On Campus: Frustration Setting In

The frustration is starting to show. We're halfway through the season and Iowa State hasn't been able to put a complete football game together. Check that…they haven't been able to put a half of football together. Even the eternal optimists like yours truly have less of a skip in our step. Nobody is pleased with the performance level so far.

But, perhaps the most miffed folks in the Cyclone Nation are the players themselves.

 

After chatting with several guys earlier this week, I was struck with the impression for the first time this year that the frustration is starting to fester. Smiles were scarce. Moods were melancholy. The ‘fellas looked like somebody had just punched them in the face and stole their lunch. They were none too pleased.

 

I remember the same look of discontent last year after the overtime loss at Missouri. A loss that moved the Cyclones to 3-3 on the year. Sitting outside of Faurot Field in Columbia last October, I watched as the players walked on to the bus one by one, heads down and scowls snarling. Nobody said much. They didn't need to. It was clear then, as it is now, that a 3-3 start to the year is not where Iowa State should be.

 

A year ago, Iowa State responded to the adversity and won four straight to set themselves up for a chance to win the Big 12 North.

 

In 2006, with the performance level so far, competing to play for the Big 12 Championship appears as far-fetched as Dan Fouts winning an Emmy for Sports Broadcasting.

 

That said the fire is still burning in the Cyclone locker room. They know they are going to play better. They won't give up on the season. There are way too many character guys in this program to let this season fall into the dumpster.

 

Quitting isn't an option. Just ask DeAndre Jackson. D-Jack learned from one of the best leaders to wear a Cyclone uniform in Ellis Hobbs. During Hobbs' senior year the Cyclones started the year 2-4 and 0-3 in conference play, including an embarrassing 34-3 loss to Texas A&M during Homecoming. Things looked awful. But the captain in Hobbs stepped up. He wasn't going to let his senior year end in disappointment. So he rallied the troops to four straight W's. Confidence increased, attitudes adjusted and success followed.

 

DeAndre was a sophomore that year. This year he's a senior captain. This time it is up to him and the rest of the Cyclone seniors to raise the intensity. They have to realize this is it. What will their legacy be? It is up to them to decide.

 

Coaches draw the plays, decide the personnel, and organize the gameplan. But those on the field have to take some ownership as well. They have six games left to cement their places in the Cyclone history books. Record crowds can only do so much. The onus is firmly on the players and the coaches. It's up to them to give the crowd something to cheer about. When Todd Blythe was asked this week whether or not they are providing a good product on the field he responded with a simple, "No."

 

Now is a good time to start performing. There is plenty left to accomplish. It all starts with some leadership.

 

******

After watching the tape of the Nebraska game on my new HDTV with my roommate and intelligent football mind by the name of Brett McIntyre, we came to some conclusions and diagnosed the ailment of this Cyclone offense. (By the way, HDTV will change your life. If my performance level drops in the next few weeks, it's probably because I'm watching Wheel of Fortune in HD. I apologize.)

 

Anyway after several hours of analyzing the tape, here is what we came up with:

 

  1. The Cyclone offensive line had way too many mental errors in the first half. They were put in the right position, the scheme was great in most cases, and they were able to initiate some push, but the big dudes up front each had a glaring error in the first session. On RJ Sumrall's blown-up reverse on the first drive, Aaron Brant missed not one, but two, blocks. When RJ is running to Brant's side that is not a good recipe for success. That was one of many mistakes and was the biggest reason the offense couldn't gain it's footing early on.

 

  1. Paul Fisher was outclassed by Adam Carriker in the first half. Carriker was moving him 3-5 yards every play and even though Carriker's numbers weren't reflected in the stat sheet, he was a huge disruption in the backfield.

 

  1. Despite the errors, the Cyclone offensive line played much better after halftime. Reggie Stephens filled in well at right guard and they were able to give Meyer some time. Even Paul Fisher did a better job of holding his blocks.

 

  1. But, Bret and the receivers didn't do a whole lot to help the big guys out to make them look good in the second half. Nebraska was sending up to eight guys in blitzes. And as the game wore on the more often they came because Iowa State couldn't do a thing to make them think twice. This is what we believe were the biggest reasons the blitzes were so effective:
    1. As Peyton Manning says in one of his thousands of commercials, "Checkin' to Pancakes. Checkin' to Pancakes." Meyer looked as if he rarely checked into a different play at the line of scrimmage.  
    2. Nebraska had ISU's snap counts read to a T. On the linebacker and especially safety blitzes, the Huskers would be in full sprint when the ball was snapped, enabling them to bust right through the line and break up the play.
    3. The receivers' routes had too much depth when the Huskers blitzed. ISU ran very few, if any, screens or quick slants to counter the jailbreak blitzes. All of the patterns were deep and to the sideline.
    4. After the blitz was picked up and a decent pocket formed, Meyer would get a bit antsy and roll right into the blitzing side, forcing a throw away or a minimal gain. 
    5. Meyer would lock on a target allowing the defensive line to read it and knock down his passes.

 

 

  1. Iowa State was forced to throw almost every down and this meant Nebraska had five D-backs in most of the second half. As unpopular as it is, the run game was working. After Iowa State ran the ball, the Nebraska defense was less aggressive resulting in successful passing plays on the next play. The Cyclones need to run the ball to be successful. No questions asked.
  2. I think Todd Blythe is an amazing receiver, but he is far from complete. Every catch he received were towards the sideline. In fact 80 percent of Meyer's completions were to the sideline. They need to utilize the middle of the field. This would hold the safeties and do a better job of keeping the blitzers honest. 

 

Some offensive positives:

1.      Scott Stephenson, besides three or four plays, dominated All-Big 12 tackle Ola Dagunduro. He was especially good on run plays and often had Ola driven five to ten yards past the line of scrimmage. The holes were there for Stevie when ISU did run.

2.      Reggie Stephens and Tom Schmeling each had some bright spots. They will be, at the very least, serviceable in the next two years.

3.      Walter Nickel's pass protection was very good. This really surprised me. Nickel has enough talent to play in the NFL. If he cuts down on some mistakes, he could be very special. ISU's needs to find a way to utilize him more.

4.      Jason Scales in the one series he played showed some toughness and didn't cower from contact. He took on Carriker and stood him up on one occasion.

5.      Jon Davis is extremely underrated. He has strung his three best games of his career together the past three weeks.

6.      Bret Meyer has a heart the size of TO's ego. He continued to get up and encourage his teammates. Although I think he didn't have his best game, he continues to amaze me with his ability to continue to fight.

 

I really think this offense with the slightest bit of improvement and some consistency can still put up some good numbers. They aren't as far off from potency as the scoreboard shows. Oklahoma has some holes in the defense that they may be able to exploit. And I believe it all centers on the run game. I expect the backs to get 20-25 carries on Saturday. And who knows what could happen? Heck, the last time ISU won a road game against a ranked team was 1990 against these same Sooners. I think the Cyclones are due.


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