Oct 6, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) celebrates with teammates after the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
In case you didn’t know, it is federal law to offer up “midterm evaluations” for your favorite college football team when you reach the halfway point of their regular season and it happens to be a bye week. So, here we are.
No formal grades will be dished out but I will share some key stats complements of cfbanalytics.com
1.26 – When it comes to points, it was a slow start out of the blocks for the Cyclone offense as they largely sputtered against Iowa, Akron, and TCU by amassing just 43 points in those three games for an average of 14.3 points per game and just 1.26 points per possession.
While the Iowa and TCU defense offer strong opposition that is still below the average of what they are allowing in terms of raw points for the entire season.
That said, the offense showed flashes of big play ability versus Oklahoma but has really started to boom the last two weeks by notching 48 points (46 by the offense) at Oklahoma State and 30 points (28 by the offense) versus West Virginia. In those two games they Cyclones scored an average of 2.6 points per possession (the FBS average is 2.15).
Much of that recent success can be attributed to the emergence of Brock Purdy and his ability to be a run threat and accuracy through the air—especially on the deep passes.
7.9 – Those deep passes are reflecting more than ever for the Iowa State offense in the big play department where they average a gain of 15 yards or more on 7.9 percent of all offensive plays, the 40th best in FBS. That isn’t an eye-popping number but it is outside of normal for ISU offenses of recent history.
Iowa State is also scoring a touchdown of 20 or more yards on 12 percent of all possessions, the 29th most.
5.0 – Another area of big improvement in the last few weeks has been Iowa State’s ability to convert trips to the red zone into points on the scoreboard. Early in the season the offense often had to settle for field goals and was averaging just 3.89 points per red zone trip prior to the TCU game which was 124th in FBS at the time. Now for the entire season they are up to five points per trip which is 69th best (NICE!). That is not extremely impressive but it is a marked improvement over the first three games of the season.
That is most of the noteworthy good news for the Cyclone offense. You can also look at positives like their general lack of fumbling (fumbling once every 64 plays, 45th) or turning the ball over on 10.7 percent of possessions (64th) but they are also averaging nearly eight yards per pass attempt which is 49th in FBS.
This is going to sound kind of weird for us Iowa State fans but this defense closing in on a borderline GREAT defense across the board nationally. That is especially true when you adjust some of their stats for the strength of competition that they have faced already.
When it comes to giving up yards, the defense is adequate in one phase, good in a second phase, and elite in another which adds up to a salty defense with yards allowed.
The adequate: They are giving up a play of 15 or more yards on six percent of all plays, 52nd.
The good: They are largely keeping offenses behind the chains as 63 percent of opponent snaps are on standard downs, not passing downs. What this means is that 37 percent of the time opponents are facing 2nd & 8+ or 3rd & 5+ yards to go, which is the 15th best rate in FBS.
The elite: The Cyclone defense is forcing a loss of yardage on 14.6 percent of all snaps, the third highest rate in the country.
1.76 – Currently the Cyclone defense is giving up just 1.76 points per possession after being adjusted for strength of opponent offenses played.
36.6 – You put those three facets together and Iowa State is giving up just 36.6 percent of available yards to opposing offenses. This number is total yards gained over possible yards offenses can accumulate based on field position and if they scored a touchdown on every possession. That puts them at the 33rd best in the country.
4.53 – Related to but on top of all of that, the defense is sacking the opposing quarterback once every 9.15 pass attempts (5th) and holding opponents to 2.95 adjusted yards per rush (adjusted for the strength of opponent rushing offense) which is the 6th best in the country. Further, the ISU defense is allowing just 4.53 adjusted yards per play which is the 8th best in the country.
In all of this, one thing that I find to be interesting and extremely encouraging is that while the defense is gathering some turnovers (on 10.4 percent of possessions), they are just 80th in the country in that department. Their success is not built on smoke and mirrors or turnover “luck” to save them after giving up yardage. They’re just really good.
On a completely different note
For the vast majority of my life, opponents have feared the trip to Ames because they have always known that leaving with a loss was not just possible, but likely. No matter their ranking and no matter how the Cyclones had been performing for the previous number of games that season, Iowa State was capable of jumping up and beating any team in the country.
Yes I’m saying that with a straight face. It’s just that I’m talking about the building north of South 4th Street and not the stadium just to the south of it.
Cyclone fans have clamored for years and years and years about the possibility of the football program being a sleeping giant because of what the fan base provides. There have been major valleys for this program in the past and even positive blips in performance, but rarely has there been sustained success in Ames.
Full disclosure, this program still isn’t there and is in the process of evolving but never in my lifetime has it been more setup for long term success on the heels of short-term wins. Most notably is the fact that so many key contributions are coming from underclassmen, as outlined by Brent Blum last week.
I’m not trying to inflate the current resume that amounts to going 11-8 in their last 19 games with a Liberty Bowl victory because there is still so much room for growth. But since the start of last season, they have been in every game with great chances to win and toppled five ranked opponents. But perhaps most important to me is that they won the games that were in big spots at home like TCU and West Virginia.
They needed wins against tough opponents and they went out and got them. That is a massive change from the past successful Iowa State football teams and something we’re more used to seeing less than a half mile to the north. It may not be long before the transformation of Jack Trice Stadium is complete and regarded in a way more similar to Hilton Coliseum than not.
After all, it isn’t the arena or stadium that creates the environment. It is the fans.