"Livin' on a Prayer"

Kirk Haaland is now in his second week as a contributor for WRNL, to read more of his content on Iowa State football and basketball check out his website, www.encyclonepedia.com

An anemic offense, a strained defense, and dynamite offenses on the other side of the field are giving ISU fits in the conference season.  That scenario is leading to Cyclone fans singing Bon Jovi after the third quarter instead of Neil Diamond.

The explosiveness of many of the Big 12 offenses is no secret.  I mentioned earlier this week on Twitter (follow me @khaal53) that there are currently five Big 12 teams in the top 17 of yards/play average in the NCAA.  All of them average more than 6.6 yards per play and above (Baylor-3rd, TAMU-11th, OU-13th, OSU-15th, and MU-17th).

The Iowa State defense is a unit that is above average but cannot overcome the holes dug by the offense the past few weeks.  Texas A&M is solid on both sides of the ball at the very least.  They can run the ball and sling it around a bit on offense while the defense is a high pressure unit that is averaging 7.33 tackles for loss per game (#23 in the country) and 4.33 sacks per game (#1 in the country).  That is a scary thought for an ISU offense that is allowing 2.67 sacks per game—bad enough for 91st in the country.

There are two ways that ISU can hang around in this game for long enough to give themselves a chance to win: the offense must produce consistently and the defense must get stops—more than likely by turnovers. 

The A&M defense is very middle of the road in defense in every statistical category that I am focusing on with my web site.  The Aggies are sixth in points allowed per drive with 2.1, sixth in yards per play allowed with 5.5, sixth in percentage of drives allowing touchdowns with 26%, but they are dead last in turnover frequency by forcing them on just 5% of opponent’s possessions.  Although ISU is turning the ball over on an alarming 21% of their drives this may be a chance for them to snap out of that funk.

The Texas A&M offense is averaging gaining 58% of their potential yards on the season, the fourth best in the league.  Again, the Aggies are in the middle of the pack with the percentage of possessions with turnovers on 12% of their drives.  The scary part about comparing the offenses, and hoping that Iowa State can produce better than they have thus far, is that the Cyclone offense is averaging just over 5 yards per play in conference play while the Aggies are at 6.6 yards per play.

The last three times the Aggies have come to Ames they have dominated the Cyclones, winning by scores of 30-7, 34-3, and 49-35.  The Aggies are scoring at will once inside Jack Trice Stadium.  If the Cyclone defense cannot slow them adequately then Iowa State will have to rely on its offense to keep pace…and that has been rare for ISU to do over the years, especially in conference play.

Since 1998, there have only been 12 conference games out of 107 that the Cyclones scored 5 offensive touchdowns or more.  The most recent was the five touchdown outburst against Texas Tech in 2010.  Prior to that the 2009 Cyclones accumulated 5 touchdowns against Kansas and you have to go back to 2005 to find another offensive outburst.

Which means one of three things…the offense will do something that it has only done in 11.2% of conference games since 1998, the defense and special teams will be phenomenal—possibly scoring points as well—or ISU will be routed. 

The running game is struggling with the loss of Shontrelle Johnson and Brayden Burris while other spots on the offensive line are banged up as well.  Defenses have little need to scheme against the Cyclones passing attack as all they need to do is force the Iowa State offense behind schedule by eliminating the running game.  To date, the Cyclones are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry on the season.

Cyclones everywhere are hoping for the bounce back game out of the football team that Paul Rhoads led them to last year with the win over Texas following routs by Utah and Oklahoma by a combined score of 120-27.  Cy fans are hoping for another miracle performance like we saw in the 2009 Nebraska game where the defense forced eight turnovers. We’re for once waiting for something good to happen instead of something bad to happen.

Think about that for a moment.  In 31 games Paul Rhoads is actively trying to change the culture and having success baby steps at a time.  We have seen the unexpected that he has pulled out in the past two seasons and believe that he will do it again.  In reality, that is more than a baby step in a lot of ways for Cyclone fans…that is one giant leap for "Cyclone-kind".  At least, we may be "halfway there".

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