Heading into last weekend’s matchup with Oklahoma, one of the primary concerns surrounding the team was the offense. Against Iowa, the offensive line got absolutely destroyed by the Hawkeye defensive line, and, outside of the very first drive of the game, the offense really struggled to move the ball. The offensive line was so poor that David Montgomery only managed 44 yards on 17 carries, but had to earn every single one of those 44 yards. The in-game playcalling was a little rough, as you could tell Matt Campbell was still getting his feet under him as an offensive playcaller. Needless to say, most fans were quite concerned about the state of the offensive line heading into a showdown with the #5 ranked Sooners.
What Went Wrong
Without a doubt, this was the single most frustrating part of the game on Saturday. Prior to the game, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley even referred to Iowa State as one of the best tackling teams they faced all of last season. Well, the defense did not issue a repeat performance this past Saturday. Though at least partially due to elusiveness of the Oklahoma playmakers, on multiple occasions a Cyclone would have an opportunity to make a tackle for loss or shutdown a potential big play after a couple yards, but missed the tackle due to poor technique or a bad tackling angle. On this touchdown run by Trey Sermon, Greg Eisworth makes an enormous mistake by going for the big hit instead of just wrapping up the tackler.
Does a proper tackle here save an eventual touchdown? Who knows. I do know that if Greg Eisworth makes the tackle, and the defense was then able to hold them to a field goal, the end of the game probably looks very different. Being only down one score, Campbell then is free to use those two timeouts on the offensive possession, rather than having to save them to eventually stop the clock a couple times on an OU offensive possession.
That’s digging pretty deep into the “what if,” but speculation beyond the bounds of reason is exactly what makes this site great.
I wouldn’t expect this issue to continue into the Akron game, as Matt Campbell’s defenses tend to be solid tacklers, and there’s no reason this defense would be any different.
Dealing With Dual-Threat Quarterbacks
Dual-threat quarterbacks have been giving Iowa State fits since pretty much the dawn of time. Before Kyler Murray, fans will likely next revisit the nightmare of Aaron Bailey tearing Iowa State apart at Jack Trice Stadium in 2016. We don’t need to go too far into this, but even getting a hand on Kyler Murray proved to be extraordinarily difficult on Saturday. My guess is that Murray will embarrass pretty much every defense he plays against this season.
What Went Right
The Offensive Line (!!!!!!!)
Without a doubt, the offensive line was the biggest point of concern going forward after the Iowa game. Matt Campbell elected to run Julian Good-Jones at center and give the Sean Foster the start at left tackle. AJ Epenesa then proceeded to eat Sean Foster’s lunch for the next four quarters. After the game, Campbell said he regretted making the switch to that offensive line instead of letting Collin Newell get the start at center and moving JGJ to left tackle, as was originally show to be the case on the depth chart through the week.
Coach didn’t make the same mistake twice. Against Oklahoma, who has a talented front seven of their own, the offensive line was much better. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but the line looked competent (I assure you that is a compliment), and gave Zeb lots of time to sit in the pocket and throw downfield, a luxury Kyle Kempt was not fortunate enough to have against Iowa.
The line also looked significantly better in run blocking, as they were able to create some running room for David Montgomery with more zone blocking/stretch schemes that play to the strengths of the line. We saw a brief glimpse of those schemes against Iowa, but a much heavier dose against Oklahoma. Ideally, we’ll continue to see more of those concepts going forward.
Don’t look now Cyclone fans, but Iowa State might have a halfway decent offensive line!
In his second career start, the redshirt sophomore from Georgia dazzled to the tune of 25-36 passing for 360 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw a pick late in the fourth quarter, but it was in desperation time, so nobody will really count that interception against him. Throughout the day, Zeb showcased the arm talent we’d seen glimpses of in the past, as well as a “gunslinger” mentality to really push the ball downfield. Whether it was back shoulder fades to the sideline, or finding throwing lanes between the safeties and linebackers, Zeb was extremely impressive. His day was so good that his worst throw was probably the long completion to Landen Akers. Had Noland not underthrown the receiver, Akers would have had a fairly easy trot into the endzone, as he had beat the defender by a good ten yards. The throw that set up Hakeem Butler’s insane touchdown catch was absolutely marvelous (highlight below).
We know for sure that Noland will be the starter against Akron, which will give him plenty of opportunities to continue to prove that he deserves to be the starter before Kempt is potentially cleared to return before the TCU game. Without a doubt, Noland has a much higher ceiling than Kempt. If Noland continues this hot streak against Akron, the coaches will likely have a hard time going back to Kempt.
This is comes as a surprise to basically nobody, but Hakeem Butler is a beast. In total, he tallied five catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including this touchdown catch and run that might actually somehow be better than his ridiculous touchdown catch against Baylor. As mentioned before, this throw from Zeb was absolutely superb.
Butler’s transition to the X-receiver from a slot role was a point of interest for a lot of people. Allen Lazard was just about the best safety blanket anyone could ask for in 2017, but Hakeem is a different style. As it turns out, he’s pretty damn good at being “the dude.” If he keeps playing like this, Hakeem might end up with a permanent spot in the Post-Mortem, similar to David Montgomery last year.
Mike Rose and Hakeem Butler might end up deserving a permanent spot in the Post-Mortem if they keep making highlight reel plays like they did last week. If you somehow haven’t seen this hit yet, you’re in for a treat. The Oklahoma running back does complete a pretty impressive hurdle over Brian Peavy to gain a few extra yards. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Rose was waiting.
As the tweet points out, Rose is second in the country in tackles among freshmen. He had another productive day against Oklahoma, and appears to be distancing himself from the rest of the pack at middle linebacker, especially now that Bobby McMillen has been ruled out for the season after tearing his ACL.
Special Teams: B+ (those short kickoffs were super weird)
Weather: 5/7 (hot AF, but hey, at least it didn’t rain)
Connor Ass Alley: Three thumbs up
Mike Rose: Has Its Thorns