With the all but secured Big 12 Championship Game looming in just 2 short weeks, Iowa State closed their regular season with the Riot Bowl. West Virginia coming to town with their (at the time) #1 defense in the conference, and some bright spots on offense with Jarret Doege and Leddie Brown headlining. Iowa State couldn’t be caught with their eyes looking past the Mountaineers, and they sure weren’t. With 17 seniors and (some of) the Jack Trice crowd leading the charge, the Cyclones showed the world why they were deserving of their #9 ranking in the College Football Playoff Rankings.
What Went Right
Being too dependent on your rushing or passing game can lead you to an unsuccessful season. As of late, teams have committed more to stopping Breece Hall which has reopened Brock Purdy and boy has it payed off. Iowa State can now reliably throw AND run the ball to keep the defense honest, which could pay dividends come postseason play. On Saturday, Iowa State ran for 236 yards and threw for 247. It’s a team that’s fun to watch, it’s a team that has jelled together nicely as the season has gone on, it’s a team that’s finally fully balanced on offense, and it’s a team that can beat you in more ways than one. Brock is in his rhythm, Breece still finds the end zone every game, and I mean, we are Tight End U after all.
Speaking of a team that can beat you in more ways than one... How bout John Heacock and that Cyclones defense?!? Iowa State has held 6 of it’s last 7 opponents to 24 or fewer points and has forced 10 turnovers. Getting more possessions to an offense that’s averaging 36 points per game in that 7-game span is huge. For as much success as the offense has gotten, rightfully so, the defense has played a MASSIVE role in the success of the Cyclones’ 2nd half of the season. The front 7 (heck, often times just the front 3) has gotten to the quarterback more and more, and ,while still occasionally giving up some big plays deep, the secondary makes a lot of plays on the football and fights like hell to get the ball back to the offense. Not only that, but this team is wrapping up and tackling so much better as the season has gone on. Something that plagued this team early on, has, for the most part, been resolved, and has made this team so much better.
Will McDonald now shares Iowa State's single-season sack record with 8.5.— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) December 5, 2020
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Landen Akers, Kene Nwangwu, and the 15 other seniors
Dang it, man. I’d be lying if I said Senior Night games didn’t always bring a tear to my eye... and I’d be lying even more if I said I didn’t get especially teary-eyed when those seniors, who have put every ounce of work into this program, find the end zone in their final home games. Saturday, Kene Nwangwu put the exclamation mark on a dominant performance with a 47-yard touchdown run at the end of the 3rd quarter. He burst up the middle, and well, not may guys are catching Kene in space, and West Virginia wasn’t able to either.
And maybe even better, 6th-year senior Landen Akers finally found the end zone for the first time in his Cyclone career. I’ll just let the social media reaction finish the rest of this:
Landen Akers you the goat!!!!!— Georges Niang (@GeorgesNiang20) December 5, 2020
Super cool moment as fifth-year senior Landen Akers scores his first career TD as a Cyclone. The team mobbed him after the score and when he returned to the sideline.— Michael Swain (@MSwain247) December 5, 2020
All these and so many more. So damn happy for Landen and the rest of the seniors, the winningest class in Iowa State football history.
What Went Wrong
If there was one thing that didn’t feel great about Saturday, it was punting. I’ve said many times this season Joe Rivera has been one of the few bright spots with special teams, but Saturday wasn’t his best showing. Averaging only 27.5 yards per punt (only punted twice) including a 17 yarder isn’t exactly what you want to see to end the season.
But hey, if punting is the biggest concern with a game, and you only punt twice, you probably had a solid weekend of football. I’m not all that worried about Joe moving forward, and I’ll think of the Riot Bowl performance as the exception, not the constant.
Special Teams: C+
Senior Day: Swag Surfin’
All Black Unis: Still unbeaten
Big 12 Championship: Locked. In.
See you guys in Dallas in 2 weeks. Bring on Oklahoma.