After not getting to play our week one game against SDSU, pretty much everyone wondered what the team would look like in a hostile environment against a good defense without having had the luxury to play a cupcake beforehand to work out a couple of the bugs. Let’s get to the bad news first.
What Went Wrong
The Offensive Line
We here of cardinal and gold have seen our fair share of bad offensive lines. We had a decent share of good individual lineman come through, but the unit as whole has struggled for a large portion of our football history. This past Saturday was no different.
Heading into the game, the depth chart showed Julian Good-Jones starting at left tackle, with Collin Newell getting his first career start at center. On Saturday morning, it was announced that JGJ would remain at center, and Sean Foster would get the start at left tackle. To be perfectly blunt, Sean Foster got completely annihilated by Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa. To be fair, Epenesa is extremely talented, and will probably eat the lunch of a bunch of linemen this season. However, Foster looked completely lost, allowing Epenesa to routinely get in the backfield to blow up the run and pressure the quarterback.
To a lesser degree, Bryce Meeker also struggled a bit at the right tackle spot. His problems had less to do with individual matchups, but more so with picking up edge rushers. On multiple occasions, Iowa lined up in their standard 4-3, and Meeker immediately sucked in to double team the defensive end on his side. However, Phil Parker would also send an outside linebacker as an edge rusher. They were almost never delayed blitzes, but Meeker didn’t pick up the rusher, leading to a couple sacks from his side.
The offensive line as whole was such a failure that it may have even influenced the playcalling, and led to the defense eventually letting up the only touchdown of the game. David Montgomery was never able to get space, and the quarterback rarely had time to throw a pass any deeper than 10 yards. Essentially, the offensive line was so bad that they couldn’t be trusted to protect Kyle Kempt long enough to let the receivers get downfield to really utilize the size advantage. It wasn’t until late in the game once Zeb Noland entered the game and the team was in desperation mode that they opened up the offense and started throwing to deeper routes. As a result of the offense never being able to get anything going, the defense never got a chance to get some rest, and thus were eventually worn down by the end of the game.
I will go to my grave believing that that even a D+ performance out of this offensive line changes this game drastically.
Related to the offensive line’s struggles, the playcalling was frustrating for much of the game. The first series (which is scripted prior to the game) was brilliant, as the Cyclones cruised effortlessly downfield. The drive ended in a field goal after getting stopped in the red zone, but things looked pretty peach at that point. Then, the playcalling inexplicably turned extremely run-heavy, even though David Montgomery had basically no room to run. At least some of those early runs could have been more successful with a few adjustments from a week one game, but I digress.
Whether due to a lack of trust in the offensive line, or a plan to try to beat Iowa at their own game, the lateral and downfield passes that were so successful on the first drive almost completely disappeared. Some bubble screens and underneath routes could have been extremely helpful in dealing with the pass rush and keeping Iowa honest and spread to each sideline, creating more space for the bevy of playmakers we boast on offense.
With Matt Campbell (and Kyle Kempt) taking over the playcalling duties this fall, it was perfectly reasonable to expect some growing pains as Campbell gets into a groove, and the offense finds some traction. It’s unfortunate that this learning period had to happen against Iowa at Kinnick, but I do think there is a ton of a great film to study that will benefit the team greatly in Big 12 play.
Wide Receiver Drops
I’m not going to delve too far into this since it was a fairly minor issue that is unlikely to continue to be an issue, but the receivers dropped some key passes that could have extended a few drives. I would expect this issue to clear itself up fairly quickly.
What Went Right
Mike F***ing Rose
Not enough praise can possibly be heaped onto the TRUE FRESHMAN MIDDLE LINEBACKER from the Ohio. He sort of came out of nowhere to win the starting middle linebacker spot over O’Rien Vance and Bobby McMillen, both of whom are plenty talented in their own right. From the first snap of the game, Rose was all over the place. If he wasn’t the one making the tackle, you could usually find him right in the action at the end of the play. His instincts are well beyond his experience, and he’s already making a case to be considered the team’s best linebacker, even in a group with NFL prospects Willie Harvey and Marcel Spears Jr. Along with the defensive line, which we’ll get to, he helped almost completely shut down the Iowa running game for about 80% of the game.
Rose is already playing as advertised, and looks the part of Iowa State’s next great linebacker.
The Defensive Line
Coming into this season, we knew the defensive line might be the most talented position group on the defense. What we didn’t know is just how dominant they would be early in the season. From the very get-go, Ray Lima, JaQuan Bailey, Enyi Uwazurike, Jamahl Johnson, and even Matt Leo made the lives of Iowa’s offensive linemen a living hell. On nearly every run play, especially in the first half, this group managed to completely eat up any running room in an Iowa zone running scheme which is designed specifically to open holes in between the tackles.
Specifically, Uwazurike showed a ton of promise. If you kept an eye on #50, you saw him completely destroy the left tackle and blow up runs to the left on multiple occasions, and consistently apply pressure to Stanley. He’s going to be a huge problem for opposing offenses for the rest of the season.
As a nose tackle, Ray Lima will never get as much as praise as he deserves, but his contributions cannot possibly be understated. He is the engine that makes the 3-man front go, and he consistently ate up a huge chunk of the running room in the A and B gaps. Another week, another game of Ray Lima giving 60% of the offensive line fits completely on his own on any given play.
I bet you didn’t expect to see this name here. Needless to say, Dunn didn’t start of his Cyclone career how he wanted, completely shanking two of his first three punts while using a rugby style punt. Fortunately, the defense bailed him out both times, so we can largely move on from the those two kicks (which were likely just due to the jitters involved with playing in your first major college game at a loud stadium in an intense rivalry game).
The positive here is what happened after the third punt when Corey switched to a traditional punting style. He proceeded to absolutely smoke one, ending in a fair catch nearly 60 yards downfield. He did almost the same thing again later in the game. I obviously don’t know for sure, but my guess is that we probably won’t see too many rugby punts from Dunn from here on out. But if we get more punts like the long ones we saw when he switched to a traditional kick, he’s going to be a good one that will live up to all the praise we heard about him coming into the season.