First off, let’s all give a round of applause to both the Cyclone players and coaching staff for putting forth an outstanding effort on Saturday. More times than I care to count, the team was faced with adversity, and the team pulled through each time but the last. This group’s unbridled will to look adversity in the face and tell it to f*** off hasn’t been seen in the cardinal and gold for quite some time. That said, let’s get to it.
What Went Wrong
Containing the Outside Run
Iowa’s bread and butter has always been the run game, especially in zone runs off tackle, stretch runs, and sweeps. Iowa State has size up the middle, but has struggled in containing outside runs due to inexperience at the defensive end and linebacker positions. I expect these issues to be mitigated throughout the season, but, unfortunately, the Cyclones ran into one of the best running teams on the schedule while the kinks are still being worked out. By the time Kansas State rolls in to town, I would expect to see some notable improvement in this area.
Iowa State’s lauded receiving corp has shown its big play ability and route running acumen, but are still under-performing in the consistency department. Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler both dropped multiple passes on Saturday, some at critical points in the game. This should improve throughout the season as the receivers become more and more familiar with their route trees. Butler, in specific, will need to become more comfortable with catching balls in the middle of the defense, as he will likely be asked to make some plays up the seam going forward.
Tackling has been an issue for Iowa State since forever and continues to be an issue going forward. Make no mistake, Iowa’s ballcarriers are outstanding players, but Iowa State missed crucial tackles on multiple occasions, including Akrum Wadley’s long scoring reception near the end of regulation. This section will probably be a somewhat regular inclusion in the Post-Mortem until we see less missed tackles, especially against the run.
What Went Right
Offensive and Defensive Lines
Raise your hand if you saw the both the defensive and offensive lines being a strength for Iowa State this year. No, you didn’t. Put your hand down you dirty liar. To start with the defense, the interior defensive line, especially Ray Lima and Vernell Trent, has been very, very good. Even Iowa’s vaunted running game couldn’t find space in the interior. If this defensive line continues and improves it’s play as the season goes, the linebackers will certainly feel less pressure, allowing them to focus on containing the outside run and watch underneath routes in the passing game.
Through two games against good defenses (including one of the best defensive lines Iowa State will face all year in Iowa), the offensive line has consistently given Jacob Park plenty of time to make sound reads and deliver outstanding passes. Even though the inside run was a non-factor on Saturday, line effectively set the edge for David Montgomery to get into space on the outside, where he is absolutely lethal. This bring me to my next point.
Going into the season, everybody knew David Montgomery was a quality running back that would be key cog in the offense. However, I don’t think many people expected him to be THIS good. Take a look at this piece of ridiculousness.
He now has 28 through 2 games this season. Had 29 forced MTs all of last year. pic.twitter.com/AwiP1KBO2i— Cameron Mellor (@PFF_Cam) September 10, 2017
The man is virtually untackleable. Even All-American Josey Jewell and the rest of Iowa’s stout linebacking group couldn’t contain him.
Let's kick this NFL Sunday off right... by going back to 12pm yesterday and watching David Montgomery lay waste to Iowa's D. (Thread) pic.twitter.com/W1G0zYS9gs— Ben Stockwell (@PFF_Ben) September 10, 2017
Run & pass for Montgomery, didn't matter. 12 MTs forced on the ground, 6 on receptions. pic.twitter.com/MJnHfu3Rcn— Ben Stockwell (@PFF_Ben) September 10, 2017
Iowa State might not have finished for the win but Montgomery certainly finished this TD run. Rides a facemask and drives over an LB. pic.twitter.com/kbdUQL2lQ7— Ben Stockwell (@PFF_Ben) September 10, 2017
Notice anything specific about those three plays? In all three, Josey Jewell had at least one hand on David Montgomery. In exactly zero of those three did Jewell successfully tackle David Montgomery. If the do-everything Cyclone running back can make one of the three best linebackers in the country look like a scrub, everyone should be excited at the prospect of him taking the Big 12’s generally undersized linebackers.
Similar to the tackling issues listed before, this will probably become a regular piece going forward until we can prove beyond a shadow of doubt that David Montgomery is indeed a fully mortal human being.
Matt Campbell’s “Process”
Just about everyone in the stadium thought this game was over when Iowa went up 21-10 early in the third quarter. The offense was stagnant and the Hawkeye running game was forcing the issue against a tiring defense. However, unlike Cyclone teams of the past, Iowa State didn’t fold. Instead, the staff made well-timed adjustments, taking advantage of the outside running and game and interior passing game to score 21 unanswered points to take the lead. Then, Iowa scored a touchdown, intercepted a pass on the next possession, then kicked a field goal to tie the game. Surely, this is when the Cyclones would finally collapse and lose another late game. Nope. The Cyclones bounced back almost immediately and retook the lead on a long Hakeem Butler touchdown reception.
Even though the game was eventually lost in overtime, it’s hard not see the extraordinary improvement this team has made over the course of Matt Campbell’s still young tenure. Any Cyclone fan walking away from that game that does not feel good about this team going forward is either uninformed, delusional, or will simply never be happy.
Take today to lick your wounds, but come tomorrow, appreciate how far this team has come in a short amount of time and how far it can continue to go.