Two losses to open the season has Iowa State football scrambling to find their first win. Unfortunately, another tough opponent looms tomorrow, as the Cyclones take on the TCU Horned Frogs down in Texas.
Will ISU pull the big upset like they did in 2012? Or will TCU impose their will on the faltering Cyclones?
I talked to Melissa Triebwasser from SB Nation's TCU blog, Frogs O’ War, to get her thoughts on this weekend’s game.
Kevin: TCU has built a reputation on fielding nasty defenses year in and year out. Yet, this season, they've allowed 41 points per game - tied for 119th in the country. What's up with the Horned Frogs' D this year? (That came out dirty...)
Melissa: I don't really want to touch this one with a ten foot pole. I mean, I don't know how nasty they get on the D. The D will dig deep. The D is strong. The D is...
... I quit.
But seriously, we really thought the defense would be the strength of this team, and two games in, it just isn't. While their performance in the first half against Arkansas was encouraging, they haven't been able to get consistent pressure on opposing QBs, leaving the corners out on an island for an extended period of time. Both Taryn Christion of SDSU and Austin Allen of Arkansas played career-best games, and that's either an unlucky coincidence or a bad omen for the season. More likely, it's a little column A, a little column B.
Patterson made big changes last week, inserting bigger, stronger linebackers into the lineup in the place of the small speedy guys. Ty Summers and Sammy Douglas rewarded him with nice games, and Montrel Wilson moved to safety and had a decent outing. It's really going to come down to the big names up front - James McFarland, Aaron Curry, Josh Carraway, and Joseph Broadnax - to start making plays. They have a ton of talent, and if GP let's them loose a bit, all are capable of double digit sack campaigns. At the very least, they need to dial up the blitzes more regularly, as junior Ranthony Texada appears far from 100% after a devastating knee injury last season and redshirt freshman Jeff Gladney is still learning how to play at this level.
The talent is there. The scheme has proven it can be effective. It seems to be mostly mental at this point, and I still believe GP can grow them up before the meat of the schedule.
Kevin: Iowa State's defense has struggled against mobile QBs, and Kenny Hill is currently leading TCU with 22 carries for 138 yards and 5 TDs so far this year. For ISU fans who haven't seen TCU's first two games, how has Hill managed to be so effective on the ground? Lots of zone reads? Scrambles? Designed QB runs?
Melissa: Against SDSU, most of his runs appeared to be called pre-snap. But against Arkansas, it was more out of need than anything - and Kenny Hill was very effective at picking his spots and making something out of nothing. Because the offensive line hasn't been able to get much going in the run game using traditional methods, TCU's dynamic duo of offensive coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham are relying more on the short passing game and scheduled/improvised runs by Hill to keep opposing defenses honest. Kyle Hicks has shown some flashes, and for the Frogs to get faster starts in games, they really need to get him going early.
All that to say, while Kenny Hill isn't Trevone Boykin, he's shown flashes of that instinctive feel in the pocket and escapability that made Tre so dangerous. And he's got incredible feet. The only reason the Frogs got back in the game against the Hogs last week was because Kenny made some plays. Here's hoping we don't have to rely on that every week.
Kevin: Are there any true freshmen contributing this season for the Horned Frogs that we should keep an eye on?
Melissa: The only true freshman who has accumulated any stats so far this season is wide receiver Isaiah Graham, who has... a catch. But it was for 22 yards, so that's good!
Honestly, this has been one of the most surprising developments of this season - with some many hyped incoming freshmen, I really thought we would see a bigger impact from guys like Sewo Oloniua and Darius Anderson on offense - both running backs - and Brandon Bowen and Ross Blacklock - both defensive linemen - on defense. Gary Patterson is not known to enjoy playing true freshmen, last year he had to because of injuries, but my guess is he's been holding some of these guys back a bit until this point to make sure they're truly ready. Or they are already in his doghouse, which would also not be surprising in the least.
That being said, there are several redshirt freshmen who are playing crucial roles on this team, including kicker Ryan Graf, who is having an impact - but I don't want to say what kind.
Kevin: Which Cyclone players concern you the most on each side of the ball? Why?
Melissa: Just to be sure, Allen Lazard will only play on offense, right? This guy (Gruden voice) is just so good. What he's doing so far this season is even more impressive when you look at how bad the quarterback play has been and how little help he's getting from the running game or other receivers. He has all but 100 of the yards that Lanning has thrown for, and is 200 yards and nine receptions ahead of the next best receiver statistically on the team. We have been getting torched by big receivers so far this season, and Lazard is probably the best pure talent we have seen yet. So, yeah. This could get ugly.
On defense, I feel like Kamari Cotton-Moya always plays his best football against TCU, and his nine tackles versus TCU last season play into that fear. He is such a force of nature in the secondary, able to wreak havoc on the passing game and in the backfield. I always feel like, if there is a big play in the game, his name is somewhere in the pile.
Kevin: Let's hear your prediction for the game. Does ISU have a chance in this one, or will TCU steamroll the Cyclones for the third year in a row?
Melissa: I should feel good about this game. Kenny Hill, for all the wringing of hands, has been really good, closing in on 1,000 yards from scrimmage through two games. That's insane. Those are Lamar Jackson kind of numbers. And the Frogs have a litter of talented receivers and the Cyclones shouldn't be able to shut them down. I am just so worried about momentum and psyche. If Lazard is able to house one early... if Kenny Hill has another terrible pick six in the first half... if penalties add up and kill drives... it feels like so much has gone wrong in the first half through the first two games, leaving the Frogs to mount a furious comeback and hope they don't run out of time.
But, I still believe in this team a little. And I think Saturday could be a turning point moment for a young team. So I am going to say Hill (who I am guessing is NOT a morning person) gets a little more help from his running game and his defense than we have seen to this point, the Frogs get their first and second interceptions of the year in the first half, and that starts the team on a positive note that never relents. Frogs win, oh, 45-24 or so. Because Allen Lazard will get his, that I am sure of.
Kevin: BONUS QUESTION - Can you guys just agree to stop trying to be good at basketball? First you hire Jamie Dixon and now you've already signed two 4-star recruits for 2017... This madness must be put to an end!
Melissa: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHHA. NO. We haven't been to the tournament since my freshman year of college and I am just hours away from plunking my hard-earned cash down for season ticket renewals SO WE ARE GOING TO WIN MULTIPLE BIG 12 GAMES THIS YEAR DEAL WITH IT.
Thanks to Melissa for answering our questions. Good luck to TCU this weekend!