Putting Lipstick on a Pig

If you're a player on the Iowa State Football team, you should stop reading this article immediately. Don't argue with me fellas, just go surf some something else. After my sub-genius prediction that ISU would roll UNI last Saturday night, I'm not going to take any chances that any of you are being infected by my stupidity.

Log off your computer and go ask your position coach how to prepare for the Cornhuskers, because they know better than any of us "couch commandos" out here in interwebthingy-land what you need to do to step your games up a notch.

 

The UNI game was a great experience for the tailgating set.  A 6 p.m. game on a nice "Indian summer" day is always a good idea.  We weren't as late getting to the lots as we were for the UNLV game, but we did have ANOTHER mechanical breakdown.  Hogfarmer called me from the road at 11am, and said "the radiator's leaking, so I dumped a whole can of gunk into it to seal up the pinholes".  We were supposed to meet at my brother-in-law's house in Huxley at 11 or so to get to Ames in time to get in line and make it into the lot along Elwood.  I guess we MIGHT make it into that lot EVENTUALLY, but once again, we set up further out along 16th near the entrance to Vet Med.  We pulled into a spot, unloaded all our gear, and mounted "Bobby" on the front of the bus.  Immediately, the family next to us asked if two girls in their group could climb up on the hood & get their pictures taken with him.  Both young ladies were celebrating their twelfth birthdays on Saturday, so we said "sure, mi swine es su swine" or something like that.  The whole family was really friendly, and one of the girls had the coolest set of Cardinal & Gold colored braces on her teeth.  Our buddy "Doogie" was down for his first game of the year, and he observed that we'd better get used to having people ask for pictures with "Bobby".  We had several other people get up on the hood before the day was over, including the "Pork Patrol".  They're supposed to cruise the parking lot in their golf cart handing out pork gift certificates to people with pork on their grill, but they made an exception for us (we did have pork, but it was already all snarfed up by the time they made it to our spot at 4:30 or so) due to Bobby's magnetic presence.  Oh yeah, and the new bling addition for this game?  What else?  A COWBELL!  I found an old Lazer 103.3 "Mancow Bell" from our old Iowa Barnstormers season ticket holder days that we hung around Bobby's neck.  It looks great with the beads & the new "80's hairband wig" he's sporting this week.

 

I probably had a couple too many rum drinks during the pregame festivities, so I took a short catnap on a couch in the bus from about 4 to 5.  Did you know that just about any flavor of Fastco brand soda will mix well with rum?  Well, now you do.  Learn from my work so you don't have to repeat it, fellow Clones.  I managed to wake up & get in on the last round of "ladder golf" before we shut things down and left for the stadium at 5:20 or so.  Ladder Golf, beanbag toss (It's called "cornhole" by some people, but I can't use that word for the tailgating game without giggling uncontrollably, so I'll stick to "beanbag toss", OK?), and another game featuring washers being tossed into coffee cans are the holy trinity of ISU tailgating recreation, but there were plenty of other people tossing footballs and watching football on TV as well.  Back in the old days (Troy and Darren Davis' eras), I remember a group who used to tailgate up next to Hilton (where the Century/State's 250 group parks now) who brought a miniature set of goalposts to every game.  The game with that group was to finish your canned beverage, set the can on the tape mark in the parking lot, and attempt to kick a field goal with the empty can.  It sounds easy, but trust me; empty cans don't exactly fly off the end of your foot on a straight line towards the uprights.  I tried it a couple of times, but on the last attempt, I dug my toe into the asphalt just ahead of the empty can of Hamms' Genuine Draft and wrenched my ankle badly. 

 

We tried a new dish at our tailgate this week:  marinated chicken on the grill.  Hogfarmer's kids are in 4H back home in Buchanan County, and the clubs there have come up with what I think is a great idea.  Local businesses buy large quantities of newly hatched chicks and give them to kids to raise.  When the chicks get up to about five pounds or so, the kids give the sponsoring businesses a percentage of the chickens (dressed out & ready to cook), and sell or eat the rest of them.  Getting one of these "free-range" chickens is a HUGE step up from the watery chickens you can buy at the grocery store.  Now that I've had REAL yard-bird, I'd rather go to that old cemetery north of Town Engineering & shoot crows for dinner than go back to eating the bland chicken-type-thingy you can get from the supermarket.  My wife Janis quartered the birds and marinated them in Italian dressing, a mix of Memphis BBQ sauces, and teriyaki sauce overnight. 

 

We left our tailgate and walked over to the stadium at about 5:20.  I finally got into the game early enough to swing by the seats where I used to sit and say "Hi" to wartburgisu from the big ol' CN family.  We're usually making our way up into Section "G" when the National Anthem starts, but this time we were already in our seats when it started.  Last week, I predicted a blowout win for ISU, and I was prepared to see a LOT of reserves getting P.T.  The first quarter seemed OK, but the wheels came off when ISU switched sides at the quarter break.

 

Our first drive of the game was great.  Good balance of runs & passes, culminating in a Kock touchdown.  I'm sure Ryan Kock puts his pants on just like everyone else does, but once he gets them on; he scores touchdowns & makes first downs.  Fourteen plays, 80 yards, and 6:12 of elapsed time.  Not too bad for starters.  UNI replied with a 79 yard drive for a touchdown that took another 8:25 off the clock.  I was a little concerned with their exploitation of the ISU defense right out of the box, but I figured that we'd adjust as the game went along.  Nothing to worry about, right?

 

Wrong.  Meyer let one float about two minutes into the second quarter, and Dokes from UNI made him pay by taking it 46 yards for a touchdown.  Ouch.  That's going to leave a mark.  This is only Meyer's 4th interception of the year, and half of them were eminently catchable by our receivers.  The other two "brainfart" interceptions happened on long pass plays to Blythe where we were taking it deep to stretch the defenses.  I guess that's going to happen every once in a while.  It's the price for having the opponent's best corner trying to cover our moneyman with a safety rolling in to go for the pick at least half the time.  Yeah, that touchdown sucked for us, but it's not on the D.  Of course, as soon as I said that, our defense let UNI get another touchdown to take them to a 21-7 lead at halftime.  Not a very good vibe going through the crowd as the team headed to the locker room.

Instead of going back out to the bus to finish that big bottle of rum, I decided to sit tight and enjoy the halftime show.  And what a show it was.  The UNI band did a pretty good job, but the ISU band hit it out of the park with their salute to animated TV shows.  The themes from "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", and a medley of "Blame Canada" and "What Would Brian Boitano Do" from the South Park movie were a great way to help get the crowd back into the game.  I couldn't help thinking "Brian Boitano would DEFINITELY not let UNI score another TD in this game", but my attitude was generally optimistic…..at least as optimistic as you can be when you're losing 21-7 to an instate 1AA team on your home field.  I'll admit to wondering if we were going to lose, but I've had a really weird feeling about this season so far.  Remember that year Jim Plunkett took the Raiders to the Super Bowl?  It seemed like every one of their games that year came down to a last minute field goal, but the Raiders always seemed to find a way to win.  Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel that if ISU's close in the fourth quarter, we'll find a way to win.

 

The third quarter didn't produce an offensive extravaganza, but our defense did a good job of holding UNI with the adjustments Coach Skladany made at halftime.  We finally found a way to feed Blythe as the quarter drew to a close, and he made a juggling catch in the end zone for his fifth touchdown of the season.  If he keeps up this average, he'll end the season with 12 touchdowns.  Not exactly Kock territory, but respectable nonetheless.

 

The fourth quarter saw Baum lining up for a punt return at his own 40-yard line.  My wife Janis said "I think he's due for a touchdown", and whaddya know, he returned the punt for ISU's first punt return touchdown since 2002.  If I remember correctly, that was Todd Miller against that 1AA Tennessee team early in the season.  About two minutes later, Baum was on the field again ready to return another punt.  He must have still been geeked up over his TD, because he fumbled the ball towards the ISU sidelines and UNI recovered.  Luckily, UNI was penalized on the play, so Baum got another chance to make good.  Unfortunately, this punt was an instant replay of the previous one, with UNI getting the ball at ISU's 34 after another recovery.  Wingert blasted the ball through the uprights from 43 to give UNI a three-point lead with 8:54 left in the game.  Alright, there's still time – and the offense put together a great drive right down to the goal line.  Flynn made a great catch in traffic near the five, but when he tried to force it into the endzone he lost his grip on the ball.  UNI took the ball at the 20 and marched downfield to add another field goal to their lead, which meant we had to go for the endzone instead of trying for the tie on a field goal.  This is when I thought "we're going to do it".  If UNI had simply tried to burn the clock and not gotten that FG, ISU might have been tempted to go for the tie and try to win the game in OT, but that additional three points made us abandon all thoughts of moderation. 

 

I had a client tell me the story of Meyer's great comeback win aginst Pella when he was a senior at Atlantic in 2002.  This guy was at the game, and still raves about the job Meyer did scoring two must-have touchdowns with less than five minutes left on the clock.  He said Pella went from celebrating on their sidelines to looking around like an accident victim who didn't see the truck coming.  We've all seen ISU move the ball quickly when Meyer has 2:00 or more left in a half (I know, I know, he's usually not let off the leash in the first half.  Hopefully, that's going to change), and I was counting on Meyer going balls to the wall.  Hooee Coach, that drive was a dinger.  Seventy-four yards on six plays spanning sixty-five seconds, culminating in a 16-yard pitch to Davis in the North end zone.  Wow!  I was a little concerned with the fact that we left another 65 seconds on the clock for UNI, but they only had one timeout left, so I figured we were going to make it work out one way or another.  Another Rashawn Parker sack?  Maybe a Brent Curvey interception return for a touchdown (he's freakin' due for another one, right?), or a big Jackson deflection to break up a downfield pattern for UNI.  Unfortunately, the answer was "NONE OF THE ABOVE".

 

UNI drove the ball downfield and tried a 51-yard field goal with 11 seconds to play.  Did I feel a little empathy for Wingert, because he had a great day otherwise?  Not really.  He can hit a game-winner in the Gateway Conference; I'll take the one-point win and run with it.  Considering the most likely alternative, I thought it was a good choice.

 

I've been thinking about Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs the last couple of days.

You remember that from high school psych or Psych 101 at ISU – the Hierarchy attempted to lay out a pyramid of emotional needs where basic needs had to precede more luxurious needs.  I've come up with my version of the theory:  CYlent Bob's Pyramid of Crap.  The base of the pyramid is constructed of the crappiest thing that can happen to a football team ("losing at home to an inferior team in a big blowout") and proceeds upwards, with each successive layer a little less crappy than the previous one.  I generally believe that a crappy win beats a pretty loss, but I did transpose two games at the boundary point ("a close loss to a Top 5 team in a road game" just barely edges out "a close win over a crappy team at home"), with "blowout win over a Top 5 team on the road" occupying the top of the pyramid.  It does need some work (I haven't figured out where to place "neutral site games" in the pyramid yet), but I figure I've got another seven weeks to get that right.

 

Here are a few bullet points that summarize my gameday experience, with an emphasis on the positive (duh):

 

  1. Meyer was 24 of 29 with 323 yards, two touchdowns and only one early interception.  Not a bad game, and he had another 25 on the ground in 13 attempts (after you subtract the 22 yards we gave up on three sacks, that works out to about 4.7 yards per carry on running plays).  He might be having some trouble going through his checkdowns, but he's still got a plethora of weapons to use out there.  Everyone got a piece of the action, with Davis getting a team-leading 7 catches for 117 yards.
  2. Our receivers did a pretty good job of holding onto the ball this week.  Considering that we only had 5 incomplete passes, and about half of those were sack-avoiding "throwaways", I'd say this was a positive.  Flynn did cough up the ball on that play in the fourth quarter, but he made the mistake trying to get into the endzone, so I'll forgive him.  Hey, why does Austin Flynn care whether or not I forgive him for the fumble?  He's got a hottie for a girlfriend.  Advantage: Flynn.
  3. Our running game was nothing special, but we did manage to average 2.9 ypc in 28 attempts.  I know you can't ignore sacks, but if you finagle the numbers, you see that we had 4.1 ypc on running plays.  Considering that we needed fast yards in the second half, I thought our abandonment of the run was necessary, but I'd like to see a game this year where we run the ball consistently for four quarters.  Maybe if Colorado's slide continues we'll be able to play clock-control (after Blythe catches a couple of TD's early to give us a BIG lead) and see what our team's made of in the trenches.  Hicks and Scales both averaged over 4.3 ypc, which is good to see.
  4. Our special teams still have some rough edges on kickoff & punt coverage, but Baum's touchdown return covers up a lot of the questionable play by those units.  I was more disappointed than mad about Baum's two fumbles.  That kid's the real deal, and I'm sure he'll be out to make amends in the Nebraska game. 
  5. Our defense started out lethargic, but got better as the game went along (with the exception of those 31 yards they let UNI pick up in the last 65 seconds).  We started to trust the secondary & play tighter coverage in the second half.  If we're going to beat the Bugeaters next week, we'll have to step their coverage up a notch.  Maybe moving Banks to LB backing up Carper will help our short route coverage, but that will be something we'll all be wondering about come 7:00 next Saturday.
  6. The coaching staff gets an "incomplete" this week.  They did a good job of making defensive adjustments, called good plays for the offense in the second half, and came out with a win.  On the negative side, we had to struggle to beat a DIVISION 1AA team that just two weeks ago lost to a DIVISION TWO team at home in front of our biggest crowd ever.  No kudos, no brickbats, just an incomplete.  We'll leave the grading for the next few games.
  7. The crowd gets an enthusiastic "A" for this game.  We had an announced attendance of over 55k at the game, and I'm guessing that we had maybe 3-4k UNI fans in attendance, maximum.  The part that made me the most proud is when I looked around the stadium after Flynn fumbled that ball into the endzone with only a couple of minutes left in the game.  I didn't see very many people heading for the exits, and I'm guessing that around 50 of the 52k or so of the ISU fans in attendance saw Meyer's big drive that finally put us over the top.  A portion of our fan base might be booing and mad enough to spit nails, but at least most of them are doing it from their seats in the stadium instead of heading out to the lots for another round of beer-bongs.  That's the most impressive thing I took away from this game.
  8. The stadium personnel did a pretty good job of getting everything done all day long, with one minor exception.  I'd like to see the "LOT FULL" sign for the first 16th street lot off of Elwood be more visible from the East.  We had to drive right up to the lot entrance to see that it was full, and then backed up all the way to the Vet Med lot to take our "Plan B" spot.

 

Next up for ISU:  The Nebraska Bugeaters.  They did manage to beat Kansas last Saturday 39-32 in overtime, but I see chinks in their armor.  Nebraska's passing offense managed to rack up 395 yards (15 of 33), but since I haven't seen any NU games this year, I don't know if their 26-plus yard average per catch from the KU game is because of deep patterns or receivers racking up big YAC gains after short tosses.  Either way, we know the Huskers will beat the short routes to death after last year's game in Lincoln.  It'll be up to our secondary & linebacking corps to step up and make plays.  Nebraska's defense might be ranked third in the conference, but as Kansas showed us last weekend, they ain't superhuman.  Don't think of this version of Nebraska as one of those worldbeaters who came into Ames in the 80's or 90's and held us to seven yards rushing while scoring 74 points against our anemic defense.  Right now, they're more comparable to Texas Tech before Mike Leach started packing a defense.  Think 2002.  We'll have to play tight coverage on defense, make turnovers happen with pressure, and have the offense take off the training wheels in order to win next Saturday night, but I'm optimistic.  Heck, if we're lucky, we'll get another highlight like "the Run" for the scrapbooks.

 

 Oh hell, I'm optimistic every Saturday.  Now please excuse me.  It's almost midnight, and I've still got to download the rules to the "Brent Musberger Drinking Game" before I call it a night.  If you find yourself out in the public lots next Saturday & spot a red Cyclone Bus with an ug-lee hog head mounted on the front, stop by and say "hey". 

 

See you out in the lots, Clone fans.

                                                                                            


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