Don't Cancel the Season Just Yet

Cyclone Nation is dealing with a setback it hasn't had to overcome since 1997: salvaging a season after losing to in-state rival Iowa. Despite the lopsided score, our columnist says there are some reasons for optimism...and concern.

Two days ago, I wrote that the three keys in the Iowa State vs. Iowa game would be:

  1. Can Iowa State run the ball consistently against Iowa?
  2. Turnovers.
  3. Big plays on special teams.

Nobody in the "Cyclone Nation" was happy with the results in those three categories on Saturday and, as a result, the score was lopsided in favor of the Hawkeyes. And the five-game winning streak for ISU in this rivalry is over.

I haven't checked out the message boards yet, but I'm guessing that many Cyclone fans fall into one of three categories right now and this is what people in those camps are probably saying…

  1. "Iowa State is HORRIBLE! The Cyclones won't win another game this year. Who are they going to beat? Kansas? MAYBE."
  2. "What if Austin Flynn had not fumbled in the first quarter? What if the official would've ruled that Mo Brown didn't have possession of that TD catch? What if someone had been able to tackle a lumbering Nathan Chandler before he could gain 40 yards? What if the Cyclones were able to get a field goal right before halftime? What if Iowa State had been able to punt the ball away in the third quarter?"
  3. "OK…this wasn't as bad as the score indicated. Obviously, there are a couple of problem areas to address, but Iowa State did plenty of things well in this game. If the Cyclones can continue to improve—and there IS work to do—there is still the potential of a bowl game this season."

Count me among those in the third group.

Does that make me insane? A hopelessly optimistic fan who refuses to get a grasp of reality? I don't think so.

In fact, here are 10 things that I thought were positives during the game against Iowa:

  1. Iowa State was able to put together more sustained drives than Iowa. The Cyclones had six drives that consisted of more than five plays…the Hawkeyes had one (their first drive of the day). ISU ran 88 plays to Iowa's 51. The Cyclones also out-gained Iowa, 390 total yards to 242, and held a nine-minute advantage in time of possession.
  2. Iowa State's defense stiffened on third down. The Cyclones held Iowa to 2-of-13 on third-down conversions (15%).
  3. Iowa State's defense really tightened up in the red zone. Iowa had one drive start at ISU's four-yard line and another at the Cyclones' six-yard line. Both times, ISU held the Hawks to a field goal. Iowa started three other drives in Cyclone territory in which ISU did not allow any points on the board.
  4. Austin Flynn made some very good plays…and he will learn a lot from this game. Through three games, the redshirt freshman is now 47 of 86 (55%) for 649 yards, with 4 TDs and two interceptions. Flynn has also run for 202 yards on 47 carries, a 4.3-yard average per carry. If he can stay healthy—and Flynn appears to be a tough guy—he could develop into a very dangerous quarterback.
  5. Iowa State's defense did a very good job against the run on Saturday. Obviously, the Cyclones would like to have two running plays back—the 42-yard run by Chandler and the 33-yard TD by Marcus Schnoor—but for the most part, Iowa had a difficult time getting anything rolling on the ground. Fred Russell finished with just 75 yards on 26 carries, a 2.9-yard average.
  6. The Cyclone receiving corps is talented…and deep. It was good to see Flynn spread the ball around to several guys again on Saturday and that makes ISU more difficult to defend. Six different players caught at least three passes on Saturday.
  7. Iowa State did a good job of including its running backs in the passing game. In a way, this was the Cyclones' "running attack" against Iowa. Hiawatha Rutland had eight catches for 66 yards and Michael Wagner had three receptions for 18 yards. Good production and again, it gives the defense one more thing to worry about.
  8. Brandon Brown had another strong performance. The junior linebacker made seven tackles, including 2.5 for losses.
  9. Iowa natives Lane Danielsen and Jack Whitver continue to pile up the statistics. Danielsen now has 10 receptions for 195 yards and two TDs, while Whitver has 10 catches for 234 yards and a pair of scores. It's always nice to see a couple of former walk-ons from Iowa high schools produce big-time results.
  10. The Cyclones kept fighting. Despite the one-sided score, ISU kept plugging away and scored 14 points in the final 6:10 of the game. You never want to see players hang their heads and give up, and I think the Cyclones kept battling the entire day.

And here are five things that have me concerned:

  1. You never want to allow a team to go on a 23-point run against you, let alone on your own field. Of course, now ISU knows how Iowa felt a year ago in "The Big Game." Mistakes led to some VERY short fields for the Hawkeyes on Saturday and the Cyclones couldn't stop the bleeding until it was too late.
  2. It's not going to be a good sign this season when Flynn has to throw the ball 41 times in a game. You would really like to see more balance offensively from ISU. Of course, the freshman QB also ran the ball himself 20 times. If Flynn continues to be directly involved in that many plays, I worry that he will have troubles staying healthy.
  3. Iowa State won't win any games with Wagner and Rutland combining for 10 yards on 18 carries. The bottom line is that for Iowa State to be successful, it's going to have to be able to run the football—with guys like Wagner and Rutland—against some very good defensive fronts. Obviously, you don't want to fall behind like ISU did on Saturday because it dictates what you should do offensively. Defenses love it when the offense become predictable.
  4. The execution at the end of the first half was very frustrating. I don't care if the QB is a freshman, if the receiver is a freshman…or if the entire coaching staff is made up of freshmen. Iowa State NEEDED to come away with at least three points in the final drive before the half, but due to its lack of…let's call it "concentration"…the Cyclones got nothing. And Iowa picked up some more momentum. Inexcusable.
  5. The ISU special teams play must improve. Again, I don't care if you're using your second-team punter…or NINTH-team punter…you still need to snap the ball accurately and block for the guy. The two blocked punts by Iowa's Sean Considine sealed the victory for the Hawkeyes. A VERY disappointing day for the Cyclones' special teams.

During the next two weeks, Iowa State must figure out how to improve its football team in several different areas. This will be necessary before the Cyclones will travel to Northern Illinois on September 27th.

If Iowa State can enter Big 12 play with a 3-1 record, the Cyclones should have plenty of confidence…and a decent shot at another bowl appearance.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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