1. Coffee is For Closers
No matter how close the loss is, it’s not as good as a win. We knew this year was going to be rough, but I don’t think anyone envisioned this many close losses to good teams. As a fan, it’s frustrating. The team we saw last night is clearly better than the team that lined up against UNI and Iowa at the beginning of the season. However, the wins haven’t arrived yet.
I am optimistic about the improvement we’ve seen from a lot of the younger guys -- including OC Tom Manning -- but that doesn’t change the 1-8 record. In four of the last five games (all losses), Iowa State has had the chance to win in the fourth quarter. Each time, they’ve choked.
Against Baylor and Oklahoma State, the offense ceased to exist entirely and the defense buckled. Against Kansas State, the defense held the Wildcats scoreless in the fourth quarter and actually scored two points on its own via safety, but the offense couldn’t make up for its earlier mistakes. And against Oklahoma last night, the offense failed to capitalize on Oklahoma’s mere 6-point second half.
Last night was an all-too-perfect microcosm of Iowa State’s season so far; the offense plays well at times, the defense plays well at times, but inconsistency derails any momentum the Cyclones build. Against Baylor, the Cyclone offense scored touchdowns on each of its first six possessions. After three quarters, Iowa State had 42 points but only a 14 point lead because the defense couldn’t stop Seth Russell and the Baylor offense. Then, Baylor scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win.
However, I’m not too worried. I realize that for the past four years Iowa State hasn’t even been close enough in these games to choke them away. Baylor was beating Rhoads teams by 60+ at times; this year, they needed a last second field goal to beat this team. While I’m frustrated that the wins aren’t coming like they should be, I also realize this year was never going to be special. Maybe next year.
2. The Two QB System Might Work
I’m not a huge fan of the two QB system. I think quarterbacks need a bit of rhythm and consistency. While I don’t want to make an excuse for Jacob Park’s poor throw in the endzone against Kansas State, he had just been brought in the game for Joel Lanning and that was his first play in a while. It’s possible that both Lanning and Park feel more pressure to perform knowing they might not have the ball again for that possession if the offense fails while the other one is playing QB.
In this case though, I think it can work. And Iowa State need not look far for inspiration; last night’s opponent has used a similar two QB system in past years. Bob Stoops made “The Belldozer” famous for a reason -- as a backup QB, Blake Bell scored 40 career touchdowns, almost all completely within ten yards of the endzone.
I don’t think Lanning will be as effective as Bell, but we saw glimpses of a solid 1-2 punch last night. With only three games to go in 2016, I’d like to see the coaching staff work out some of the kinks in the system before the 2017 season starts. Then the two QB system can take full effect.
3. There Has Been Improvement
I know, I know. We’re all tired of trying to find the bright side after a loss. Moral victories suck. But I genuinely think we’ve seen progress, even in the last few weeks, and that’s a positive.
At the beginning of the year, penalties and turnovers were Iowa State’s biggest problems. Iowa State often looked unprepared. UNI and Iowa could simply sit back and wait for the Iowa State offense to shoot itself in the foot.
For the past five weeks, Iowa State has made other teams beat them. I said this earlier this year and I’ll say it again: there’s a difference between getting beat and losing. When you lose to a team like UNI after losing the turnover battle by three and the penalty yards battle by 24, you didn’t get beat, you lost the game. When you lose to a team like Oklahoma after winning the turnover battle by one and the penalty yards battle by five, you simply got beat by a better team. Right now, Iowa State is getting beat. That wasn’t the case earlier this season.
I’m not saying there aren’t things this team could be doing to win those close games; there certainly are, but when you don’t lose the game yourself you open up the opportunity for upsets. That’s how Kansas State has put together great seasons under Bill Snyder. They don’t beat themselves.
That’s what we all want Iowa State to do under Matt Campbell: put a well-prepared football team on the field and give the team a chance to win against anybody.