A few years ago, I read an article that really stuck with me. The writer was trying to compare a restaurant's business plan with a sports program. He explained that every restaurant should focus on a few main dishes that give them an identity. He said to make your menu short and sweet, just like your playbook. He also wrote that too many restaurants get too cute; try to serve too much on a menu, and end up failing. Find what you are good at it - and stick with it.
In six years of the Paul Rhoads era, have we figured out his offensive identity yet?
When Rhoads was first announced as ISU's football coach, he exclaimed that he wanted to hit people coming off the bus, and that his focus was to run the ball.
Welp coach, that hasn't worked out very well.
Rhoads' first OC - MENSA member Tom Herman, focused on running the ball with Alexander Robinson behind two NFL caliber linemen in Hayworth Hicks and Kelechi Osemele. He utilized that run strength to set up the pass. Herman didn't break many records, but had a serviceable offense, and was able to move the ball when he needed to.
When Courtney Messingham had the controls, well, our offense was in disarray. To say it was a Mess was an understatement. Honestly I liked the outside the box Pistol offense, but it never got going.
So far with Mangenius, we see a lot of short to intermediate passes, mixed in with a dive on every first down play. The decision making is purely on Sam Richardson's shoulders, and he has done an admirable job thus far. He has improved from last year, and read through his progressions well. We had a stable of receivers, but definitely don't have the horses to run by most Big 12 defenses now.
And oh yeah. ISU. Can. Not. Run. The. Ball.
Through four games, ISU's 416 rushing yards is good for 118th out of 124 schools in the country. Take Sam's rushing yards out, and it gets even worse. Of the 416 yards, 198 have come from the Law Firm of Wimberly, Nealy and Syria. If that were an attorney's office, it would be out of business.
Iowa State running backs have averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
You can't even use the term 3 yards and a cloud of dust! Run it three times, and you still have 3rd and 2. And we all know ISU is about as good at short yardage as Hawkeye fans getting face tattoos.
In the Rhoads Era, ISU has never had an NFL type playmaker on offense, but Jarvis West has been the closest thing to a "breakout" player since Todd Blythe graced an ISU uniform. He needs to get the ball on more sweeps, end arounds, and shovel passes.
This year - due to order of elimination - ISU's strength has been the decision making of their quarterback. And they try to keep the defense on their heels every once in awhile by running the ball.
Well I've got news for you Mangino! The defense is never on their heels. Baylor was DARING us to throw the ball deep, and we couldn't do it. Because ISU never throws the ball deep.
Nor do they have enough time. You can fault the offensive line for that.
Baylor had nine players in the box the whole game, and not to blitz the quarterback. They knew our receivers couldn't get separation from their corners. And they also knew their front seven could handle the pass rush and stop the run on their own. Boy were they right!
So far, I can honestly say if I were a defense lining up against Mangenius and Sunshine Sam I wouldn't be too scared of anybody. E.J. Bibbs has been a disappointment in the receiving category. Losing P.J. Harris AND Quenton Bundrage doesn't help the situation, but Dondre Daley and Allen Lazard can pick up the slack.
Lazard has impressed as a true freshman. I mean, the guy was catching passes from a high school QB last year, and is now gracing the field against top 25 opponents weekly as ISU's top receiver.
It would be nice to see some vertical passes to Six-Foot-Five WR D'Vario Montgomery. So far he has one catch, and has taken some time to understand the playbook. I was really hoping Bret Medders would step into the token white boy walk-on role that was previously vacated by Jake Williams and Justin Coleman, but he got injured last week and is out for the year.
What has been true for as long as I can remember is this - Iowa State has to be able to run the ball if they want to win. Whenever anybody asks me, if the Cyclones can win a game - I always tell them - "If the offense can run the ball."
The more success they have on the ground, the higher chance of winning the game. That is a proven fact for any team, but even more for ISU.
Under Rhoads, ISU has averaged 193 yards on the ground per game in wins, and 128 in losses. That's a 50% increase in victories. So far Sam has had most of his success on scrambles. On designed runs - not so much.
Iowa State's run game has to be a complement to the passing game. It can't be the primary focus on first down either.
The offensive line needs to do a much better job at sustaining blocks on the line of scrimmage, because it takes time for the receivers to get open. The WRs are getting physically manhandled, but need to run shorter routes to negate the offensive line's liability. Because if Sam keeps getting pressure he isn't going to last all 12 games this year.
Get the ball to your playmakers sounds easier said than done, but ISU has to find a way to get the ball to their running backs in space, and to West, Bibbs, and Lazard. If the defense can't stop it, then keep doing it.
And it would be nice to get into that thing they call the hurry up offense once in awhile, and keep the defense guessing. So pull out your new smart phone and I-Pad Paul, because running an offense with a huddle is about as cool as having a flip phone!