1. What was the difference in the Cowboy running game the first and second half?
There were several factors at work. First, Vernand Morency suffered a mild hamstring injury in practice during the week. I observed Morency leaving the field with a member of the sports medicine staff, and then he returned before the end of warm-ups and he did run through plays with the team before warm-ups concluded. In the first half it appeared that the coaching staff took a cautious approach with Mornecy giving him several series off.
"My main focus was just to go out there and try to play football," said Morency when asked about the hamstring he was icing after the ballgame. "I just wanted to show the coaches and my teammates that we had to tough it out."
At the same time give Iowa State credit. The Cyclones came out with a solid defensive plan that included loading the ball and several combinations in the front of the defense of run blitzes mixed with stunts slanting toward the strong side of the offensive formation.
"There were a lot of snaps when we did a really good job against him (Morency)," said Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney. "He is a tremendous back. I don't know that in the red zone, I have seen a better back in my years. Nobody is going to stop him. I'd be shocked if anyone is able to. You have to control him and we did at times today."
In the second half Morency carried the load and head coach Les Miles, offensive line coach Chuck Moller and tight ends coach Josh Henson made some blocking adjustments to better handle what the Cyclones were doing up front. It clicked as the Cowboys rushed for double what they rushed for in the first half. The first half had a net of 64 yards. The second half had a net of 125 yards.
"Those guys were slanting, and we had to make the adjustments," said Morency. "Those adjustments worked and we did a better job of getting the job done."
"Our coaching staff is one of the best in the country at adjusting and making game plans, so we feel that we are ready for anything a defense throws at us," said offensive guard Doug Bond, who filled in for starter David Koenig and played well. "We are very confident in running the offense."
2. Why are the Cowboy defenders so much better at forcing fumbles this season?
This really was one of the better defensive efforts in recent memory. The Cowboys defense played with such confidence all afternoon. A team that had just three sacks coming into the game had eight in the sunshine against Iowa State. Sure, Iowa State had some success moving the ball in the second half, but overall they had to be so discouraged from the constant big plays being made by the Cowboy defenders that early on they knew they had little chance for sustained success.
"That's exactly the recipe for victory," said Miles. "You get a dominant defense and you can start and stop there."
The turnovers were not Iowa State mistakes, they were forced by the Cowboy defense. Something they have really concentrated on after recovering just one fumble in 2003. The hitting started in the first quarter, but the second quarter is where they really paid off. It started when Darrent Williams hit and stripped Tyease Thompson and Jamie Thompson recovered at the Cyclone 7-yard-line setting up a Donovan Woods touchdown. Then later in the quarter, Thompson smacked quarterback Bret Meyer, forcing the ball loose and Clay Coe fell on it setting up a first half closing field goal by Jason Ricks.
"I'm up to five caused turnovers and I'm not alone," said Jamie Thompson. "We've got guys all over the ball and chasing around after some of them, so I can get a few fumble recoveries."
The best of the turnovers in my opinion came in the fourth quarter when Thompson came all the way across the field with one purpose in mind, and when he finally caught up to Meyer he never tried for the tackle. He went for the ball all the way, and Lawrence Pinson recovered.
Forcing fumbles is an art, and the Cowboys are playing like Picasso.
3. What happened to the normally consistent Jason Ricks on the extra point?
Ricks was still thinking about his first field goal miss, which had come just moments earlier in the ballgame. He lined up for a 44-yard field goal try and he didn't hit it well. The ball may have also been deflected slightly by the Iowa State front line. Kickers have to be like cornerbacks and have short memories. Being a freshman, Ricks dwelled on the miss and it caused a missed extra point.
After Ricks missed the extra point wide right, and remember the field goal had been wide left, Les Miles grabbed him on the sidelines and told him to forget it and relax. He gave the kicker a "love pat" on the helmet, and Ricks gave the head coach a light tap on buttocks and everything was OK. Don't expect it to be a lingering problem with Ricks.
4. Where is Donovan Woods in his development as a Division I starting quarterback?
He's a little further down the road than he was before the Iowa State game. Nobody has claimed that Woods is the finished product. He still misses on some throws you would expect him to hit, but let's look at what Woods conquered in his fourth start.
He threw his first interception on the first series when he led the secondary by locking in on one receiver. He didn't panic, but instead took coaching from Mike Gundy in the box and Todd Monken on the sidelines and made a nice recovery.
He continued to do a good job with his checks, including a check on the fade route for a second quarter touchdown to his older brother D'Juan.
He had his best passing day of the season going 7-of-14 with one drop for 139 yards.
He continued to throw the deep ball well, hitting D'Juan on a
45-yard go route in the second half.
He had his busiest day running the ball with 10 carries for 26 yards and a touchdown.
He still missed on several shorter passes that he should hit, but other than the first series, none of them went the other way.
He still has plenty of work to do, but he's 4-0 as a starter and that's as good as it gets.
5. What should we read into this win toward the rest of the season?
It's the first Big 12 win and in the end it will count like all others. Truth is Iowa State is an average football team – better than the 2-10 squad of a year ago, but OSU will play better teams the next five weeks. It continues the solid foundation of confidence that is being built. But the schedule gets tougher beginning next Saturday with Colorado on the road, then another jump the next week against a suddenly hot Texas A&M team, then the next week with North Division favorite Missouri on the road, and then the next week is bedlam.
"Each victory is more important than the last," said Miles. "The second one was a little better, the third a little better. Now we're at four and the opportunity to count five in a very short season and with the Big 12 season right in front of us we are right where we want to be."
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