The Iowa State football train is now officially fully screaming down the rails at Mach 1. After upsetting Oklahoma, demolishing Kansas, and making Taco Tech somehow even more self-loathsome, the Cyclones were in full “prove it” mode against TCU in their first game as a ranked team in over a decade.
What Went Wrong
The Running Game
The fact that the running game gets included in this section when we have a demigod at running back shows you how much the offensive line is struggling in the running game. Granted, TCU is the #3 rush defense in the country and is coached by one of the best defensive minds in football in Gary Patterson, but the line consistently got almost no push. Most of the yards David Montgomery did gain were due to his ability to force missed tackles and fall forward. Many of the issues in run blocking revolve around technique, so the problems can be corrected fairly quickly. West Virginia’s defense is hot garbage, allowing over 206 rush yards and 450+ total yards per contest, so this weekend’s game in Morgantown should present a solid opportunity to get the running game back on track.
End-of-the Game Playcalling
Before I elaborate on this point: This is in no way an indictment of Tom Manning or his ability as a playcaller.
Another important caveat to consider here is the struggles of the running game and the success the Cyclones were having in the passing game. Those struggles handcuffed Manning a bit near the end of the game, forcing him to pass on early downs to avoid 2nd or 3rd and long situations. However, as a counter to TCU consistently stopping runs between the tackles and applying pressure with the blitz, I would have liked to see more attempts at stretch-type plays and screens.
Throwing more bubble screens out to the slot presents a high completion percentage alternative to running the ball which spreads out the defense, creating more running room for David Montgomery, and allows Iowa State’s receivers to make plays in space. Most importantly, bubble screens keep the clock running. The same seam routes that Hakeem Butler has repeatedly burned defense on for long gains, including the Kyle Kempt’s second touchdown pass to give Iowa State the 14-0 lead last Saturday.
What Went Right
Defense, Defense, Defense
The transformation this group has undergone over the course of the season has been nothing short of remarkable. From standout players like Joel Lanning, Brian Peavy, Ray Lima, Marcell Spears, Wille Harvey, Kamari Cotton-Moya, and D’Andre Payne among others, to the defensive position coaches, to defensive coordinator John Heacock, every single person involved should be incredibly proud of how well this defense has played, especially in a league which boasts so many potent offenses. In the last 14 quarters, Iowa State has given up a grand total of 20 points. That is absolutely incredible. They’ve stopped elite passing offenses in Oklahoma and Texas Tech, and an elite running game in TCU. They bend without breaking (though bending might be an exaggeration), and force opposing opponents execute mistake-free, and with surgical precision. Perhaps this defense’s best trait, however, is their resilience.
Even with a sputtering offense that couldn’t stay on the field, the defense made crucial stops time and time again, including forcing a fumble inside the five yard line to prevent a TCU score, and the game clinching interception.
This defense is an absolute weapon.
Marcel Spears has burst onto the scene with his second consecutive Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week award after snagging yet another crucial, game-winning interception. Throughout the offseason, Spears had been receiving rave reviews from the coaching staff, but Cyclone fans didn’t know what to expect from the sophomore linebacker. What they’ve gotten so far has been a game-changing linebacker with an apparent flair for the dramatic. With Joel Lanning graduating at the end of the season, Spears’ development is not just a key for this season, but could become one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 as his career progresses.
Yes, I realize playcalling is in both sections.
I absolutely loved the offensive gameplan in the first half. First, most people were probably wondering what was going on when Iowa State would line up in all sorts of bizarre formations, including one that featured Allen Lazard at running back, before switching to a more standard formation. TCU’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme utilizes a ton of exotic blitz packages and coverages which are well-disguised and create havoc for opposing offenses. As a counter, the offense would start in a bizarre formation, then change to a standard formation. The defense would then be forced to adjust, giving hints as to their coverage schemes and assignments. For a somewhat inexperienced, but intelligent quarterback like Kyle Kempt, these defensive keys are extremely helpful in diagnosing blitzes and coverage assignments.
Another stellar part of the game plan included throwing directly at undersized TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada, forcing him to compete with Allen Lazard and Marchie Murdock in one-on-one jump ball situations, which worked to perfection. Lazard and Murdock consistently came down with passes that were simply out of Texada’s reach, and even forced Texada into a few pass interference penalties.
The first half performance by the offense was a direct result of watching a ton of game film and formulating a successful gameplan designed to counter TCU’s stengths.
Update: Still not confirmed to be a fully mortal human being.