For a decade, Bill Snyder and the Kansas State Wildcats tormented Iowa State in close, weird, and ultimately disappointing games. With Kansas State struggling in 2018 and the Cyclones in the midst of the quickest, most dramatic ascension in program history, most of us thought we had a great chance to break the streak and end the curse of The Vampire, but let’s be honest. Nobody saw that game coming.
What Went Wrong
Following the injuries to D’Andre Payne, Datrone Young, and Enyi Uwazurike, the defense has struggled a bit over the last few weeks, and that continued against Kansas State. For my money this is largely due to two reasons beyond those three injuries.
- The true freshman that were getting solid playing time, such as Will McDonald and Zach Petersen, had been playing well, and were crucial in providing the added depth to the defensive line that allowed them to be so effective throughout the entire game. Those guys have hit their four game maximums and haven’t played. Suddenly, a defensive line that could run seven or eight guys out there during a game without a major drop off, is now largely down to four guys: JaQuan Bailey, Ray Lima, Spencer Benton, and Matt Leo. When you all of a sudden go from playing 60% of the defensive snaps to something clear of 80%, that’s a huge difference. Guys get tired, and play deteriorates.
- Iowa State’s base dime defense is changing not only the way the Big 12 plays defense, but the way it plays offense as well. While it’s undeniably effective against most Big 12 offenses, Kansas State plays a completely different ball game. Three down sets with 2 1⁄2 linebacker works great in RPO situations and against the pass, but it isn’t built to stop a power running attack. However, the Cyclones came out in their base 3-down look to give it a try. After all, they were leading the conference rushing defense. No reason not to at least try what’s been working all season.
However, Kansas State boasts the most disciplined and complete offensive line in the conference, and they were able to exploit Iowa State’s defense on the ground. The Cyclones never really switched to a four down set, but Jon Heacock did compensate by beginning to bring pressure off the edge in the fourth quarter. The adjustment came at just the right time and was exactly what the doctor ordered, but one can’t help but wonder if they should have been doing that all along instead of trying use the base defense against an offense it was never designed to stop.
Drops have been an issue all season for the receivers (and the main reason Hakeem Butler should return for his senior season). While it has hurt the offense at times, it hadn’t really yet come back to haunt them in a major way. Saturday was the closest they’ve come yet to spelling doom for the Cyclones. First, a drop by Landen Akers that was ultimately responsible for Brock Purdy’s first interception. Was it a great play by the defender? Yes. Was it a difficult catch? Sure. Should he have caught it? Probably. Most any receiver, including Landen, would probably tell you that.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Hakeem was finally able to get open on a deep post route in the endzone, but dropped a pass in one-on-one coverage that he should catch every single time. It was slightly contest, by he’s made catches significantly more difficult than that one look much easier than that one looked. It didn’t end up meaning anything in the end, as the Cyclones still scored later in the drive, but those are catches that need to be made, and ones that Hakeem will need to make every single time once he gets to the NFL.
What Went Right
What else can be said about this guy? He continues to be the engine that keeps this offense running. Montgomery finished 149 yards rushing on 19 carries, and 20 yards receiving on 3 crucial catches. Most importantly, he came up with the game winning touchdown run after a couple broken tackles, then salted the game away on the final possession with a couple solid runs and a first down.
Whether or not he leaves after this season or next, David’s impact on the program both and off the field can’t possibly be understated. He might just go down as one of (or the outright) the most important players in the Cyclone football history.
*ducks to avoid projectiles from the Troy Davis crowd that forgets that the team was still trash even with his back-to-back 2,000 yard seasons*
The Offensive Line
The offensive line has been the biggest bugaboo for the offense since basically the beginning of time. Usually average in pass-blocking and bad-to-slightly less bad in running blocking, the offensive live put together its best performance of the Matt Campbell era last Saturday, allowing only one sack and four TFLs. Brock Purdy had a ton of time to make throws or a wide open lane to scramble through, and David Montomery had some actual running lanes (gasp!) and wasn’t forced to constantly create yardage out of nothing. If the line can use this game as a stepping stone and continue to improve, the outlook for the bowl game and next season improves dramatically. With the below average line play we’ve seen over most of the last couple years, the ceiling is probably 8 wins. If they can become above average or even good (double gasp!), we’re going to start talking about double digit wins in 2019 given the talent returning on both sides of sides of the ball.
Fourth Quarter Defense
As discussed before, the defense was no bueno for the first 2 3⁄4 quarters of the game. However, Jon Heacock made a timely adjustment to the defense that eventually lead to the Cyclones’ comeback. After not really bringing pressure all game the defensive line struggling to get pressure on their own, Heacock began sending edge rushers and delayed blitzes to start pressuring Skylar Thompson, which he has struggled mightily with this season. It paid off in the form of a strip sack and scoop-and-score for a touchdown that seemed to begin tolling of Kansas State’s death bell. Would making those adjustments earlier have saved us a few gray hairs? Probably, but who cares.
There’s a good reason Bill Snyder has earned the name “The Vampire” from the Cyclone faithful. He just won’t go away. After having beaten every single team in the Big 12 over their careers, this program-changing senior class had one more dragon to slay. By defeating Kansas State, Iowa State can finally move on. The only way this win could have been any more perfect is if it was the one to send Iowa State to the Big 12 title game.
Special Teams: C+ Wasn’t terrible, but a fumble by Tarique Milton on a punt return and a missed field goal cancel out the solid returns by Kene Nwangwu. But hey, no punts!