Who is this team we are seeing?
Where was this the first couple of games?
These were just some of the text conversations back and forth with multiple friends watching the Baylor game. Instead of a blowout (this guy picked a 25-point loss), Saturday’s game was by far and away the best football game played in the Matt Campbell era.
Coach Campbell continues to preach progress, and he didn’t make any excuses in the post-game press conference. I love the fact he doesn’t use standard coach speak. He tells it like it is, and understands that there are always things to work on. And when adversity hits, who is able to step up?
Going into the game there was absolutely no expectation for the Cyclones to win, in fact they were 17-point underdogs, and if you were to ask me (or any other fan) who you would bet on – the majority would say the favorite. There were multiple opportunities in this conference affair for the Cyclones to take advantage of. A lot of the times, they did, towards the latter of the game, they didn’t.
Here is the good, bad, and ugly synopsis on Saturday’s 45-42 loss to Baylor.
What Went Right
Coming into the game everyone expected to see both Lanning and backup Jacob Park to continue their quarterback competition, but in this one, Lanning took the bull by the horns and carried this team on his back.
Lanning led ISU to touchdowns on their first SIX DRIVES, and in one of the most efficient and convincing of fashions we have ever seen. What was even more impressive was how balanced the offense was, converting on 10 of their first 11 3rd and 4th downs. There was a mix of Mike Warren runs (130 rushing yards) and Joel Lanning keepers (another 57), but the most impressive thing on display was the accuracy of #7.
Time and again Lanning made the right reads (thanks to time in the pocket), and was able to find receivers open downfield. The offensive play-calling by coordinator Tom Manning was magnificent, and our playmaking receivers reaped the benefits.
One of those benefactors was Carson Epps, who scored his first touchdown in a Cyclone uniform on a beautiful call on 3rd and long. The sophomore ran a slant pattern and blew by the second line of defense into the end zone for a 46-yard score.
At the “M” position, both Trever Ryen and Deshaunte Jones also had big days. Ryen led all Cyclone receivers with 5 grabs and 75 yards, and Jones continues to be an X-factor for the offense, with a zig-zagging catch-and-run to pay dirt for a 43-yard score.
Another positive was that the fast start, as ISU forced Baylor to punt on their first drive, and the offense came right down to score 7. Right there the momentum was on the side of Iowa State. And once there is a lead against a ranked team in Jack Trice, the crowd gets sucked in hook, line and sinker.
The defense struggled a bit stopping the run (which we will get to in what went wrong), but the pass defense continues to be the calling card for Jon Heacock’s unit. Albeit a few long seam routes where D’Andre Payne was beat, the rest of the secondary stepped up big holding Baylor to only 12 completions and 130 yards below their average.
Leading the box score in tackles was safety Evrett Edwards with 13 stops. Not far behind him was linebacker Willie Harvey with 12 tackles, 3 tackles-for-loss and a sack. Demond Tucker finally showed up and Jhaustin Thomas was fighting double teams all day.
What Went Wrong
I’m going to get one thing out of the way – this Iowa State run defense is really bad. Baylor ran for 7.6 yards per carry, paving the way for 469 yards on the ground. Most of that damage came outside the tackles (no penetration from front four), and missed tackles in secondary. It seemed Iowa State had no answer for the three-headed monster rushing attack from Baylor, and made no adjustments either.
Towards the end of the game ISU’s defense was completely worn out, and the Bears knew it. They dominated the time of possession and also the momentum.
It was a tale of 3 quarters won by the Cyclones, and the 4th quarter won by Baylor. All the Bears had to do was stick around and wait for their opportunity to strike. That opportunity was in the fourth quarter – with an all-of-a-sudden ineffective offensive performance by the Cyclones and Joel Lanning, as all the team could muster in the fourth quarter was 7 rushing yards and not a single completion.
That’s right. After six consecutive scoring drives and over 450 yards of offense in the first three quarters, this unit tallied 7 rushing yards and 3 incompletions. They even started on the 50-yard line after an impressive kick return by freshman Kene Nwangwu and still couldn’t even get a first down.
Nwangwu had two big returns in the kicking game, and continues to be a game changer. Kickoff man Chris Francis changed field position immensely with five touchbacks, and punter Colin Downing had the punt of a lifetime – a 67-yard bomb in the fourth quarter.
Offense – A
Defense – F
Special Teams – B+