Now that Courtney Messingham has completed a third of his first season as Iowa State's offensive coordinator, it's probably a good time to check in and see how things are going. After Saturday's offensive debacle (189 total yards, 73 yards passing, 116 yards rushing), the easy answer is, "Things aren't going well. Not well at all."
And that's true to some extent. Because Iowa State's offensive output against Texas Tech was truly terrible. Unfortunately, it isn't even Iowa State's worst offensive showing in Paul Rhoads' tenure at Iowa State. That honor falls to the measly 183 yards Austen Arnaud and company managed to compile in a 52-0 thrashing at Oklahoma in 2010. And honestly, Iowa State's offense has never been what you'd call explosive.
But before the season, fans were expecting more than 189 yards in a home game, even against a good Texas Tech defense (still feels weird to write that). Before the season, Messingham talked a lot about simplifying the playbook, running a smaller number of plays out of multiple formations. That's certainly born itself out so far this season. Iowa State's play-calling has looked very vanilla at times, especially in the second half of games.
The idea was that the Cyclones would focus on executing fewer plays at a higher level. Unfortunately, that really hasn't happened yet. It's still early in the season, but it looks like the simplified playbook is making it easier for opponents to adjust to Iowa State's game plan. Take a look at the offensive production from each quarter of Iowa State's first four games:
|Q1 yds||Q2 yds||Q3 yds||Q4 yds|
Yikes. Through the first four games, Iowa State has averaged 218.75 yards in the first half of games. The Cyclones have only averaged 150 yards in the second half. And it's not like Iowa State has had comfortable leads at the half and been able to take their foot off the gas. Ignoring the Western Illinois blowout, Iowa State has only averaged an 4.66 point lead at halftime in their first four games.
So Iowa State's offense is productive in the first half, but is having trouble moving the ball in the second half. That indicates a lack of adjustments by the offensive coordinator. Opponents are able to see what the Cyclones are doing offensively and have been successful in slowing/stopping the offense in the second half. Coach Messingham needs to figure out a solution for this soon, because Big 12 offenses are currently averaging 42.7 points per game. Six teams have offenses ranked in the top twenty. Iowa State's offense can't be unproductive in the second half.
Looking at Football Outsiders offensive S&P stats can also provide a helpful measure of a team's offensive efficiency. A detailed explanation can be found on Football Outsiders, but basically S&P ranks how well an offense is moving the ball; based on the success rate of each play and the points-per-play an offense could expect to score from their field position at any given time. Because the S&P stats also take into account the quality of opponent a team is playing, a team's offensive statistics won't fluctuate from year to year based on the strength of schedule. These are Iowa State's offensive S&P stats from Paul Rhoads' first four years.
2012 Off S&P - Currently ranked 68th in the country
2011 Off S&P - Ranked 99th in the country
2010 Off S&P - Ranked 83rd in the country
2009 Off S&P - Ranked 59th in the country
Surprisingly, even though offensive yards per game increased in each of Tom Herman's three years as offensive coordinator, the offensive S&P ranking sank each year. Even though yards and points were increasing, Iowa State's offense was working harder to produce those points.
This year under Messingham, Iowa State's S&P ranking is up by a decent margin. Of course, it's still terrible, coming in at 68th in the nation. But it HAS improved. Iowa State's offense has been manufacturing yards and points more efficiently this year than in years past. So that's one mark in Courtney Messingham's favor.
But one of the main areas of concern this year has been the running game, or lack thereof. Both Shontrelle Johnson and James White have been productive so far. White has accumulated 211 rushing yards and is averaging 5.7 yards a carry; while Johnson is just behind him with 209 yards, averaging 5.0 yards a carry. But overall the rushing game has been unimpressive, averaging just 160.3 yards a game, good for 69th in the country.
This is especially disappointing, given the emphasis Paul Rhoads and Courtney Messingham placed on running the football this year. If Iowa State wants to be a physical, spread-run team, 160.3 rushing yards a game is unacceptable.
But it's still early, and the verdict is still out on Courtney Messingham as an offensive coordinator. Paul Rhoads has consistently praised Messingham's work ethic and teaching ability. These are excellent qualities for a football coach to have. Will these qualities make Messingham an excellent play-caller? Time will tell.