It's over. You can come out now.
Iowa State's 2015 football season, for all its amped-up-ness just three months ago, at long last is over. The Cyclones finished Paul Rhoads' final campaign with just three wins, a total the majority of us thought they could probably achieve after their first three games. Instead, 2015 turned out to be a season marred by inconsistency and the inability to close games, which ultimately led to Rhoads' demise just eight days ago.
But, in the spirit of finishing what he started with the dozens of young men he recruited, Rhoads got one last hurrah on Saturday. He did nothing with it.
Opportunity squandered. Pretty much the story of the season. Let's take one final look at how it happened.
What Went Well
Offense: You can't put much here. With enough time to throw, Joel Lanning certainly could've improved upon 163 yards on 17/34 passing, but at least the receivers were making grabs. Allen Lazard makes an appearance in the "What Went Well" section basically every game, as he should. Lazard is now the 15th Cyclone to amass 100 career receptions—the first since Otto Stowe from 1968-70 to catch a pass in his first 23 games—and moved into the top 10 in program history in single-season receptions (T-7th) and yards (8th). Lazard should enter each of his remaining two seasons as this team's captain, veteran leader and most valuable player.
Quenton Bundrage also had a nice seven-reception, 70-yard day. The seven grabs were a career high.
Defense: It was 13-6 a few minutes into the 3rd quarter when Qujuan Floyd made a spectacular interception near midfield (and he nearly had another on West Virginia's second drive of the game). From that point on, however, Iowa State would either end up punting or turning the ball over on each of its remaining drives, allowing the Mountaineers to absolutely dominated time of possession.
The linebacking corps actually made enough big plays on Saturday to be noticeable, tallying four stops behind the line of scrimmage. Willy Harvey also made a key pass breakup early on a 4th down attempt by WVU, and Levi Peters notched one of my favorite obscure football stats, a "QB hurry." Seriously though, this unit will return a lot of potential in 2016 between Harvey, Jordan Harris, Levi Peters and Brian Mills.
Special Teams: Quite a bit to like here: two converted fake punts for Holden Kramer... 44.6 yards on seven punts (three inside the 20, two of 50+ yards) for Colin Downing... 33 and 49-yard FGs for Cole Netten, his 7th and 8th consecutive makes dating back to the Texas Tech game... Again, if there's been a consistent unit on this team all season, it's certainly the special teams.
What Went Wrong
Offense: It was an odd day all around in the trenches. Iowa State's offensive line, which by most measures had been playing solid football over the past several weeks, couldn't give Joel Lanning more than three seconds to get the ball out of his hand. West Virginia entered Saturday ahead of only Texas Tech in the Big 12 in sacks per game, and five different Mountaineers each tallied one. Lanning had been notoriously subpar in the accuracy department in his four previous starts, but another 50% day and a couple interceptions were certainly aided by the guys up front.
West Virginia's 3-3-5 scheme is built for speed and containment, and it made its presence felt tremendously against both Lanning and the running game as a whole. Mike Warren, despite all of his impending accolades, was held to 3.9 yards per carry, a near season low behind his 2.4 YPC output against Oklahoma. Lanning's net yardage was also in the red for the first time in his career after rushing 11 times for 27 yards and then losing 40 in his five sacks.
Defense: Just when we started to give some dap to the defensive line, they came out and delivered a performance like we saw on Saturday. Pressure on Howard was non-existent aside from a rare coverage sack by Trent Taylor (his first of the year), and West Virginia's 2nd ranked (Big 12) rushing attack gashed the Iowa State front seven for 213 yards. Howard led the way with 73 of his own and a TD, following up a 9-129-1 performance against Kansas the week prior.
How this unit fares in the open field has been an issue faced in probably three-fourths of its games this year and should be a high priority addressed by the new staff in the offseason. Awareness, route efficiency, tackling and speed are all coachable, and it's been a glaring weakness in rush defense, particularly against mobile quarterbacks.
WVU converted 13 first downs via the run.
Special Teams: It was a bit surprising to see West Virginia WR/KR Shelton Gibson take advantage of a stout Iowa State coverage unit when he took an early 2nd quarter kickoff 53 yards into Cyclone territory. I do believe this was a season long allowed by the bomb squad, and it was the lone hiccup in an otherwise run-of-the-mill day for ISU special teams.
Chris Francis, if placekicking duties remain his in 2016 and beyond, will need to improve upon zero touchbacks. In terms of field position, Iowa State was probably bailed out more than we know by having a solid coverage team, but Francis will still need to beef up that leg. Cole Netten's 10 total touchbacks were a Big 12 low by a country mile. By comparison, Texas Tech kicker Clayton Hatfield was responsible for 56.
Special Teams: C+
Iowa State fumbled the ball three times and lost it once. Josh Thomas turned it over near midfield late in the third quarter, which fortunately didn't turn into points for West Virginia. Joel Lanning threw two interceptions in the first 18 minutes of play, which led to 10 of the Mountaineers' 30 points. Lanning finished the year with just four total picks in 193 pass attempts (five starts).