Following a disappointing loss to Iowa, the Cyclones traveled east to Akron, Ohio to take on the Zips. The game was a sort of homecoming for over 20 players and coaches who are originally from Ohio. David Montgomery’s contingent apparently numbered somewhere north of 50 people! The Cyclones came away with a comfortable 41-14 win, but fans, coaches, and players will all feel like the ‘Clones left some points on the table.
What Went Wrong
The Second Quarter (again)
For whatever reason, the second quarter has been a real problem this season. The Cyclones have come out strong in every game so far, including a 14-0 lead at the end of the 1st quarter on Saturday, but have consistently sputtered to a halt in the second quarter. Against both Iowa and Akron, the offense began to sputter in the second quarter, leading to short or unfinished drives ending in punts or field goals. The first and third quarters (especially the third) have been very kind to ISU so far, but more consistency in the second quarter will help to smooth over any lulls in the offense and help maintain momentum. Against the Big 12’s high powered offenses, offensive lulls can be a death sentence, as comebacks like we saw against Iowa are much more difficult.
As a preface to this section, the receiver group did make improvements against Akron regarding drops. The drops which plagued the offense were largely eliminated, with one exception. Allen Lazard. The star wideout seems to be having some confidence issues, dropping some passes which he ordinarily catches with ease and consistency. Every player goes through a “slump” at some point, but we just aren’t used to seeing Allen Lazard struggle. He’s still showing how talented he is, making another spectacular endzone catch on Saturday, but he also needs to return to making the easy catches in the middle of the field. Luckily, he has over a week and a half of practice to return to his fundamentals before the showdown with Texas. Lazard is far too talented for his mini-slump to last, but the last couple games have been a little rough for arguably the best wide receiver to ever play at Iowa State.
Covering the Deep Ball
Going into the season, the secondary was expected to be far and away the best unit on the defense. While the group has been largely excellent in run support, pass coverage, especially on deep passes, has been less than stellar. During the second quarter, Akron connected on a long pass down the sideline as a result of the Cover 2/Cover 3 errors they made against UNI. The corner played a short zone (as typically seen in a Cover 2), while the safety on that side played a low zone to cover crossing routes (as typically seen in a Cover 3).
Unfortunately, true freshman corner Keontae Jones was the corner on that side. Instead of following his receiver deep, the young and inexperienced corner saw a slant route coming across the field and attempted to cheat up in his coverage to make a play. This left the deep sideline wide open for the TD pass. This mistake is 100% correctable in the film room and can largely be attributed to the fact that Akron represented Jones’ first playing time of his college career.
However, defensive backs De’Monte Ruth and Brian Peavy were both flagged for pass interference penalties in the game. Ruth’s were largely due to him getting beat on deep routes and trying to save face, while Peavy’s was mainly due to poor hand placement on a receiver running a “go” route.
Luckily, Texas presents a more balanced approach on offense, and the game follows a bye week, so the Cyclones will have a good opportunity to improve their coverage following an extra week of practice and film study.
Also of Note:
- Jacob Park’s throws have been consistently high. He’ll need to start getting those down so his receivers can have all of their limbs at the end of the season.
- Defensive playcalling the second quarter was not good. The defense consistently sagged too far off the receivers, allowing Akron to nickel and dime their way down the field, en route to a TD at the end of the first half.
What Went Right
Just last week, I mentioned that tackling issues would probably a staple of the “What Went Wrong” section for the foreseeable future. Albeit against inferior competition, the defense largely tackled well, making a number of key open field and solo tackles. Akron’s running back Warren Ball is a very talented player, with a body and running style similar to the Kansas City Chief’s Kareem Hunt. He’s a load to bring down, the but the safeties and linebackers did an excellent job of making open field tackles. Eliminating missed tackles goes a long ways towards creating long yardage situations on second and third down, a key to slowing down the Big 12’s bevvy of explosive offenses.
Stopping the Run
Who would have ever guessed that stopping the run would be a legitimate strength of this team? Ray Lima has played as advertised, Vernell Trent has shown tremendous improvement, and Kamilo Tongamoa, Matt Leo, and Carson Lensing appear to be getting more and more comfortable by the snap. The linebackers have been equally impressive in stopping the run, as Joel Lanning, Marcel Spears, and Willie Harvey have been extremely effective in stopping inside runs. Defending the outside run has also been an area of improvement, as the linebackers are noticeably taking much better angles to ball carriers. As the season goes and the group watches more and more film, I expect Iowa State’s success against the run to continue and become a legitimate strength of the defense.
The Offensive Line
Continuing the trend of unexpected strengths, the offensive line has been nothing short of excellent. On the season, the offensive line has given up a grand total of ONE sack. One. Jacob Park consistently has loads of time to deliver the ball to his receivers, illustrated by his 66.7% completion rate (including a number of drops by his wide receivers) and his 72.2 adjusted QBR for the season. The offense has now racked up over 400 yards of offense 6 games in a row (a school record), and the massive improvement of the offensive line is a big reason why.
Also of Note:
- David Montgomery had another ho-hum day with 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and 5 catches for 46 yards. For you PPR league fantasy guys, that’s 28.6 points. Not a bad day at all.
- As mentioned before, Jacob Park has been playing very well, with plenty of room for improvement. Drop some of those high passes down, and get some more consistent catching from your receivers, and you’re looking at 70+ percent completions. That’s really impressive.