I’m not sure I have ever felt more angry after a football game than I did following Saturday’s game. Nobody likes blaming the officials, and it’s easy to say the team could have done more in other parts of the game to ensure something like this didn’t happen. However, when it comes down to it, teams need to be able to rely on solid officiating in critical situations like we saw this weekend. Saying the teams should have done more to avoid those situations does not change the fact that those critical moments require, even more so than the rest of the game, sound officiating.
What we saw on Saturday was a victory being snatched away from one team by an officiating crew that threw flags on four critical plays, only to have all four picked up. All four of those penalties would have been on Kansas State, with the final pick-up negating a blatant, textbook pass interference call that would have sealed the game for the Cyclones.
It’s easy to lob conspiracy theories of a “fix” by the Big 12 to prevent ISU’s success, ensure a win in Bill Snyder’s last game, etc., but that seems to be incredibly unlikely. Improbably, it seems as though the officals from Saturday’s game may actually be THAT incompetent. How do I know? If there really was a fix, it would have been far less obvious.
We’ll probably hear more about the officiating throughout the week, possibly including an apology letter from the Big 12, so let’s set it aside and talk about what the team could actually control against Kansas State.
What Went Wrong
Late Game Playcalling
As with anytime I mention playcalling here, I still believe Tom Manning is a good offensive coordinator as a whole, and this is only a criticism of this particular situation. On the Iowa State’s last drive. Iowa State really just need to burn some clock and pick up at least one first down. Pick up one first down, and Kansas State has to use all of its timeouts. Even if we weren’t able to pick up the first down, three consecutive runs on that drive virtually guarantees Kansas State would minimal time and/or no timeouts to make a game winning drive.
Kyle Kempt Starting Over Zeb Noland
I know I’m going to catch some flak for this, but I believe Zeb Noland would have been the better option at quarterback against Kansas State. This season, Kansas State has been inconsistent in pass coverage, giving up big passing plays all year long. Zeb’s big arm and gunslinger mentality would have been ideal in trying to gash the Wildcat defense over the top.
Listen, I understand Kyle Kempt has been good for Iowa State. Cyclone fans should and will be forever grateful for everything he’s done this season. He took over a difficult situation and handled it beautifully. He’s certainly earned the start. However, Zeb had performed equally admirably in his game and a half in charge, and has a much bigger upside than Kempt. Young quarterbacks get better with repetition. Against Kansas State, Zeb would had the chance to get Big 12 reps against one of the worst pass defenses in the country.
It’s a secret to absolutely nobody that Kansas State likes to use their dual threat quarterbacks in the rushing game, as well as on bootleg/rollout passes. Skylar Thompson is less runner and more passer than previous K-State quarterbacks, so he dropped back to pass more often than usual. On multiple occasions, Thompson was able to use his legs to escape the pocket and make plays on the run, especially on that final drive.
On the last play specifically, excellent coverage forced Thompson to escape to his left. After a defensive lineman’s arm just missed, Thompson turned back to his right to buy more time, eventually finding a receiver in the back of the endzone as time expired. Even with pass coverage unit as good as Iowa State’s, expecting them to be 100% solid for north of 6 seconds is unrealistic. Eventually, someone will lose a receiver in their zone, just as they did on that last play. The three man front has been good to Iowa State all year, but has shown some vulnerability to mobile quarterbacks that are able to break contain. Using the four-man front that had been successful most of the game, or delayed blitzer, would have been the best way to keep the quarterback honest and force him to throw a perfect ball into a very tight window, which Thompson would not be able to do on a consistent basis.
What Went Right
After David Montgomery went down in the first quarter, Sheldon Croney took over the largest portion of the ballcarrying duties, and played well. He showed good gap discipline and the ability to shake off weaker tackles. Just a sophomore, Croney’s emergence is an exciting development going forward as Matt Campbell will certainly feel comfortable using Croney to give Montgomery a series off here and there to get him a breather.
All season, Joel Lanning and the rest of the linebacker group has performed well above expectations, becoming one of the better groups in the Big 12. Saturday, the Cyclone linebackers successfully shut down the K-State rushing attack, only allowing 109 rushing yards, including only 12 yards from Skylar Thompson. Fortunately, everyone but Joel Lanning returns next year. Expect Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey to lead the group, while Tymar Sutton, Jake Hummel, and Orien Vance, among others, compete for playing time.
It came a little bit later this season, but the offensive line seemed to finally make the same jump we saw last season. Kyle Kempt consistently had either plenty of time to throw or an escape lane (an underappreciated part of pass blocking), and Sheldon Croney and Mike Warren were able to gain solid yardage behind some decent push upfield. This group is another that will experience minimal turnover, so this late-season development bodes well, especially given the 15 bowl practices coming up. These bowl practices are essentially a second set of spring practices where young guys can see substantial growth.
WE’RE IN A BOWL GAME Y’ALL