MONDAY MUSINGS: Let’s talk about depth, baby

Oct 12, 2019; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive end Zach Petersen (55) celebrates after tackling West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Jack Allison (11) for a sack during the third quarter at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Breece Hall Breakout Game.” 

That’s the way Iowa State’s 38-14 rout of West Virginia on Saturday will be remembered by most and I don’t blame you. 

Hall, a talented true freshman out of Kansas, was magnificent in his 26 (!!!) carry, 132 yard, three-touchdown masterpiece (more on this later). 

But the real story coming out of Saturday was the impressive display of depth within Matt Campbell’s program.

Already down JaQuan Bailey at defensive end (who has as many sacks as any other Cyclone in history not named Shawn Moorehead), Greg Eisworth (I’d argue as Iowa State’s defensive MVP so far this season) missed the game due to a shoulder injury. About a quarter in, O’Rien Vance, probably the most pleasant surprise of the season, left the game with what appeared to be concussion-like symptoms. 

Iowa State was down a starter in every level of the defense Saturday and West Virginia was only able to scrounge up a mere 3.6 yards per play (190 yards total). Backup quarterback or not for the Mountaineers, that’s an impressive accomplishment for the Cyclones.

Especially when you consider the long, mostly painful history of Iowa State football. Admittedly, I have only been around for 15-20 years or so but during that time, I have told the same story over and over again while chronicling this program. 

In general, even in bad years, Iowa State has starters who are capable of playing in and winning games in the Big 12 Conference. But lose a starter or two and woof, the depth has rarely been there, which is why this program hasn’t ever been able to sustain success over the course of 12 games.

On Saturday, Iowa State was somewhat depleted defensively and the Cyclones not only maintained but thrived. 

Zach Petersen had five tackles (two for a loss) and a sack in replacing Bailey while Matt Leo had perhaps the best game of his career. 

On the second level, veterans Bobby McMillen and Jake Hummel more than held their own. 

On the back end, Braxton Lewis was so good that he was named to the Pro Football Focus team of the week. 

There is plenty of depth on offense too. 

Breece Hall’s breakout game is a great example. We were all starting to forget about him (for this year anyway) prior to Saturday.  

Three tight ends caught passes. 

Two freshmen wide receivers caught passes, one for a touchdown. 

All five of Iowa State’s touchdowns were scored by underclassmen, with four coming from freshmen. 

Here’s a fun stat to think about: Of Iowa State’s 27 offensive touchdowns scored this season, 21 have come from underclassmen. 

All of this while for the first time in the Matt Campbell era, Iowa State’s offensive line is starting to gel and open up legitimate holes in the running game. 


ON BREECE HALL: The biggest thing that stood out to me on Saturday was Iowa State’s ability to line up in an obvious running situation and bully its way to solid yardage. The offensive line opened holes and Hall hit them with a vengeance. Even with David Montgomery at running back, Iowa State consistently struggled to move the ball in obvious running situations due to its lack of physicality up front. This really opens up play-calling in those situations going forward. 

Breece Hall handled pass protection assignments brilliantly during this first real playing time. 

The fact that he carried the ball 26 times is an eye-popping stat to me. It basically eliminated the quarterback running game, which was likely the plan. Credit Brock Purdy and last week’s game plan against TCU for softening up the tape for the running backs at West Virginia. 

NEW KICKER?: Here’s a tip of the hat to freshman kicker Brayden Narveson, a redshirt freshman out of Arizona, for coming in and knocking down a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. I did not see that coming. Iowa State’s kicking game has struggled all season long and in all fairness to Connor Assalley, he has always been a 40 and in type of kicker and we have always known that. Assalley was perfect on PATs and I’m guessing will still get close-range field goal attempts going forward. But if Narveson can sure up Iowa State’s 40 and out game, that is a fantastic thing going forward especially with the worst weather games of the year still ahead of the Cyclones. 

JUST WONDERING: Has Iowa State’s inconsistency in the kicking game forced Matt Campbell to become more aggressive than he is comfortable with over the last few weeks on fourth down? Do we like Iowa State going for it on fourth down as much as they have? Will the emergence of Narveson change this? Just something to think about….

ON INJURIES: When Greg Eisworth was announced as “out” on Saturday, I sensed some frustration from fans who were expecting him to play based off of Coach Campbell’s comments during the week. Listen … we are in year four of this. If you are still taking Campbell’s words on injuries as the gospel then you haven’t been paying enough attention. I understand that it stinks to not know – as a fan – what your team’s injury situation is going into a game. I feel the same way and would love to report accurate injury information for all of you. But until rules are changed in college football and coaches have to be forthright about this kind of stuff, injuries will continue to be a guessing game on a week-to-week basis. 

SCOUTING OU AND TEXAS: After the last two weeks, it is totally acceptable to start thinking about Iowa State as a Big 12 championship dark horse again. I actually feel better about the Cyclones after watching last week’s Red River Shootout. 

While Texas is currently depleted on defense due to injuries, I feel like Todd Orlando gave everybody a glimpse as to how to slow down Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma’s offense. Texas’ game plan against OU’s ridiculous offense was actually very sound. Be patient and make Hurts throw the football. Hurts only completed 57 percent of his passes (16-for-28) against the Longhorns and was picked off once. Sure, he is still deadly with his legs. Oklahoma’s offensive line is insane and with Hurts manning the football, plays are never dead. But I actually don’t hate this matchup for Iowa State, whose defense is based on patience, discipline and confusion. 

Oklahoma’s real gain this year is on the defensive end, where new coordinator and former Matt Campbell Mount Union teammate Alex Grinch has done a fantastic job.

As far as Texas goes, the Longhorns two losses have come by one possession apiece to potential Playoff teams. Texas is close to being “back.” But they are banged up greatly on the defensive side, where they were probably going to struggle a bit anyway, so it’s looking like 9-3 or maybe even 8-4 for the Longhorns this season. 

Iowa State is ripe to beat Texas for the first time in Campbell’s tenure on Nov. 9. 

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