2011 Game 3: Iowa State vs Connecticut Preview
7:00 PM, Friday, September 16th
Wow, wow, wow. Obviously we all know how last weekend went down and I have to say watching the game a second time on Sunday morning definitely did not lessen the effect. Minus some meandering parts of the 2nd quarter the offense was firing on almost all cylinders and the defense looked more than capable.
Now it’s time to put away the celebration and focus on UConn and the importance of moving this football program another step forward in 2011.
When We Last Left Off…
Iowa State beat iowa in triple overtime 44-41. Rather than write you any recap (we all know the stats) here are some videos meant to entertain and get you fired up.
2011 Iowa State vs. Iowa Highlights (via isuvideo)
Iowa State On-Field Celebration vs. Iowa (Videoboard) (via isuvideo)
UConn lost to Vanderbilt 24-21 after turning the ball over four times and succumbing to a late field by the Commodores. However, the Huskies failed to get into the end zone on offense and settled for two field goals and got touchdowns off a blocked punt return and a fumble return. The Huskies only managed 193 total yards on offense, including 89 on the ground and went 3 of 15 on 3rd down.
Iowa State vs Connecticut: A History
There is no history, except for that one awful game in 2002 that put the stamp on an ugly last half of the season and gave indications that Dan McCarney would never allow his teams to reach their full potential.
What Happens When… Iowa State is on Offense
With the exception of turnovers early, the Iowa State offense put together a near perfect game against iowa’s defense last week. Steele Jantz executed marvelously, the running game was fluid with both the line and the running backs finding their groove and the wide receivers caught like Big XII players for one of the only times in the Paul Rhoads era.
So one begs the question, what happens next?
You have to worry that since this is the first road game start for Jantz, Shontrelle Johnson, Ethan Tuftee, Tom Farniok and Reid Branderhorst bad things will happen. As I went through the week thinking about this game I kept coming back to something I saw during the iowa game and a couple of surprising leaders stepping up to the plate.
There is a reason that Kelechi Osemele was named a team captain this year and you could see it after he left the game briefly during the second drive due to re-aggravating his ankle injury. As he hobbled off the field KO was more concerned about getting the crowd back into the game and keeping the stadium loud than his own health. Later on in 4th quarter he could be seen giving it to Shawn Prater 15 yards downfield on a run play that ended after only a short gain. The man has fire, and with that fire comes his focus. Not since Nate Frere and Jesse Smith have the Cyclones had a leader who can rally his troops and keep his focus at the same time. Add in the leadership that is developing out of Darius Reynolds and Darius Darks and you have a young, talented offense that can lean on the older players during the rocky times. Coach Rhoads talked about being a peak and plateau team and these guys are the reason why that may be possible.
As for the actual execution of the game plan, well, I think you saw last week what makes this offense successful on a good day. Short routes that help open up the running game followed by a couple of quick hitters for hopeful big gains. Add in some creative red zone play calling and you have a recipe for a team that can score in bunches if they hold onto the ball.
Holding on to the ball will be the single most important aspect of the game this week. UConn clearly capitalized on Vanderbilt mistakes last week and Iowa State cannot afford to give them the same opportunity; especially at home on a Friday night in front of a national audience.
Last week’s motto was Patient Domination, and the Cyclones executed it almost to perfection. This week it’s simple, literally. Keep it simple. Hang onto the ball, establish the running game against an experienced UConn defensive line (their best unit), use short passes to keep the field spread and execute in the red zone like they did in the last three quarters against iowa. Simple game plan with nothing fancy about it. Get in, win and get out.
What Happens When… Iowa State is on Defense
It is tough to actually say that UConn is awful on offense but considering all that they lost they have some rebuilding to do. 193 yards against a BCS opponent, regardless of the competition, is just bad. The Huskies racked up 434 yards against I-AA Fordham in Week 1 but still only converted three of eight 3rd down opportunities.
UConn’s strength will again be in their running game with freshman running back Lyle McCombs leading the way. McCombs is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has rushed for 259 yards and four touchdowns on the season despite the abysmal showing against Vanderbilt. All four of those touchdowns came against Fordham, however.
Looking at this breakdown it appears this game is shaping up to be similar to the 2009 game at Kent State where Rhoads and company broke a 17-game road losing streak by mowing down Kent State 34-14. In that game they lined up to stop the run even with star running back Eugene Jarvis out and forced Kent State to try and beat them through the air.
The defense seems to have more ability to stop the run this year, or at least keep big chunks from being ripped off. Assuming Stephen Ruempolhamer is healthy (and he looked better against Iowa last week) then Iowa State will be able to hopefully do more than fill gaps and get penetration into UConn’s backfield. UConn will likely get yards, they have the running back and offensive line talent to do so, but minimizing the big plays and forcing 3rd and long will be keys to victory. Expect the Cyclones to come out ready to stop the run and harass whoever is under center for the Huskies on 3rd down.
Kirby Van Der Kamp only punted twice last week but still managed to average 51.5 yards/punt. The kick return and coverage units continued to show life and finally the punt return generated chunks of yards. The only sore spot was the two field goal misses by Zach Guyer and Grant Mahoney. Both were big enough to overshadow Mahoney’s 54-yarder that tied the game in the 2nd quarter.
Just a thought, but I felt Guyer’s missed field goal was interesting in the fact it went straight. From the right hash it followed a straight line and was not all that different looking than his extra points. That’s great when kicking an extra point but I am concerned this could be an issue as the season wears on. Obviously the guys practice kicking from all angles but to not have any change in direction in the kick is somewhat troubling.
WRNL Lead Pipe Action Prediction: Current Season 0-1-1 (A tie for the turnover that seized momentum, it just was not early enough): Iowa State defense comes up with its first interception of the season.
50/50 Prediction: Current Season 0-2: Aaron Horne scores his first touchdown as a Cyclone. Sticking with this until it happens.
Unlikely to Happen but We’ll Light a Dumpster on Fire if it Does: Current Season 1-1: No dumpster burning last week as we could not find any Iowa virgins after the game. I presume most of them sexed in the bathroom to wash away the pain of a loss. The call this week will be an actual win on the road against a defending conference champion. While I have faith it will happen I still am troubled by being a lifelong Cyclone fan and knowing how these things have played out in the past.
This game will not be a walk in the park. The phrase "To be the man, you have to beat the man" comes to mind and despite losing a lot of talent and the man that built the program UConn is still the defending Big East Champion. This team returns 10 starters on a defense that carried them to the Fiesta Bowl last season and their experience will be enough to give Iowa State fits throughout the game.
However, this is a UConn team that has not scored an offensive touchdown against a BCS opponent since November 27, 2010 against Cincinnati. While there is talent on the offensive line and at running back another old saying comes to mind; "if you have two quarterbacks, you really have none". UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni has said he plans on playing all three of his quarterbacks. It will be hard for all three to get into a rhythm if they are rotating in and out and this will lead to even more reliance on a run game. Assuming Iowa State does not let one get a hot hand there is a very good shot that the UConn offense sputters.
Like mentioned above, the Cyclones need to take care of the ball and spread the field to keep UConn’s defense from showing multiple looks and mixing up their sets. UConn takes after many NFL teams by showing different looks at the line of scrimmage and the quickest way to exploit this will be to use all 53 yards on the width of the field and play at a good tempo. Look for this early and hope the trend continues.
Iowa State has the tools to win this one and hopefully entering "gameday mode" when leaving Iowa yesterday will help them retain their focus. My lifelong Cyclone fandom has me worried about this game but I have a good feeling Rhoads will have his guys ready to get in, get dirty and get the hell out.
Iowa State 20
PS – Special teams will be a key in this game despite not covering it much above. UConn lived and died by their defensive takeaways and big special teams plays both last year and so far this year. My concern is on punt and kick coverage but if the team plays like they did the first two weeks then big plays should be minimized.
PPS – No betting advice this week. Taking a vacation after the over/under was blown by the end of the 4th quarter last week. Really, who saw that coming?