Sometime during the 2nd quarter of Iowa State's failed defense of the Cy-Hawk Trophy I looked at my brother and said, "This is just a tire fire." Afterwards my mind flashed back to college and when an old roommate brought home a band (yes, brought home a band) from the M Shop. The band was the aptly named Backyard Tire Fire and all I can think is how these random schmoes were more interesting than whatever passes for an offense in the Iowa State facilities this year.
Much like a tire fire continues to burn forever I'm certain Courtney Messingham is still calling run plays up the middle and the offensive line is smothering the running game in the same manner the burning rubber smothers those around it.
This offensive performance is going to go down as legendarily bad if things do not change soon. Iowa State currently ranks 89th in the nation in total offense, 52nd in passing, 103rd in rushing, and 98th in scoring. All this after playing a I-AA school and a bitter rival with a questionable pass defense at home.
It's not like this team is lacking talent. Sam Richardson once again showed flashes of promise late in the game and Quenton Bundrage's 7 receptions for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns was no fluke. Say what you will about Iowa's coverage in the 4th quarter, but Bundrage was open almost the entire night and his 67 yard touchdown reception was one of the few long plays in Paul Rhoads' tenure where the receiver made a man miss and took it to the house.
Even despite Richardson's ineptitude in the first half (some on his own accord, some on his offensive line's) he still finished with a decent stat line of 22 of 39 passing for 260 yards, three touchdowns, and two (bad) interceptions. All with a bum ankle that negated any chance of a serious run game.
What happened to the running backs?
Good question. Shontrelle Johnson led all running backs with six carries, James White had five, and Aaron Wimberly and Devondrick Nealy each chipped in two. Unfortunately the yardage totals came out to 5, 26, 13, 5, respectively. If you want to get technical, Sam Richardson led all ball carriers with 8 carries for 12 yards.
There is a lot to look at here other than the backs. The offensive line is still a work in progress and can't seem to grasp the new scheme. Jamison Lalk's injury forced back up guard Ben Loth into work at center. The injury to Richardson kept him from being an effective runner with the zone read and nearly every read ended up with a hand off into the teeth of an Iowa defense that is stout enough in the middle to hold their own, but was still run blitzing on 1st and 2nd down.
Ok, so the line sucks, is play calling a factor?
Of course it is and it will continue to be until Messingham passes his offensive coordinator night courses or gets fired. Rhoads called out the play calling in the post game press conference, but then immediately hedged and said not to read too much into it. Too late Paul, we did.
As he stated, more bubble screens, and more quick passes to the outside were necessary to open up the middle of the field. I'll take this one step further and say if Messingham was that dedicated to the run then there needed to be more two and three back sets with lead blockers helping get the play to the outside. Iowa wasn't terribly fast defensively and the times Iowa State did attack the edges they had mixed success.
When your quarterback is an integral part of the running game, and can't physically be counted on to serve his purpose, you have to find a way to generate offense. This has been a consistent theme in Messingham's tenure and will continue to be until a change is made in offensive game planning/play calling or the staff itself.
Where are the tight ends?
Good question. If you find them please send them here: 1800 S 4th St, Ames, IA 50011
What about the defense?
The defense was far from impressive against Iowa and routinely could not get off the field on 3rd down but showed positive progress in a lot of areas. The tackling improved, the pressure on the quarterback improved, Jake Rudock was contained when he needed to be, and David Irving and Jared Brackens looked not only like they embraced their position changes but are on their way to flourishing because of them.
No one expected the defense to have to carry the load again but it looks more and more like that will have to happen. Iowa State is unlikely to face such a strong downhill team again this season and is built more for the faster paced teams in the Big XII. That's not to say they'll be strong, or even "good", but watching the team fix the fundamental issues from week 1 to 2 should give hope that the extra bye week and prep days left in September will only help them continue to grow.
So where does the team go from here?
It all starts with a bye week before heading to face a Tulsa team that itself is going through struggles after losing 51-20 against Oklahoma. Tulsa ranks 112th in points against after allowing over 30 points to all three opponents this season. This is a winnable game even for a banged up squad and a perfect opportunity for a slowly developing offense to get on track.
Then if by some stroke of luck Richardson's ankle is 100% you get a reeling Texas team that still cannot stop the zone read. Is 2-2 possible? Sure, but not likely. If for some insane reason Iowa State manages to stand at .500 on the morning of October 4th then this season might be known as "what could have been" rather than "clean house".
If I'm a betting man though I put Iowa State at 1-2 at the end of September and 1-3 after the first weekend of October.