Precise execution the key to reigniting ISU’s struggling offense

Nov 4, 2017; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Reese Donahue (46) tackles Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) during the first quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — ISU’s defense continues to shine when it matters most.

The offense? It’s obviously hit a snag.

So solving “execution” issues on that side of the ball beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 12 Oklahoma State (7-2, 4-2) stands paramount in terms of aiding the 24th-ranked Cyclones’ hopes of closing out the Big 12 season with a bang.

ISU (6-3, 4-2) managed to eke out just one touchdown for the second consecutive week in Saturday’s 20-16 loss at No. 23 West Virginia — and settled for a pair of field goals after driving to the Mountaineers’ seven and one-yard lines during a second-half comeback attempt that barely fell short.

“It was all detail,” said Cyclones coach Matt Campbell, whose team saw its four-game win streak snapped. “Really, we had five plays inside the nine-yard line — six plays — and two of them were awesome. What you want to do is get the ball down to the one, on the one. You get the other one, you score a touchdown and then the other four are just a lack of execution, is really what it is. I mean, they’re home runs, they’re touchdowns, or they’re walk-in one way or the other and you just didn’t execute. So I think when that happened you’ve got to go back, and number one, it falls on us, because we’re the teacher and we’ve got to continue to teach better. And then, number two, we’ve got to execute better.”

ISU’s struggling most in the running game. The Cyclones rank last in Big 12 games only, averaging just 93.2 rushing yards in six games.

Now, the fact that four of those games have ended with raised arms and fist pumps and two landmark top-five upsets for ISU says a lot about the team’s tremendous effort and discipline — as well as its stingy defense that’s held all six league foes at least 11 points below their respective scoring averages.

But it also puts the spotlight on overdue offensive improvement, that as Campbell said, hinges on near-perfect execution from drive-to-drive and game-to-game.

“It really is execution,” Campbell reiterated. “I think you’re so close and when it is detail-oriented, it’s just got to be the ability to kind of get back to that. I think that’s the great thing about it. There’s really nothing more than that and we’ve got guys that can make plays and we’ve had some ability to make some plays and we didn’t. We’ve made some of those plays, but some of them were just a lack of execution in some critical situations that if you just do the right thing across the board, it’s going to have a different result.”

A better throw ball here, a more sure-handed catch there. One more block executed — by a lineman or receiver. The margin for error, as Campbell has repeatedly noted, is razor-thin and stern defense alone won’t keep ISU’s stunning rise from also-ran to contender on an upward tilt.

“It’s kind of who we are,” Campbell said. “We’re going to play games like that that are going to be really tight and they’re going to be possessional games that are going to come down to your ability to do it and that’s why we’ve won, to be honest with you — because we’ve made some of those plays more than the other team has. But obviously it was a great teaching tool on why we didn’t win this past Saturday, was the same reason on the flip side of it.”


Starting right guard Josh Knipfel sustained an ankle injury Saturday in Morgantown, but Campbell expects him to be good to go this week.

“Josh certainly was able to move around pretty good (Sunday),” Campbell said. “He was able to go back in the game last Saturday, which was good. Josh is a really tough young man. I think you’d almost have to cut his ankle off not to play. He’s kind of one of those guys. But it was an ankle injury. I think he’ll be able to rock and roll, but I’ll know probably better by Tuesday and Wednesday. He was at least moving around decently (on Sunday).”

Campbell confirmed that right tackle Bryce Meeker remains out indefinitely after injuring his knee in the TCU win, but reiterated he could be back at some point this season.


True freshman Jacob Bolton has risen to No. 2 at right tackle on ISU’s depth chart. Why? Injuries are a contributing factor. So is his performance.

“Jacob’s really talented,” Campbell said of the 6-5, 325-pounder from Roswell, Ga. He’s one of the guys that we thought coming into it — high-end talent. His maturity over the last six to eight weeks of getting better and really taking this redshirt freshman year and growing — that’s hard because you’re the redshirt guy and I think sometimes when you know you’re redshirting it’s really hard to get better because your mindset flips from ‘I’m on the scout team every day,’ to, ‘How do I perfect my craft?’ A lot of credit to Jacob, he’s mature enough to come every day and work to get better. He’s improved. I think in the best-case scenario I would certainly love to redshirt Jacob the rest of the way out, but we’re getting close to that number game where there may not be an option. So to his credit, he’s gotten there.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.