Well, we’ve all been on this ride before. This is the third time in the last four years that Iowa State has opened the season with a loss to an FCS opponent (!!). Over the past three years, Iowa State has gone 3-9, 2-10, and 3-9, so logic would say the Cyclones are better off winning against FCS schools rather than losing.
Rather than recount each and every frustrating moment from last night’s defeat, let’s look at three things we learned about this team after watching the 2016 Cyclones play against real competition for the first time.
1. The offensive line is hot garbage
On one hand, this isn’t really new information. The lack of experience and depth on the offensive line has been well documented and the line was hurt even further when Jake Campos went down with an injury a couple weeks ago.
On the other hand, however, is the fact that the offensive line somehow got worse since last season. Last year, even though the line was far from perfect, there were still occasional holes for Mike Warren to run through. Against UNI, who obviously has a much smaller defensive line than most teams Iowa State will play, the Cyclones couldn’t create even the slightest gaps for Warren and Joel Lanning to run through.
Iowa State had a mere 27 yards on the ground in the first half and Mike Warren -- who was named first team All-Big 12 in the preseason -- finished the game with 12 carries for 30 yards. There were simply no holes created by the offensive line, and whenever Warren did break a long run, it was called back for holding.
2. We’re going to see a lot of self-inflicted wounds
Penalties and turnovers play a prominent role in every football game, and Iowa State did its best to lose both those battles. They gave up 89 yards due to 9 penalties last night and committed four turnovers. The worst penalties, in my opinion, happened with 7:02 remaining in the 4th quarter. Iowa State had just scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 33-yard pass from Lanning to Allen Lazard, giving the Clones a 20-19 lead. Following the touchdown, Iowa State picked up two penalties before UNI even touched the ball. First, they were called for having 12-men on the field during the kickoff, which backed up the Cyclones five yards. Kicker Chris Francis then proceeded to kick the ball out of bounds, allowing UNI to start the possession at their own 40.
A decent kickoff with no penalties probably would’ve put UNI at their own 25 to start the drive. Field position would’ve been much more favorable for Iowa State, who had just picked up momentum by taking the lead for the first time since the 2nd quarter. Instead, the two penalties on the kickoff gave UNI better field position and seemingly drained the confidence of everyone in the stadium.
Iowa State simply couldn’t get out of its own way last night. It’s really hard to win football games with 89 penalty yards and a -3 turnover ratio.
3. The defense might not be so bad after all
In a more positive turn of events, Iowa State’s defense did a pretty good job, all things considered. They forced a punt on the opening drive and UNI didn’t score until 9:14 remaining in the first half after Iowa State’s offense lost a fumble at its own 16-yard line. In fact, UNI really only scored because of mistakes by the ISU offense. Take a look at how UNI scored their touchdowns:
UNI scored three TD's last night. Here's how those possessions started: pic.twitter.com/8Urh6Lj6R8— Aaron Marner (@A_Mar32) September 4, 2016
On two of UNI’s three touchdown drives, the Panthers started in Cyclone territory after a turnover. The other time UNI scored a touchdown came after Joel Lanning took a safety, meaning Iowa State had to kick off from deep in their own territory. That allowed UNI to return the kickoff to the 39-yard line.
If the Iowa State offense can stop taking penalties and turning the ball over, it will give the defense a chance to catch its breath and play the role of aggressor. I think I speak for all Cyclone fans when I say I want to see the defense force more turnovers, create more tackles for loss, and play more aggressively in general. It’s hard for the defense to play aggressively when they’re constantly backed up against a wall, courtesy of the offense.
These are just three of the many takeaways from last night’s season opener. What did you learn from last night? Let us know down below in the comments.