Week 9 is the latest a Big 12 team has experienced a shutout since Iowa State blanked Kansas in 2013. And before that, it hadn't happened that late in the season since November 2010.
Perhaps it's because, by then, you usually know who you are and what you're facing. You usually know what to game plan for. You play to your strengths and the opposing team's weaknesses, which have been clearly fleshed out in the eight weeks prior. No new wrinkles, no secrets.
Except nothing was "per the usual" going into to this installment of Iowa State-Texas.
Paul Rhoads had relieved offensive coordinator Mark Mangino of his duties (let's call it what it was) after just a 19-game stint. Rhoads then promoted Todd Sturdy to play-caller and inserted redshirt sophomore Joel Lanning as starting quarterback. Reigning Big 12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Kamari Cotton-Moya? Injured. Kicking duties? No longer only Cole Netten's to handle. Ken Lynn? Suspended.
Even Tyrone Swoopes, who accounted for 416 yards and two touchdowns in this matchup a year ago, wound up splitting reps with a true freshman Saturday night.
So it was fitting that on Halloween, both Iowa State and Texas — which handed now 12th ranked Oklahoma its only loss of the season just three weeks ago — masqueraded as two completely different teams. And fortunately for Paul Rhoads and the Cyclones, change benefitted the cardinal and gold in dominating fashion.
What Went Well
Offense: Basically everything you could've asked for.
Joel Lanning was patient, aware and smart in his first career start. As anyone might expect, facing a fairly stout Longhorns defense, he spent a lot of time outside of the pocket. But Lanning used that to his advantage in order to extend plays and either find an open receiver or do it with his legs. At one point, he had the presence of mind to spot a defensive hold downfield, throw in that receiver's direction and draw the pass interference call. Lanning was exponentially more aware of the football game happening around him than Sam Richardson ever was, and it showed.
Nineteen completions on 37 attempts is certainly nothing to write home about, but the ball never wound up in a white jersey's hands. That's a win for me.
Another week, another lengthy paragraph on how Mike Warren is the most important cog in this offensive machine. Iowa State, now leading the Big 12 in time of possession at 33:26 per game, hasn't been able to control clock like this since having the services of Alexander Robinson, and that's such an crucial luxury to have in the Big 12. Warren was up and down early on and struggled to find holes against Texas' front seven at times, but when you touch the ball 32 times, eventually you're going to get yours. And Warren did, as he always does, eclipsing 100 yards for the fifth time in six games. The Cyclones as a team have now rushed for over 200 yards in five of their last six, at a 225 yard per game average.
And hey, don't look now, but Allen Lazard now has over a thousand career receiving yards, good for 31st in program history.
Defense: Wally Burnham's defense has now allowed just 10 points (a garbage time touchdown to Corey Coleman and a field goal) over Iowa State's last six quarters of play, and it helps immensely when your offense is eating up so much clock.
It also helps when the opposing offense plays Kansas City Royals-level small ball for an entire 60 minutes. Jay Norvell, by nearly every measure, called a garbage game in his seventh go-around as OC. And with this Cyclone defense playing with the purpose that they were Saturday night, it should come as no surprise that there was a goose egg on the scoreboard at the end of the game.
Jordan Harris was absolutely everywhere, disrupting the backfield, laying the lumber, making key third down stops and even picking off Jerrod Heard on what looked to be a routine throwaway out of bounds — the Longhorns' first turnover in three games. Nigel Tribune and those brick mitts of his made a couple key pass breakups, both of which probably should've been interceptions, and also tallied a sack on an awesome corner blitz call. Even Levi Peters got his first career sack... and then another.
Inspired football is truly a thing to behold, and I'll always come back to it when I re-watch this game. Again, a poorly constructed offensive game plan certainly helped (which plays right into Burnham's "bend don't break" style of football we all love so much), but this defense — short-handed lest we forget — was as good as maybe we've ever seen in the Rhoads era. The 204 yards allowed was third fewest all-time in that span.
A couple statistics I could get used to: nine punts and six three-and-outs forced. Pretty remarkable.
Special Teams: Once again, Iowa State boasted its Big 12-best kick coverage, holding Texas to just 52 yards on four returns. Field position was also key, as Colin Downing and Holden Kramer tag-teamed to pin the Longhorns inside their 20 yard line with five of six punts.
Cole Netten hit from 28, and Trever Ryen accumulated 37 yards on a couple returns in his first week on the punt team.
What Went Wrong
Offense: With 426 total yards, on the arm of a untested sophomore and the legs of a freshman with a new offensive coordinator, how do you even put anything in this section?
We probably would've liked to see Joel Lanning be a bit more accurate with his throws, but perhaps 19-of-37 is a byproduct of his willingness to take more chances than we ever saw with Sam Richardson. More than likely, you can trace back any hiccups in Lanning's game to an often times overmatched offensive line (sans Jacob Burton) that allowed six sacks on the night.
Defense: Nothing belongs here. It was an outstanding (possibly job-saving?) defensive effort from Burnham that I couldn't poke any holes in if I tried.
One ongoing issue will continue to be this squad's awareness when plays break down. We saw it against Aaron Bailey, Trevone Boykin, Seth Russell and even flashes of it with Montell Cozart — this defense struggles containing mobile quarterbacks when they're flushed out of the pocket. A lack of pure speed at the second level doesn't help, but it's mostly an awareness issue, and it's something Burnham will need to shore up down the stretch.
Special Teams: Nada. Although as good as he was in his first six games, I think I'll miss Allen Lazard fielding punts.
Offensive Grade: A-
Defense Grade: A
Special Teams: A-
Next Week, In a Tweet and a Photo
Iowa State's game at Oklahoma on Nov. 7 with kickoff at 6 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised by ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU.— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) October 26, 2015