Saturday provided Cyclone fans, and the country, with the perfect example of why being a Cyclone fan is so great. Most of Iowa State football history has been filled with games like Texas. Disappointment and misery. Games that were never as close as the score indicated, or weren’t even close by that measure. Heart-breaking defeats and blowouts.
Saturday was different.
Saturday’s win wasn’t a fluke. The Cyclones didn’t rely on trick plays (Oklahoma ran a few though, with the exception of a thin pass interference call, the game was largely officiated fairly, and Oklahoma only turned the ball over once. Saturday’s game was won by outplaying the Sooners on both sides of the ball, not by using gimmicks or relying on bad penalties.
Let’s take a deeper look into the win.
What Went Wrong
Honestly, anybody that has any major complaint about Saturday’s near flawless performance is probably nit-picking, but I did identify two areas that still need improvement.
For the most part, a lot of Oklahoma’s passing game came from hitting receivers coming out of the backfield. On multiple occasions, Dimitri Flowers was able to find space downfield on delayed routes out of the H-back position. Flowers was largely uncovered on these routes, as Joel Lanning and Marcel Spears often bit on play action, or did not account for Flowers after he began the play blocking before heading out to the flats. If the linebackers start recognizing delayed routes to take running backs out of the passing game, getting off the field on 3rd down will become much, much easier.
Defending the Deep Pass
Defending the deep ball has been a weakness of the secondary for much of the season. While the unit has been good in run support and on short routes, the safeties do have a tendency to range out of their zone to help on intermediate routes, leaving the defense vulnerable to deep passes. The Sooners didn’t throw the deep ball much on Saturday, so this vulnerability was largely untested on Saturday. This unit will need to improve in deep pass coverage to be able to slow down teams like Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State.
What Went Right
Let’s be honest here. When we all heard that Jacob Park wasn’t playing last Saturday, we essentially wrote off any chance of this offense being functional. Yet, the redshirt senior quarterback stepped in and played the game of his life. His demeanor throughout the game was calm and collected, acting as a beacon of leadership, even when the Sooners took a 24-10 lead and the game looked to be lost. His expression here tells the whole story.
This kid just beat #3 Oklahoma IN NORMAN in his first career college start, and he looks like he’s been main-lining morphine for the last six hours. His expression was this way when the score looked bad and after throwing the biggest touchdown pass of his life to put the good guys up 38-31. He never got too high or too low, and his leadership was a big reason for Saturday’s victory.
This guy has managed to defy all known adjectives. Saturday, Lanning played 78 snaps combined of offense AND defense. He made critical tackles, sacked Baker Mayfield AFTER FALLING DOWN AND GETTING BACK UP ON THE SAME PLAY, picked up crucial first down yardage as a runner, and even completed two passes. On one of his completions, he even set a pretty good lead block for David Montgomery after reversing direction on a screen pass. The man can literally do it all, and was rightfully named the Walter Camp Player of the Week. I’d continue writing about his leadership, selflessness, work ethic, versatility, grit, toughness, and overall badassery, but, frankly, all of those words now seem inadequate to describe Mr. Lanning.
The progress this group has made this season under coach Eli Rasheed has been nothing short of remarkable. Even in drop-8 coverage, when only three lineman are rushing the passer, the defensive line has still done a very good job of collapsing the pocket, forcing the quarterback to escape and find a target downfield with eight defenders in coverage, or scramble for yardage with no lead blockers. As this line continues to improve, the linebackers will be able to focus on covering the delayed routes I mentioned earlier, as well as deliver well timed and located pressure on the quarterback.
The Texas game was an absolute debacle from a playcalling perspective. The offense didn’t appear to have a clear gameplan outside of connecting on the deep pass, and wasn’t able to move the ball with any consistency. Last Saturday represented a complete 180 degree turnaround. The drives were methodical and well balanced, but also uncharacteristically aggressive, leading to a handful of explosive plays which propelled the offense to it’s fourth 38+ point output of the season. It’s clear to see that this staff is not only talented, but willing to learn from and improve upon mistakes. That attitude of constant improvement will help the Cyclone put up a ton of points in the future.
As I’ve said before, David Montgomery will probably be a staple in this section going forward until he proves to me that he is a fully-mortal human being. His stat line on Saturday wasn’t flashy, but it was extremely effective. Also, he did this:
Yeah, the kid’s pretty good. Feed him the rock, and good things happen.
Offense: A+ - This is obvious.
Defense: A - If you can hold Oklahoma to 31 points, you get an A.
Special Teams: A - Garrett Owens was excellent once again, and Collin Downing was very good in the few times he actually had to come on the field.
Fresh tea brewed with Sooner tears : A+
Evrett Edwards planting the flag: A+
Random Iowa State player yelling “Who’s your daddy?!” on TV: A+