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Iowa State Football Post-Mortem: Big 12 Championship Game

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Not enough gas in the tank

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

To close the 2016 season, Iowa State lost 49-19 to West Virginia in its final game to fall to 3-9 on the season. A season that included a loss to Northern Iowa in week 1, a 39 point loss to Iowa in week 2, and a 2-7 Big 12 Conference run. Sure there were bright spots: The Joel Lanning Game against Patrick Mahomes and the Red Raiders, and close losses to Baylor (3), Oklahoma (10), Kansas State (5), and Oklahoma State (7), but 3-9 is still 3-9. Now, just 5 short years later, Iowa State is in the Big 12 Championship for the first time in the school’s history and playing for an outside shot at the College Football Playoff.

A rocky start and mental errors combined with some, well, we’ll get into the other stuff later, and Iowa State found itself on the losing end of a 27-21 Big 12 Championship Game. Iowa State didn’t play its best game of the season, far from it, in fact. And still, despite all the shots to the foot, the Cyclones had a chance. They were in a position to take down the 5-time reigning conference champion Oklahoma Sooners...

What Went Right

2nd Half Defense

It’s pretty clear to everyone by this point that if John Heacock and the Cyclone defense doesn’t have you figured out in the first half, they’re going to have you figured out in the 2nd. They pulled it off again in the Big 12 Championship Game against the league’s #1 scoring offense. Oklahoma scored only 3 points after halftime and was held scoreless for 5 straightdrives for just the second time all season (Baylor 2 weeks ago). Needless to say, Heacock and the defense figure their stuff out when it comes down to it, and they get the offense the chances they need. Then it comes down to what Manning and the offense do, and *usually* when you have Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, and Charlie Kolar, you’re in good shape.

3rd Down Defense

So the defense picked it up in the second half across the board, but how about their performance the ENTIRE GAME on 3rd downs? Oklahoma came into the game converting about 45% of their 3rd downs, but the Cyclones’ defense just laughed at that number. Iowa State held the Sooners to a single 3rd down conversion on 11 attempts. That’s lower than a 10% conversion rate on 3rd down. That’s an incredible number to hold a team like Oklahoma to. That’s a Sooner offense that scores over 40 points a game. Like I said earlier, they convert over 40% of their 3rd downs. Holding them to 1 of 11 is just phenomenal.

Xavier Hutchinson

No stage seems too big for the JUCO transfer. The Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year has been the star WR Iowa State has needed this season, and he shows it every single week. Xavier only had 3 receptions in his first showing against OU, but he had 83 yards and a long score. In his second showing, he only got better. 10 receptions. 114 yards. Long reception of 42 yards. Clearly Purdy’s #1 target on the day, and clearly his #1 Wide Reciever throughout the season. Looking forward to seeing more of #8 every week from now until his final game as a Cyclone. Dude is a man amongst boys out there.

Now for the stuff we didn’t like about the game.....

What Went Wrong

Turnovers

Alright. So maaayyybbbeee throwing 3 interceptions against Oklahoma isn’t the gameplan. Oklahoma is an excellent football team, and giving an offense that averages 40+ points a game extra possessions probably isn’t a recipe for success. Maybe you can get away with it against Baylor, but Oklahoma is an entirely different breed. As if throwing 3 interceptions wasn’t bad enough, the first one happened in the end zone (Brock’s 2nd career INT in the red zone), and the 3rd one happened on Iowa State’s final offensive play in OU territory as Brock threw up a prayer. A tough way for the game to end, but it is what it is. Clean it up, learn from it, be better, move on.

Special Teams

You can’t miss a 43-yard field goal, indoors, short. You can’t give up 2 kickoff returns of 43 yards (one into Iowa State territory.) Special teams was an issue again. Drink.

Targeting

You’d have been out of your mind if you thought I wouldn’t include something about Isheem Young being ejected. Whether you think the call was wrong entirely, or if the call was right and the rule is wrong, I would venture to guess a majority of the people watching thought the ejection was silly. You simply cannot eject someone on the second play of the game for this hit, especially as a “first offense.”

Football is a violent game. Hits like this happen virtually every play when the ball carrier gets hit by a defender. Both (often) lower their helmets to brace for and/or initiate forcible contact, resulting in it being delivered to the opposing head/neck area. I’ve mentioned targeting a few times before during the season, and I’ve mentioned how common hits like this are. I don’t know what the change needs to be. Whether it’s a 2-part ejection like Unsportsmanlike Conduct or whether “intent” needs to be brought back in, I don’t know.

Iowa State didn’t play well enough to win. I’m saying it, you’re probably saying it, virtually everyone is saying it... but don’t tell me losing a star player 33 seconds into a game doesn’t matter.

Weekly Grades

Offense: C- (good movement, turnovers killed)

Defense: B+

Special Teams: *audible sigh*

Ranking: Still Top 10

Bowling: First New Year’s 6 bowl in Cyclone History. Fiesta Bowl vs. Oregon

Matt Campbell: My damn coach

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Bring on the Oregon Ducks in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. Fans won’t be in attendance, but I expect all of you to be yelling at your TVs so loudly that they hear us in Phoenix.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Cyclone Fans. Spend time with loved ones (if you can), stay safe, and enjoy the end of this tumultuous year. See you on January 2nd.