After dropping five games in a row, the good guys in red finally brought home the W with a 31-14 win that wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate, much like the 2018 Riot Bowl of the same score and flavor. Let’s take a look at it.
What Went Wrong
It wouldn’t be an Iowa State football game if there weren’t some special teams shenanigans. While there was a missed field goal (that got Jace Gilbert benched), the real thorn of the day came on punt returns. West Virginia’s punter is of the rugby variety, meaning they take a few steps to the side before punting rather than using a traditional punting style. This delays the kick just a little bit, giving the coverage more time to get downfield, and it typically results in a line-drive kick that can have some knuckling action.
On multiple occasions, Jaylin Noel let the punt go by instead of fielding it, and nearly every time he did so, the ball cannoned further downfield, resulting in it being down within Iowa State’s own 10-yard line. Now, before I criticize this too much, I do want to make a couple things clear:
- Most of the punts Jaylin let go came when he was facing directly into the sun. That can obviously make it difficult to see and field the punt.
- If the punt returner has any doubt whatsoever that they’ll be able to cleanly field the punt, they’re always better off letting it go and accepting the consequences than trying to field and eventually muff the punt and possibly give away possession.
All that said, this section is really more about the general negative plays that happened in this area of the game, rather than placing a bunch of blame on Jaylin for something that he may or may not have actually had control over.
To be honest, I’m struggling to find a lot of negatives that happened in this game, but I should mention the continual bugaboo of drops by pass catchers. Last Saturday, we saw a couple more key drops. Cartevious Norton dropped a couple easy passes, but he’s young, so his are a little more forgivable than the multiple drops by Jaylin Noel, who has suddenly developed a drops problem over the past few games. He dropped a touchdown pass in the first half that led to Iowa State’s first field goal attempt of the game.
Noel has still been excellent this season, but as the slot receiver on this team, he has the duty to have the most reliable hands on the team. I have full confidence that he’ll remedy the issue, but it’s still something that could come back to be high impact later against better teams than West Virginia.
What Went Right
Somehow, on a day when the Cyclone offense finally found its stride and should be the biggest story, the defense still managed to steal the show. Anthony Johnson grabbed the second interception of his career, Will McDonald pulled with arm’s reach of the Big 12’s all-time sack record (currently held by Von Miller), and Domonique Orange had a huge game to establish himself as the future at nose tackle.
The team defensive stats are absolutely gaudy, as West Virginia gained just 122 total yards in the first half, and 78 in the second half for a total of an even 200 yards. However, some important and preposterous context:
Seventy-five of West Virginia’s seventy-eight second-half yards came on their final drive of the game with just a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, and were gained against the second and third-string defense. For those of you that have a graduate-level math degree, that means the Mountaineers were held to just THREE TOTAL YARDS AGAINST THE STARTING DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF.
Absurd. Give Jon Heacock the Broyles Award right now.
If you came into this game thinking Iowa State would score 31 points after watching the previous seven games, congratulations, you’ve likely done a lot of drugs recently.
Not only did Iowa State score 31 points, but they looked good doing it (at least in the second half). First off, we saw some really interesting creativity from the offense that we hadn’t seen in quite some time. In the first half alone, we saw an old-fashioned reverse, which Jaylin Noel took upfield for a long gain, which I genuinely can’t remember ever seeing Iowa State run in the Matt Campbell era.
We also saw a really interesting (and successful) effort to jump-start a stuttering run game by incorporating a handful of speed option plays. Hunter Dekkers executed those plays very well, and nearly all resulted in some significant gain. Those speed option plays do a couple of things (when executed well):
- Put the edge defenders in a stressful decision-making position, having to decide whether to commit to stopping the quarterback or the running back. If they decide incorrectly and the quarterback reacts quickly and appropriately, it leaves the defense vulnerable and out of position.
- Gets the speedy playmakers to the edge as fast as possible where they can make someone miss and potentially pick up huge chunk plays.
And when you mix those speed option runs in with some read options and offensive line actions like a pulling guard, you can create space to run where they weren’t finding any previously.
This type of offensive creativity can be absolutely massive going forward as Iowa State looks to capitalize on the final three games and make a push for a bowl game, which would be quite a significant accomplishment in this rebuilding season, especially given all the adversity this team has dealt with. If they can develop a running game, that makes Hunter Dekkers’ job much easier.
I won’t go on and on about the young QB since we didn’t necessarily see anything particularly ground-breaking from him, but what we did see was another rock-solid performance. He finished 24-of-36 for 219 yards and two touchdowns. As the running game hopefully begins to find its footing, Hunter’s job should get easier and he can continue to improve and finally get this offense humming.
Who knows? Maybe this thing finally gets rolling and Iowa State gets to a bowl game and we have a real path forward and something to build on for 2023.
As I’ve mentioned a few times now, the running game was finally a huge net positive as Cartevious Norton and Deon Silas made huge contributions in the absence of Jirehl Brock, who just can’t seem to catch a break with injuries this season.
Silas took six carries for 77 yards, largely powered by a couple long runs, and Norton was the bell cow for the day, gaining 75 yards on 18 carries. While only registering a long run of 12 yards, Norton’s day was a sort of pseudo-breakout (though I think his best game of the season is yet to come), and could mark the first game we saw the next great Cyclone running back get his first real playing time.