled by the next test. Realizing he now had to study hard, he put his nose to the grindstone to write a paper for class, and nailed the content. But in nailing the content, he wrote sentences like, “What your looking at when u look at a cell is, a tremendous diversity, of functionality: driven by DNA!” The heart of the message was there. He got that right. Great job. But fella, that is hard to read. Simple, easily correctable mistakes cost him a grade.
The ISU offense has all the pieces to be an extremely potent offense. They have shown glimpses of what they could be, but always seem to regress into what they currently are. At times, the running game is clicking, but then a holding call backs up a drive, they have to drop back to pass, get sacked, and now they’re 2nd and 26 instead of 2nd and 3. The encouraging news coming out of the non-conference schedule is the heart of the content that they delivered. They ran the ball consistently and effectively in the Toledo game. They had big plays when they needed them, and they showed a huge amount of guts coming back from a deficit. But this increase in effectiveness can’t be burdened by continuous, small mistakes. The production must match who they should be, not who they are.
Whenever you see a person whose major is construction management in a physiology class, you assume they are going to struggle a bit. You know they are capable of learning, because construction management is a tough curriculum, but it’s so wholly different than sciences. That guy strolls into your class with dirty boots, well-worn jeans, and a canvas vest that has seen better days. He’s got stubble that is working on becoming a beard and doesn’t really say much. Introduces himself politely to the professor and sits in the back of the classroom. After the conclusion of the first few weeks of classes, prior to the first test, he comes into the professor’s office and sits down. The professor thinks, “You probably should’ve come in here sooner. The test is in two days. If you don’t get it, you’ll need more time to learn,” not knowing what to expect. The student then says, “I’ve been studying for about two hours per day and doing practice questions online twice a week. I understand the establishment of the resting membrane potential of the neuron being caused by the permeability of the cell membrane to potassium ions and impermeability to sodium, but am really struggling to understand at the terminal end of the axon how calcium’s rapid influx is specifically related to neurotransmitter release. Can you help me with that?” WHOA. Completely exceeded the professor’s expectations. He didn’t know any of this coming into the class, but worked his butt off to learn the material. The next few tests, he crushes them, only slipping up slightly on the most difficult of material. After not knowing what to expect, he has done extremely well in this class.
The defense consisted of a bunch of unknowns coming into the year. We knew guys had talent and we knew there were guys coming back who were very good players and had the potential to be good leaders, like Levi Peters and Kamari Cotton-Moya. We just didn’t know if that retooling would take hold and be effective, and boy has it. The new 3-4 implemented by the coaching staff has freed up the linebackers to run around and make plays. Those linebackers are taking advantage of that space and making tackles, sacks, and PBU’s. The secondary has proven to be as physical as you could hope for, causing dropped passes based on the fear of contact and defenders being in the right spot. This unit has exceeded the very gray expectations that were set for them to start the year.
Overall grade: B-
The whole team has been good, not great. They have missed some huge opportunities to get the season off to a stellar start. There is a great opportunity Saturday to start an upward trajectory. They just have to make sure all of their studying is going to pay off.
Let’s hope this Saturday they can honor ROLL the Jayhawks. I’m sorry. I’ll go sit in the corner. Go State.