On Saturday I noted in our GameThread that this might be the most important game of Paul Rhoads' career. A winnable road contest against a team who had just went through the meat grinder of TCU and Baylor (not to mention a non-conference date with Arkansas). The matchup included two teams who had played the previous three contests to within at least 11 points of each other.
Yet it was apparent from the first few snaps of the ball that Iowa State was there to hold on for dear life and let Texas Tech decide if the wheels were going to fall off. The first Texas Tech drive saw the Red Raiders drive inside Iowa State's 10 yard line in quick fashion, but the defense stood up and held Texas Tech to a field goal. The old Wally Burnham "Bend but Don't Break" defense was back baby, and dammit this thing might work!
Then Iowa State took over and well...
What Went Well
Offense: Mike Warren. He's a miniature Ennis Haywood that runs physical and has the "IT" factor that the entire offense has lacked during Rhoads' tenure. His 245 rushing yards are the 8th best mark in school history, the first 200 yard game since Ennis Haywood hit 219 yards at Ohio in 2001, and the most yards by a Cyclone since Darren Davis ran for 261 yards against Kansas in 1997. I don't care what the system or circumstances are, that's some great company for Mr. Warren to be in.
Quenton Bundrage showed some of his old self with three catches for 75 yards and a score, including a long gainer on Iowa State's second drive off a perfectly designed and called rub play to get Bundrage open of the middle.
Defense: Not a god damn thing. The only mention of defense in Cyclones.com's game notes are Demond Tucker's sack, which gives him 2.5 on the year and Iowa State a team total of 15, which matches their 2014 total.
Special Teams: Colin Downing averaged 50.5 yards per punt, including a season long 61 yarder. Cole Netten put four of his six kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, and Texas Tech never shook free for a return with only six yards on punts, and 22 yards on two kick returns.
What Went Wrong
Offense: It's very clear that I was the last one off the Sam Richardson bandwagon but rest assured that the bandwagon is as empty as Jack Trice Stadium on a Saturday in November. With an entire week to prepare the first play from scrimmage should be a simple, slam dunk of a play to take advantage of an opponent's weakness.
Instead a designed rollout and poor blocking resulted in Richardson running for his life (par for the course) and failing to throw the ball away (also par for the course), which resulted in a forced, off balance throw to D'Vario Montgomery that was quickly intercepted. Before anyone could blink the Cyclones broke my first rule for success: win the turnover battle.
It didn't get better as Richardson finished the game 10-21 for 139 yards, one touchdown, and three interceptions. His third and final interception was a microcosm of his day Saturday: an opportunity wasted by poor and inconsistent fundamentals. There's no reason for Sam to not hit Montgomery with a rope over the middle when the pocket cleared up. We've even seen him do it before this season. Yet the ball sailed five feet over Montgomery's head and in to the hands of a waiting Texas Tech safety.
When he was first hired I argued that Mark Mangino never fell in love with the run during his time at Oklahoma and Kansas. It couldn't be more evident than it was on Saturday. Down 31-14 with eight minutes left in the second quarter, Mangino decided to eschew his 10 yards per carry running back in favor of six straight drop backs for Richardson. It ultimately culminated in a punt, another Tech score, and less time for Iowa State to mount a comeback. Great coaches stick to their gameplan when it's working, regardless of game score, and it felt that Mangino abandoned the ground game to try to enter in a shootout. He failed, miserably.
If our coaches don't have the confidence to stick to their gameplan then how can we blame the players for their execution?
Defense: When Darian Cotton comes in to replace Qujuan Floyd you know things went off the rails. Burnham's gameplan to let Tech have things underneath was fine and dandy until they started hitting wheel routes off fake screens. Burnham was constantly dropping safeties underneath to try and match up man-to-man and fool Patrick Mahomes but it seemed that corners didn't get the message and passed off receivers to safeties that weren't there.
Further, on a number of Mahomes' long completions there were no safeties in sight. The secondary that was supposed to be the best unit on the defense got lit up due in large part to questionable game planning and horrible communication.
Everyone knew Texas Tech would get their yards in this game, but the only way for Iowa State to stay competitive was to limit big plays (my second rule for success). Again, abject failure.
Special Teams: Cole Netten missed a field goal and opened up a kicking competition. We all know how this ends.
Special Teams: C-
Hold on to your butts. Ribbit, ribbit rolls in to town this weekend.