This is how I would rank the top teams in college football this week if I had a vote in the AP Poll:
2. Oklahoma (2-0)…The Sooners are better than anyone expected, and that probably even includes the Sooners themselves.
5. Georgia Tech (1-0)…Is it too early to call the Yellow Jackets the class of the always-balanced ACC?
6. UCLA (2-0)…The Bruins have played some salty defense the past two weeks, and they have a balanced offense to boot.
7. Texas (2-0)…Took advantage of some injuries to the Horned Frogs, but still looked much better than they did week one.
8. Florida (2-0)…We won't know anything at all about the defending champs until they put on the white jerseys for the first time.
10. Rutgers (2-0)…I know Ray Rice is a workhorse, but even he needs a break every so often so he doesn't break down later.
11. Nebraska (2-0)…Got the job done – barely – in a classic sandwich game with a quarterback making his first road start in almost two years.
15. South Florida (2-0)…Remember when I told you the Bulls were the most underrated team heading into the season?
17. Boston College (2-0)…Don't look now, but the always-underrated Eagles are a factor in the ACC race – again.
18. Oregon (2-0)…Will the Ducks fold after beating Michigan the way they quit after beating Oklahoma last year?
19. Georgia (1-1)…The defense played good enough to beat South Carolina, but the passing game on offense is still too inconsistent.
20. TCU (1-1)…The Horned Frogs put up a pretty respectable showing in Austin considering their injury situation.
21. Virginia Tech (1-1)…Have the Hokies hit the panic button by moving to true freshman Tyrod Taylor at quarterback this week?
22. Ohio State (2-0)…So far the Buckeyes have beaten absolutely nobody, and have looked unimpressive while doing so.
23. Missouri (2-0)…Defense still needs some help, but man oh man that offense is a sight to see when it's clicking.
25. Texas A&M (2-0)…Barely hung on in triple overtime to survive Fresno State because the defense still can't get critical stops when it needs to.
On the Cyclones…
Last week I opined that the reason what we saw on the field in Gene Chizik's debut versus Kent State in no way resembled what we saw in the spring, and in practice for the last nine months, was because Chizik went Norman Dale and sent a message to players who hadn't bought in.
Boy, that sounded so good at the time. But one week, and another listless effort later, I think we can reasonably assume I didn't know what I was talking about. That I made my best educated guess possible to make sense of something that didn't make sense, but that guess was incorrect. Yes, I just admitted I was wrong for those of you scoring in bed, or at Cyclone (we talk Deace more than we talk Clones) Report.
So here's my next educated guess as I attempt to make heads or tails out of the current situation.
And please note, this is just me being a commentator, which is my job. I haven't spoken to Gene in a couple of months, and don't know any of the members of the new coaching staff – that's Jonathan's job. My day job at WHO doesn't allow me to stay as intimately involved as I used to be. Aside from my little birdies, I don't have any other inside knowledge to base this on beyond the fact I've been intimately around Cyclone sports for several years now, have followed all of Jonathan's coverage closely, and I watch as much college football on Saturdays as any married with children person possibly can. So I'll opine, and you can decide whether or not I'm right or stubbed my toe again.
What we've seen against Kent State and Northern Iowa are nothing more than a reflection of the fact that Gene Chizik has not earned the collective respect of his players yet. Oh, sure, they may fear him; which is why this team plays so tense because it's constantly dreading the next mistake. They run the plays he calls and do what he says, but he hasn't earned their respect yet. I think that's because we have a talented yet inexperienced head coach still trying to feel his way through his first head coaching job. In his first head-coaching job Gene is sending mixed signals about what kind of program we're going to have at ISU under his watch. And until he makes up his mind the players – who by and large loved his predecessor so they were jaundiced about the move anyway going in –won't completely buy into the program.
Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about.
Coach Chizik said ISU needs to run the football to win. Okay, fine, but then why did we bring in an offensive coordinator from the June Jones school of moving the football?
Coach Chizik brought with him the Cover (or Tampa) Two defense. This is not a blitz-happy aggressive scheme per say, but it's a very effective one. Okay, fine, he's won a lot of games using that scheme, as have others – including Super Bowls. But then why did we bring in a defensive coordinator from the Buddy Ryan school of blitz the cheerleaders defense?
Coach Chizik says that players' jobs are constantly open for competition and no player is safe. Okay, fine, but then why did we give folks a three-week warning shot across the bow? Are players' jobs open for competition or not?
Still other questions:
- Why did we put Austen Arnaud in for a series and then take him out?
- Why did we work to establish the running game against Kent State and then throw the ball 43 times against UNI?
- Why would you take the ball out of your best playmakers' hands and give it to a hybrid freshman quarterback on a key third down conversion attempt against Kent State, thus burning a redshirt?
- Why don't we do more to get Todd Blythe involved in the offense?
- Why in the world did we put a young man in position to fail on the punt return team for a second straight week when it was obvious in week one he couldn't do the job?
Now, if you and I have these questions – and we're idiot fans – what kinds of
questions do you think the players have? I know I don't know all the technical
aspects of this game and have an untrained eye but golly jeepers, explain some
things to me cause I just don't get it.
Kent State was worried about one player - Todd Blythe. They didn't know if they could defend him. By the end of the first series of the second half they had their answer. They couldn't defend him.
Of course the first quarter they didn't have to. He wasn't even passed to.
Nobody defends Todd Blythe better than ISU does. But in the second quarter he
was instrumental in our scoring drive.
Here's ISU's first scoring sequence:
Meyer 8-yard rush to Kent 48.
Bass 1-yard rush to Kent 47.
Bass 15-yard rush to plus 5 yard Kent penalty.
Meyer to Blythe incomplete.
Meyer to Blythe 11 yards to Kent 21.
Meyer to Barkema 8 yards to Kent 13.
Bass 13-yard TD run.
That drive concluded with 1:12 left in the half.
Our next scoring sequence to start the third quarter also started off of utilizing Blythe:
Meyer to Blythe 14 yards to Kent 44.
Meyer to Blythe 15 yards to Kent 29.
Bass 2-yard run to Kent 27.
Meyer to Barkema 11 yards to Kent 16.
Meyer to Blythe for 16-yard score.
The first scoring drive took 7 plays and 3:11. The second scoring drive took five plays and 1:53. That's pretty efficient if you ask me. But don't ask me why it took 17 minutes and 18 seconds of game time before Bret threw to Todd again, because I don't have an answer.
We never saw the deep threat used. And still we could have dominated except for the turnovers. Now some folk might suggest this was a great game plan and the players just made mistakes but why not have a seasoned punt returner back there instead of an experiment, a hope? Especially after he proved he couldn't get the job done.
Now down 23-14 at the start of the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-3 we
went to Phil Bates, our third string quarterback for a 10-yard loss, instead of
the playmaker Blythe, the speedster R.J. Sumrall, the capable Ben Barkema, or
J.J. Bass running or catching a pass?
I don't care how poorly Meyer played, and he played poorly, the play calling wasn't his fault. That wasn't Bret Culbertson's fault. That wasn't Alvin Bowen's fault. I understand Coach wanted to establish the run and that is championship ball. But I think game one makes a lot less sense when we look at the scheme for game two.
Now this is what I mean by mixed messages. From day one we've heard no inherited positions. Everybody earns what everybody gets. Your number two in the nation active passer has to earn his job and is told the number two will get playing time. The number two active receiver in the nation is told he has to earn his job and you want them but you don't need anybody.
Why the heck was the kid who couldn't field a punt on the field to field the punt? Did he really earn that? That's not what we heard in the press conference. We heard Coach wanted to give him another shot.
Of course it could be argued that that fumble, like the Baylor fumble two years ago, was the game. I don't think that's where the game was lost. Here's where that game was lost:
UNI scores and ISU gets a 41-yard return from R.J. Sumrall. After a completed pass to Milan Moses for seven yards Bass breaks one for 15-yards deep into UNI territory. The drive started with 14:04 seconds left in the second quarter. Bass broke his run off at about the 13:30 mark in the second quarter. Granted, UNI had a 7:04 drive in the second quarter but it took nearly a half dozen series and to the 6:59 mark in the fourth quarter for J.J. to ouch the ball again - an 11 yard pass completion. How does that happen? How do you allow that much time to elapse between your stud tailback touching the ball if you've said from day one we need to establish the running game to win here?
Later on Bass did catch two more passes and gained the seven yards with three
straight carries for a touchdown for the Clones.
Again, I'm not a professional coach. Can someone explain to me why J.J. gets only four more rushing plays called for him after breaking a big run early in the second quarter? I'm confused, because there was never any indication going into the season we'd see this from the coaching staff.
Here's another example:
ISU is on the move at the end of the third quarter. They finally have the
momentum. There's 10 seconds left on the clock and time for another play. You
have the seven footer (with his wingspan) Blythe. You have Sumrall, who was
having a good game as was Marquis Hamilton. Moses was able to do some damage. As
we later found out J.J. can catch.
So what do we do, line up with a sense of urgency down 11 and pick up another five, 10 yards and go into the fourth with even more momentum?
No, we let the clock run out. Then less than 40 seconds into the fourth quarter we fumble the ball away. Why give UNI time to regroup in the redzone? Why not try to do something with those last ten seconds and put the boot to the throat?
Fast forward to the defense coming up big. ISU scores but a minimum of 90 seconds is used up walking back to the line and pondering. In college football first downs stop the clock. Which means hustling is rewarded.
Imagine UNI starting that next series with 8:49 on the clock instead of 7:19. Again the defense came up big. UNI three and out. With 5:31 left down 11 where's Wallace Franklin, or the spread offense or Blythe posting the defense? J.J. Bass gets a pass dumped to him. He gained five yards but I'd have liked to have seen that against Kent State instead of the Bates 10-yard loss.
The next play is Hamilton short for four. The next play is a J.J. Bass run and at this point it absolutely looks like we're playing a pre-season game.
On August 30th we went to Todd Blythe with six seconds to go twice in a row. Now, in a crucial situation with much more time left on the clock, Blythe can't get a pass, or Sumrall, or Hamilton who was prolific? Again, please explain this to me. I don't know, but I'm wondering if there's another explanation beyond I'm just a profit whore throwing crap against the wall just to hear myself talk?
Based on all the information we had coming out of training camp this team should be 2-0, easy. The play-by-play further affirms that ISU could have, should have beat Kent State and UNI. Especially when you look at the fact this coaching staff has already improved the fundamentals of these players exponentially. Jonathan has a solid piece prepared on how this team has improved in several areas already, and before the game Mark Farley noted the film he saw of ISU was that it was a lot more fundamentally sound than it had been in previous years.
So its not like this team doesn't have talent, and the coaches don't know how to teach. But it's obvious early on that they're learning on the job, too. Shoot, were you as good at your job the first month as you are now? I know those early shows on WHO were brutal, and I had been doing radio for six years before we made that switch. Skill is something you hone, and talent is a gift from God, but there is no substitution for real world experience. And I'm pointing these things out because I want fans to see there are reasons for hope and this team shouldn't go 0-12 as Sean Keeler suggested in the Des Moines Register. The opportunities are there, we just need to cash in.
And we won't cash in until the players buy into Coach Chizik and respect him.
That's when they'll go to war for him. So how does he do that?
Chizik is the reason we've sold 36,000 plus tickets. He and Jamie Pollard. Chizik knows football and over time he's going to build a champion. This team is capable of winning now, though. Especially against Kent State and UNI. And at the very least it is capable of competing week in and week out.
To make that happen Chizik needs to have a vision and stick to it, because right now it appears we're just trying things. Chizik has been around some of the game's great coaches like Danny Ford, Tommy Tuberville, and Mack Brown. He's soaked up their wisdom like a sponge, but now he needs to simplify things and just go with his gut.
When I first got into radio I did my impression of Jim Rome and Rush Limbaugh, the two shows I listened to the most. Finally, a program director took me aside and stopped me from listening to others until I found my own voice. That was some of the best career advice I've ever received.
I would humbly give the same to Gene about his first head coaching job. If he wants to be a complete hard ass, fine, go all the way with it. Build your Bear Bryant tower, strip mine the program to build it back up again, start playing more young guys right away, and go Junction Boys on the Cyclones.
However, if that's not where his heart is at then he needs to reconnect with his players on a personal level because right now I think guys are so high-strung they're over-thinking and football has become a burden moreso than fun. That's where the mental errors are coming from. I don't think he can push these guys anymore unless he wants to risk a very ugly season. And maybe he does, I don't know, but if that's the case then drive the drop the hammer so you drive the nail all the way home. Stop sending mixed messages, figure out your plan – not the collective wisdom of others you've worked for but your plan – and stick to it no matter what. Tell folks like me to stick it where the sun don't shine, stay consistent, and you'll earn the respect of your players.
Friday nights are family movie night at our house, and Ana picked out Shrek 2. I wasn't in the mood to watch it for the 150th time, so I decided to split the television screen and fire up the PS3 for a little NCAA Football 2008. Right away Ana looked at me and said, "Daddy, it's supposed to be family movie night."
I looked at her and said, "You're right, honey. Go turn the PS3 off and come cuddle with daddy."
See, she had caught me being inconsistent. She had caught me sending mixed messages. So I had a choice to make. I could either exert my authority anyway, or I could practice real leadership and admit I was wrong. When I did the latter I saw a whole new level of respect and affection from my oldest daughter. When I was willing to admit I was being inconsistent, it demonstrated to her that I had her best interests at heart – even when I'm tough on her. That I'm not a taskmaster, nor a bully just because I can be one, but I'm someone to be respected because I care enough about her to teach her right from wrong and allow her to hold me to the same standard.
My guess is that right now Gene doesn't have a similar rapport with enough of his players, and we're witnessing the manifestation of that on the field.
Being a coach is not much different than being a parent. It takes purpose (vision), passion (love), and perseverance (consistency).
Gene knows this, and he knows more about coaching than I ever will. But it's one thing to know it, it's another to do it – and he hasn't done it before as a head coach. There is no substitute for experience, remember.
Once he gets more comfortable with being the guy in the corner office for a change we'll see things change for the better around here, because I still believe he's going to take ISU football to heights we've never seen before.