While the loss to Oklahoma State was certainly disappointing given the circumstances, the attitude around #CyclONENation was different than previous years following a heartbreaking loss. In the past, our fanbase has had a habit of piling on the doom and gloom, knowing that we had missed yet another opportunity for a big win. Yet, this week the Iowa State fans instead turned their focus the Baylor game and to the prospects of a bowl game. This is due to a widespread belief in the fanbase, coaching staff, and team that we will not only have another shot at taking down a top team, but that we are now expecting to be able to compete with and beat even the blue bloods on a regular basis. From now on, teams like Oklahoma will no longer be chalked as a a quasi-automatic loss, but as a game that will not only be competitive, but one the Cyclones can win with some regularity. That’s change we can all believe in.
What Went Wrong
Before digging into this, it’s worth noting that this game presented some unusual circumstances for the team, as the team buses were stuck in traffic, severely limiting the amount of available time to warm up. That said, with the exception of the Oklahoma State game this team has been a slow starter for most of conference play. While the team was able to overcome slow starts against Oklahoma, Kansas, and Baylor, they also got burned against West Virginia.
As has been said a million times before, the offense isn’t necessarily built for the big plays required to make big comebacks, so coming from behind can be a tall order. Getting an early touchdown or two gives the defense a chance work with a lead, leading to a more aggressive scheme that can focus on forcing turnovers, like they did last Saturday.
I ordinarily don’t like calling out individual players unless it’s to commend them on an exemplary performance, but Julian Good-Jones has, and continues to, struggle in run blocking, particularly when used as a pulling lineman. When properly engaged, his technique is decent, but he doesn’t yet seem to have his assignments locked down tight. This will improve with experience and repetition, so the redshirt sophomore’s progress will be an important piece to watch going forward.
What Went Right
The Offensive Line as a Whole
Last Saturday represented this offensive line’s best body of work to date, consistently allowing time for Zeb Noland to make throws down field, and giving David Montgomery actual running lanes, rather than always forcing to make a sharp cut or change direction completely. Similar to last year, the line struggled early on, but has made steady improvement throughout the season. Last Saturday’s jump could be attributed in small part to quality of opponent, but the line showed real, tangible progress than can be carried over to next week, the bowl game, and into next season.
Sure, you could look at his 50% completion percentage and say he struggled against a terrible Baylor defense. He missed badly on a few throws that he probably makes the other 99 times, and forced a few passes into ridiculously tight windows (though none were intercepted).
He also showed impressive pocket presence, touch on intermediate passes, and his absolute cannon of right arm on the 67 yard TD pass to Hakeem Butler that travelled almost 55 yards in the air. Honestly, that didn’t look all that close to what his arm strength really can do either.
I don’t think anyone can come away from that game not feeling comfortable with Noland running the show, and the redshirt freshman will only improve with more repetition.
Also worth noting, when Zeb is in the game, the offensive playbook opens up a little for Tom Manning, as he can dial up a deeper, more aggressive passing game, as seen on Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler’s touchdown catches. Those throws are probably not included in a Kyle Kempt gameplan. Zeb’s arm allows this offense to be more explosive, though this particular team will never be reliant on big plays.
The often overlooked sophomore running back has essentially only received playing time to spell David Montgomery. On Saturday, Croney finished the game after David Montgomery went down with an ankle injury. He only carried the ball and handful of times, but he looked impressive, showing a combination of Mike Warren’s “one-cut” ability and David Montgomery’s strength.
First contact comes at the line of scrimmage comes in the form of an arm tackle by the Baylor linebacker. Croney seems to barely notice, continuing to barrel downfield before making two nice cuts and continuing on for another 15 yards. If Montgomery does not play Saturday (or sees more limited carries), #25 should be a better than serviceable understudy in the running game, provided his offensive line can give him a hole.