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The Devil is in the Details for Iowa State Football

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Even though Iowa State lost badly to TCU, there were signs of progress.

As I mentioned briefly in 3 Things We Learned, Iowa State has gotten better each week at three things: turnovers, penalties, and time of possession. These are three things that are hugely important and they’re things every team can have some control over, regardless of the opponent. If Iowa State wants to win, they need to focus on those areas. I also think there needs to be more of an emphasis on getting the ball to both Mike Warren and Allen Lazard.

Here’s the table I created for 3 Things We Learned:


Week 1 - UNI

Week 2 - Iowa

Week 3 - TCU

Penalties - Yards

9 - 89

10 - 73

7 - 44

Turnovers

4

1

0

Time of Possession

24:04

27:52

32:52

A few things about this:

  • 19 penalties in two games is absurd. ISU’s 19 penalties happened to match Mike Warren’s carry total through two games. Last year, Miami was dead last in the FBS with 9.8 penalties per game. 9.5 penalties per game, like Iowa State had through two weeks, would’ve put the Cyclones in 127th place out of 128 last season. The 81 penalty yards per game would’ve been good for 126th last year.
  • On the other hand, Iowa State’s number of penalties (and yardage) against TCU was much more acceptable. Seven penalties per game is a little high -- about 100th best in the nation last year -- but only 44 yards per game on penalties would’ve been 25th best in the country.
  • Turnovers are a statistic that can be hard to trust in small sample sizes, because freak things happen. However, Iowa State has now gone from four turnovers in one game to one turnover in the last two. One turnover in two games is solid.
  • Time of possession isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker. If you can create explosive plays, you’re probably not going to have a lot of time of possession simply because your drives will be shorter. However, this Iowa State offense, with a poor offensive line and inconsistent play all over the offense, isn’t going to be explosive. Time of possession is big for this team, especially with the speedy offenses of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Baylor, etc. Against TCU, Iowa State did a good job sustaining a few drives and keeping the TCU offense on the sidelines.

However, raw data doesn’t tell the whole story. To add some context to the stats above, here’s another table to show how the penalties, turnovers, and time of possession have played a factor so far.


Week 1 - UNI

Week 2 - Iowa

Week 3 - TCU

8+ play drives

1 (TD)

3 (FG, punt, punt)

5 (turnover on downs, TD, FG, TD, FG)

Penalties of 10+ yards

6

3

1

Opponent’s starting field position on scoring drives

ISU 16, Own 39, Own 20, ISU 36

ISU 42, Own 34, Own 34, Own 14, Own 32, ISU 43

Own 39, Own 36, Own 29, Own 45, Own 25, Own 41, Own 26

When it comes to sustaining drives, Iowa State really only had one long drive against UNI. They went 69 yards in eight plays, capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass from Joel Lanning to Allen Lazard.

Against Iowa, there were more long drives, but the Cyclones struggled to finish them. On the only scoring drive of the game, Lazard had three catches for 48 yards.

In Fort Worth, the Cyclones had five different drives that lasted eight or more plays. Iowa State ran a combined 18 plays on their two touchdown drives. Eight of those 18 plays were Mike Warren runs. Even though not all of Warren’s runs went for good yardage, two of those eight carries went for first downs, including a clutch two yard gain on 3rd-and-1 near midfield.

The penalties weren’t as severe against TCU, either. Iowa State committed nine penalties in the first two weeks that were ten or more yards. Only one such penalty was committed in the game against TCU.

When it comes to sustaining long drives, another benefit is field position. When Iowa State was committing penalties left and right while also turning the ball over four times, it killed drives and gave UNI good field position. On UNI’s three TD drives, they started at their own 39, ISU’s 36, and ISU’s 16. When faced with driving more than 40 yards, UNI wasn’t very effective. It’s really that simple; don’t shoot yourself in the foot and you don’t lose that game. Even if Iowa State had gone three and out and punted instead of committing turnovers, they probably would’ve won against UNI.

Iowa was sort of a mixed bag. Since Iowa State only committed one turnover, Iowa generally didn’t have great field position unless it resulted from back-and-forth drives over several possessions. In the second half, Iowa didn’t score until their third possession. This was after Iowa State had punted three times and Iowa punted twice. Even against superior competition like Iowa, the Cyclones were able to force the Hawks to punt twice before they got their first score of the half. If the offense can finally take advantage of stops by the defense, Iowa State will start to look like a winning team.

In the TCU game, Iowa State simply gave up too many big plays. It happens. The good news is, Iowa State covered the point spread for the first time all season and scored 20 points on a Big 12 defense.

Penalties were down, turnovers were down, time of possession was up, and the Cyclones found a way to give Mike Warren more carries in one game than he had in the previous two combined. The TCU game was a good sign for the team and there was noticeable improvement from week two to week three. These are all things Iowa State can (mostly) control on their own.

Before they start beating other teams, Iowa State has to learn how to stop beating themselves. The TCU game showed they’re starting to figure that part out.