Sitting at 4-6 heading into a senior night primetime date with Texas Tech, the Cyclones would need to win both of their final two games in order to make it to a bowl game. Surely against a Texas Tech team allowing almost 30 points per game this season the offense could put some points on the board and get a much-needed win near the end of the season... right?
What Went Wrong
More like the Dead Zone, am I right?
Okay, so maaayyybe we all underestimated how much this team would miss Brock Purdy, Breece Hall, and Charlie Kolar. What I mean by that is not that we all thought we’d move on without a hitch, but that we would completely and utterly fall apart like a house of cards in a stiff breeze. After a shockingly bad 1 score in 5 red zone trips (two missed field goals and two turnovers on downs), the Cyclones fell to an abysmal 67.57% in the red zone during the course of the season.
How bad is that you may ask? According to teamrankings.com, the Cyclones rank 128th out of 131 college football teams in offensive red zone efficiency. Last year, the Cyclones ranked 2nd (yes, SECOND) out of 131 teams at 95.65%!!!!!!! in the red zone, trailing only the Oklahoma Sooners. Yes, the Cyclones have fallen almost a full THIRTY PERCENT on red zone efficiency this year.
While part of this is because the 3 guys I mentioned are all in the NFL now, another part is playcalling. Tom Manning hasn’t allowed his guys to succeed much inside the 20 this year. How do I know this? When someone like me can correctly guess the plays once a team gets into scoring position, you know who else can guess it? Opposing defensive coordinators. We don’t sneak the QB (QB sneak was 2 for 2 in picking up first downs on Saturday), we don’t move the pocket on passes, we don’t scheme guys open, we don’t change our gameplan from when we’re near midfield to when we’re near the goal line. Do you know what we do? We run inside zone, read option, or like this most recent game, we run halfback dive THREE PLAYS IN A ROW needing 1 yard to get a 1st down at the 1 or 2 yards to score a touchdown. THREE PLAYS IN A ROW.
It’s so incredibly frustrating watching this team actually move the ball somewhat effectively as they did against the Red Raiders only to watch an absolute train wreck once we get into scoring position. It’s sad because Cyclone fans everywhere know the pain of 1-score losses by now, and not capitalizing on at least 4 of your 5 (80%, Tom. That’s all we want.) red zone possessions is what kills you there. Hopefully, this is just a one-year thing... but I’m not optimistic...
Jace Gilbert hasn’t been *great* this year. 12 of 18 on kicks isn’t exactly what you want your kicker to be at, even as a freshman. That said, apparently, Matt Campbell thought Drake Nettles (who hadn’t attempted a field goal on the season) looked better than Jace enough during the week to make the kicking swap.
And right on queue, the offense sputtered in the red zone on their opening drive (that started after a Beau Freyler forced fumble) and Nettles missed a 30-yarder wide left and it never even had a chance. He would make up for the miss with a 36-yarder about halfway through the 2nd quarter but would miss his third attempt as the clock expired on the first half from 34 yards out.
Apart from the field goal kicking woes that have plagued Iowa State since the beginning of time, another part of the special teams that bothered me was two plays in particular. Twice the Cyclone defense made a stand forcing Texas Tech to kick out of their own end zone and neither time did they come after the kick to try and block it, nor did they attempt to set up a return. It was almost as if both times they thought Tech was going to fake it. They slowly backed up a little bit and then that was it. Jaylin Noel fielded both cleanly surrounded by Red Raider players. If you’re not going to try and block it, at least try and make it easier for your returner, and if you’re not going to make it easier on the returner, at least send the house and make the punter at least think about 10 guys rushing him. ESPECIALLY when he’s kicking from his own end zone.
What Went Right
I mean, it’s getting to the point where I’m running out of things to say about X. It’s impossible to think where this team would be without him right now, and it’s been incredible watching him just get better and better every week since he got here. He’s still got a game to go, but he capped off an incredible career here with a senior night to remember, hauling in impressive catch after impressive catch.
Xavier Hutchinson appreciation tweet pic.twitter.com/x7FNTZnhpP— mike randy (@Mike_Randleman) November 20, 2022
Just listen to the commentators on that 2nd one. Not even they can believe what they’re watching. He’s a special talent. Can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in the NFL.
He ended the night with eight catches (enough to break the 100-catch mark on the season) and 101 yards, both of which led the team.
Though it may just end up being a consolation prize now that the Cyclones have 7 losses, Hutchinson has done enough this season to have earned himself a spot on the Biletnikoff Award Semifinalist list (12 players) for the right to call themselves the best receiver in the country.
Death, taxes, and the Iowa State defense holding their opponent to far fewer points than they score on average. Texas Tech came into the game on Saturday averaging over 30 points per game. The Cyclones gave up less than half of that, limiting the Red Raiders to just 7 points in each half. They forced a turnover right off the bat which should’ve given the offense some points, they held Tech to under 250 yards of total offense (173 of which came on their two scoring drives), and they sacked the quarterback three times. TJ Tampa, Will McDonald, and Beau Freyler all stood out much of the night. Tampa continued to show he’s one of the best (if not the best) corners in the league, Beau Freyler forced the opening drive fumble and had some really nice plays in the secondary, and Will McDonald finally got even with the Big 12 sack record. It took most of the year when many thought it would happen very early, but he got there.
This Cyclones' defense has been one of the best in the country all season, and Saturday night was no different. They gave the offense a plethora of opportunities to take the lead, hell even put the game away, but alas, it was not to be. This is quite the young defense, and will presumably continue to learn and get better with Heacock leading the charge. With some offensive growth next year, maybe.... just maybe....