Okay, so last week against Baylor was not exactly what we wanted it to be, but it’s still incredibly early in the season, and the Cyclones got a date with the Jayhawks for the start of Brockto... I mean October. The Cyclones have won 7 in a row against the Jayhawks, but with the Jayhawks at their first 4-0 start since 2009, this isn’t your grandfather’s... or your dad’s... or even your younger self’s Kansas. Iowa State would need to show up to avoid their second straight loss.
What Went Wrong
Aside from Blake Clark saving an abysmal snap on an extra point and scrambling in for a 2-point conversion, I don’t know that there was anything this unit did right as a whole on Saturday. The Cyclones have had terrible special teams performances over the past 6 years under Campbell, but Saturday at Kansas has to rank damn well near the bottom of that list. A pair of doinked kicks from 38 and 45 yards out, a bad snap on the extra point following the lone touchdown of the day, some terrible kickoff coverage, a muffed punt, and then to wrap it up, a shanked field goal in the waning seconds to secure the loss. I’ll get to the final play a little later, but all in all, it was an absolutely abysmal performance from the special teams unit.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how they did it, but the special teams group got worse with the addition of a special teams coach. It doesn’t make any sense. If any of you guys have any suggestions, let me know because I’d love to hear them.
We all love coach Matt Campbell. He’s just about the best thing to happen to Iowa State football in the last century, and I don’t know how many arguments you’d get for saying that. That being said, he, or someone else on the sideline, made an absolutely ridiculous call on Saturday. Iowa State had a legitimate drive going down just 3 points in the final minute of the game. Dekkers and the offense had drives in the 2nd half of 12, 18, 7, and 8 plays. The final of which essentially ended because someone decided kicking a field goal for the tie in a game with all those special teams struggles, was better than sending 6-foot 4-inch Hunter Dekkers under center for a QB sneak to get half a yard. The Cyclones had run under center twice in the game and both previously accomplished what they needed to. A 4th down conversion and getting the ball out from their own goalline. The Cyclones had 1 timeout remaining with around 45 seconds left when Xavier Hutchinson got tackled, setting up the 4th and short. You can run up to the line to try and draw them offsides, you can take a timeout right away to set up the right play, you can just run a play you’ve run all game to pick it up. If you don’t get it, you lose the game anyway, and if you do get it, you give yourself a chance at the win while also getting deeper and deeper into field goal range. To me, there was little to no downside in just going for it. But instead, the Cyclones lined up to go for it, did nothing until the play clock hit 6 or 7 seconds (why then, I have no clue), called the timeout, and went from there.
It’s not like Matt hasn’t been aggressive before. There was a similar situation in Norman against the Sooners in 2019. Fought all the way back to get the game to 42-41 and decided to go for 2 instead of kicking the extra point. If you make it, you probably win (almost no time left), but if you don’t, you basically lose. I loved the decision to go for 2 in Norman, and I would’ve agreed with going for it this past Saturday in Lawrence. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.
I’m starting to think we could take 5 students from Iowa State and stick them in place of the offensive line for running plays, and they’d be just as effective at blocking. Granted, Cartevious Norton didn’t make the trip and Jirehl Brock got hurt on the first play of the game, so it was down to Eli Sanders and Deon Silas to make it work... but the running game was legitimately nonexistent. Part of that comes from the aforementioned blocking not being good, but there’s another part of this that I don’t see many people talking about.
Iowa State still refuses to throw the ball deep.
Tom Manning is still so in love with running 3-4 yard crossers (even on 3rd/4th and 5+) over the middle, so there’s legitimately no reason for any of the linebackers and safeties of the opposing team to respect anything over the top. They can creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage, knowing Tom isn’t going to call anything to beat them, and they’re immediately in the running lanes hitting the holes just as soon as our backs and even Hunter Dekkers on the few zone reads he keeps. Iowa State had 4 completions over 15 yards on Saturday. There’s no reason for defenses to respect the deep ball if we never throw it. It just makes it that much harder on the run game. It’s so infuriating as a fan watching Dekkers not even really step into a 53-yard bomb to Dimitri Stanley and then never seeing us try it again.
What Went Right
You could make the argument of “Kansas hadn’t played a good defense yet” all you want. The defensive performance that we witnessed in Lawrence was nothing short of spectacular, especially in the 2nd half. Kansas amassed a shocking 28 yards of offense in the 2nd half as Heacock and company pitched another shutout. Kansas’ two scoring drives consisted of a 19-yard drive following a Dekkers interception and a 79-yard drive that included a questionable DPI on Myles Purchase and a 30-yard run from Devin Neal on an option pitch from Jalon Daniels. The defense absolutely had Daniels’ number the whole game, limiting him to 102 total yards (93 in the air, 9 on the ground) and holding the Jayhawks to just a pair of touchdowns after they came into the game tied with Ohio State for the most offensive touchdowns in the nation. The defense was masterful on Saturday, and I only hope now that the offense can hold up their end of the bargain moving forward.
I mentioned it previously, but I’ll mention it again. Iowa State was FOUR OF FIVE on 4th downs on Saturday. FOUR OF FIVE. There wasn’t a lot that went the Cyclones’ way on the offensive side of the ball in Lawrence, but 4th downs were definitely one thing that did. Makes the last decision of the game all that more confusing to me...