There's honestly something to be said about night games at Iowa State.
It's been almost four years since Joe Tessitore uttered that fateful phrase as the tides changed against Oklahoma State: "There's something special in the air here in Ames, Iowa!" And that something special is no less of a real thing now than it was then.
Granted, those Cyclones went on to dethrone the No. 2 team in the country that night, gaining bowl eligibility and snatching the national spotlight for a week.
Those Cyclones flirted with something special and then went on and did it.
What we saw before us Saturday night was the state of this football program in the teeniest tiniest little nutshell: These Cyclones may have what it takes to hang with anyone in any game. I choose to believe that's why 50,000+ continue to show up to watch a team that's won seven games since November 2012. But that potential is rarely on display, and it's fleeting.
In the Big 12, perhaps more than anywhere else, the "potential to win games" will get you nowhere. And that truth was made more evident Saturday night than maybe it's ever been. None of us should forget that it was the 3rd ranked TCU Horned Frogs that left Ames with a 45-21 victory, but it sure doesn't make nights like that any less debilitating.
Onto the stuff...
What Went Well
Offense: I keep coming back to Allen Lazard. He's just a sophomore, and the man is becoming basically un-coverable. At 6-5, Lazard should receive at least a glance on every passing down, and hopefully that's something Sam Richardson and/or Joel Lanning are beginning to take to heart. With just 18 career games under his belt, he's hauled in 74 passes for 999 yards and 6 TD, putting him on pace for a program record for receptions, 3rd all-time in receiving yards and 2nd all-time in receiving touchdowns.
The passing game was efficient yet unimpressive outside of Lazard and a few nice grabs by Quenton Bundrage (clearly his most productive game since coming back from injury). Richardson, Lanning and even Holden Kramer together accumulated 206 passing yards in the 1st quarter, however just 140 the rest of the game.
Mike Warren, at 22-78-1, made the most of what he could against a decent TCU front seven. All things considered, it was nice to see Mark Mangino stick to the run game, which accounted for an even 50% of play calls Saturday night (38). Warren's per carry average took a dip, but he's still this program's most exciting running back since Alexander Robinson.
If there's the faintest of a silver lining in all of this, look no further than Lazard and Warren.
Defense: I'll quote KnowDan from the Texas Tech postmortem ("not a god damn thing"), but to give credit where credit is due: Nigel Tribune's forced fumble and recovery near the goal line early on teased a glimmer of aggressiveness we haven't really seen from the secondary.
A byproduct of Trevone Boykin's 27 completions — nearly all of them deep downfield — Brian Peavy and Kamari Cotton-Moya each accounted for nine tackles. At 6.7 and 6.8, respectively, Peavy and KCM are now 12th and 13th in the Big 12 in tackles per game. You can read that however you want to.
Special Teams: I have no way of proving this to you, but I called the 1st quarter fake punt as soon as the special teams unit took the field. I admired Paul Rhoads' aggressiveness in that moment and, aside from the onside kick attempt and a no-huddle QB sneak on 4th & 1 in our own territory, I wish it would have carried over later in the game.
Except from KeVonte Turpin's 60-yard return (TCU's first of the game), kick coverage was outstanding. The bomb squad held two of TCU's burners, Kolby Listenbee and Shaun Nixon, to 19 and 14 yards later in their next two returns. Kick coverage really has been a strong suit these first six games, for whatever that's worth.
What Went Wrong
Offense: Call it trying to keep up in an offense-driven conference, but Iowa State has now amassed 450+ total yards in four straight games for the first time in program history. They're producing. And I'm convinced that the more times Mike Warren touches the ball — whether it's a 40-yard burst up the middle or three yards and a cloud of dust — Sam Richardson's life gets a little bit easier.
But Richardson made a few dopey decisions in this game and didn't take a lot of risks. Both of those things need to change to keep up with a team like TCU... or Baylor... or Texas Tech. I still can't put my finger on why, but it's no secret that things stalled after the 1st quarter. This is normally where I would harp on play-calling, the offensive line, taking too many sacks or silly turnovers, but I think Gary Patterson's defense simply found a way to anticipate what was working so well the first 15 minutes and shut it down for the rest of the game.
Defense: What in the world can you do when a Heisman-caliber quarterback has a Heisman-caliber game? Trevone Boykin accounted for 510 yards of total offense and 5 TD. And that kind of production is certifiably impossible to stop when wide receivers are catching everything in sight. I think much of the success Baylor has had over the last several years can be attributed to a genius system installed by Art and Kendal Briles and Phil Montgomery, but make no mistake about it...
This TCU team is the most offensively gifted group in the country.
Josh Doctson (10-190-2) and Kolby Listenbee (6-101-1) are impossible assignments, and when you give them space to catch and run like Iowa State did all night, you deserve everything coming to you. The cherry on top was TCU's ability to produce out of the no-huddle, and this defense just is not quick, talented nor experienced enough to make the necessary adjustments to counteract it.
Unless LSU RB Leonard Fournette continues to produce at the rate he is, Trevone Boykin, deservedly so, is going to be your 2015 Heisman Trophy winner.
Special Teams: I can't really complain. The onside kick failed, but an illegal touching penalty is one of those things that you don't know you've committed until it's over. Cole Netten didn't miss a field goal (or attempt one — you've avoided crucifixion this time, Cole) and Colin Downing was Colin Downing.
My one major qualm was Rhoads' decision to punt on 4th down from the TCU 45 with 3:15 to go in the 3rd quarter. For all the gambling we saw in the previous 2+ quarters, there was no reason to abandon that kind of courage in that moment when your team was down just 10 points, in opposing territory, with three yards to gain.
There were several "what if" scenarios in this game, and hindsight truly is 20/20, but that particular decision could and should eat away at Rhoads for a few days.
Special Teams: B+
And here's your parting gift:
Iowa State opens as a 37-point underdog next Saturday at Baylor. 11 a.m. kick on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. #Cyclones— Chris Williams (@ChrisMWilliams) October 18, 2015