There was a lot to watch on Saturday. From the debut of a new offense and four new positions coaches on that side of the ball, to a defensive line that was going to try to hold its own without arguably it's best two players from 2013. I'll save you all from the long winded breakdown I would have if I had GIFs of the action, but I'll have a few highlights to illustrate some points.
We're not supposed to curse in the first few hundred words of an article, so my true feelings can't be articulated but let's say it rhymes with "norse fit". Did Kamari Cotton-Moya lower his head? Yes, he did. Was he unfortunate to make questionable contact with the receiver after the receiver lost his footing? Yes, he was. Did the penalty have to hold up under review? Absolutely not.
The targeting penalty is reviewable under NCAA rules and you'd think after taking a few minutes to look at it the refs would come to the same conclusion everyone else did: contact was unavoidable, and it was made worse by a receiver who had started to fall. Unfortunately, their eyes saw something different and Cotton-Moya was sent packing.
Good news: He's eligible for the entire game against Kansas State, bad news: His angles might have slowed some of the big gains the defense allowed to North Dakota State.
The Hyped Offense
Well the first quarter was pretty nice and the simple schemes were shown early. E.J. Bibbs was used as a decoy and drew the attention of both a linebacker and safety on nearly every pass play, and the running game was based on simple reads with zone blocking up front. This was illustrated perfectly by Aaron Wimberly's first touchdown run:
Sam Richardson correctly read the containing defensive end, and gave the ball off to Wimberly. What turned this from a simple four or five yard gain into a 16 yard touchdown was the second level block and seal from Tom Farniok on linebacker Carlton Littlejohn. That seal sprung Wimberly into the secondary, and as we clearly saw, his speed and power in open space was too much for the Bison.
The two back formation went largely unnoticed as most of the plays out of it were a typical cross buck type run, but there were a few options for that showed up as the game progressed. One that I noticed in the middle of the 2nd quarter was a triple option type look where Richardson had the read of the initial hand off, but then had the pitch and pass option had he kept. Unfortunately a bad/conservative read ended up in a hand off into a blitzing defense and a handful of yards.
Allen Lazard made his debut and had the long play of the day (credit to a WRNL reader for this):
He was involved in Richardson's second pick of the day, but the ball was high and behind him, and he deserves all the credit for going up after it. The tip just fell into the hands of the waiting safety.
There's really not much else to say on the offense, except this: On a second watch I'm not as low on them as I was after the game. I still believe the running game needs to pick up a little more complexity to keep defenses honest, and maybe it will.
The passing game consistently took advantage of mismatches, but the loss of Farniok started taking effect early in the second half when NDSU started mixing up their blitzes. The back breaking drive came in the 3rd quarter and down by 10. Wimberly ran for four yards, Daley lost six on a screen, and Richardson was sacked on 3rd down. The sack was completely made possible by an ill-advised double team on the inside by Oni Omoile, and the linebacker had a free shot at Richardson.
The positive here is it's all correctable and we saw the makings of an experienced defense with little coaching turnover against an offense starting on the ground floor. FCS, FBS, whatever, for one game with this much prep time it's not surprising in hindsight that this happened. If this is still happening in mid-October then serious concerns will exist.
The Maligned Defense
The defense will continue to be maligned after this performance. Nothing shocked me more than to see the consistent failure to get penetration, the bad angles by the linebackers, and the soft coverage from Nigel Tribune. Sure I listed off three things that shocked me, but I really, truly believed that at least two of those three things wouldn't happen.
Starting with the defensive line, I thought there were some positives. Robby Garcia's sack in the 1st quarter came in a four defensive end package that featured him, Cory Morrissey, Mitchell Meyers, and Trent Taylor. Garcia has some good burst, and almost seems more comfortable in the middle than on the end.
Jared Brackens was about the only positive light in the linebacker group. After Alton Meeks left with a cramp it was Brackens who injected some energy into the defense and made numerous plays to slow down NDSU. Jevohn Miller still struggles with his footwork, and is too often lost in pass coverage to be effective. If this defense wants to get off the field on 3rd down (in the rare cases they force a long one), Luke Knott will need to get his legs back and on to the field.
Perhaps we expected too much, too soon from Tribune. He's going to blossom into a great corner in the next few years but his soft coverage on the outside allowed NDSU to keep moving the chains against the Cyclones. I really would have believed that Tribune would have been given the go ahead to challenge his man more, but it was not to be seen.
It's unfortunate we have to talk about a second straight loss to an FCS school, but on the bright side this loss stings a lot less than the UNI loss last year. Unlike last year, NDSU played like a team that has won three straight national championships and one committed to its vision on both sides of the ball.
The UNI loss really felt like it was a mismanaged game by the coaching staff and the players lacked the focus to get themselves back in the game. Upon replay it's very apparent that both Cyclone units had a clear game plan, but were out executed by a far more committed team.
NDSU absolutely deserved their win on Saturday, and Iowa State deserved to lose due to their inconsistency, but after some reflection the future may not be as dire as we all believe. The offense is going to get there, even without Quenton Bundrage, and there were some teaching moments for everyone as it pertained to both play calling and execution. The defense will take more time, and may not get to a point of respectability, but once the situation in the second level gets settled some consistency should be expected.
All of this is a way to say that the world isn't ending, and there were bright spots on the field Saturday. Now it's a matter of stringing them together.