Observation #1 - Let me put on the Captain Obvious cape and utter the phrase that will be repeated the rest of the conference season: This is a different team. And maybe the keyword in that previous phrase was team. Last night in Ames, the Red Raiders scrapped, battled , suffered setbacks, underwent adversity…and answered. More importantly, they won. This game wasn't a game that the Red Raiders could have won in 2011. Not enough went right early and anything the offense did would have been too late. The defense kept the Red Raiders in the first half by holding to Iowa State to 0-6 on 3rd down and taking a 7-7 tie into the locker room. The offense wasn't pretty, but they did enough in the second half to win. This team needed this win to help enforce everything that the coaches have been preaching since spring practice. I think it will pay dividends the rest of the season.
Game Ball – Offense: Eric Ward. We're starting to see the guy that carried this offense the second half of 2011. He has 4 TDs in the last two games. 4 of the 9 catches Ward had were for a first down. One was a touchdown, two others set up second down and 2 or less. Ward made plays when no one else could when this team needed them the most.
Honorable Mention: RB Kenny Williams. 15 carries 80 tough, hard earned yatrds.
Game Ball – Defense: Kerry Hyder (With apologies to CB Cornelius Douglas.) Hyder is the most dominant defensive lineman on a line that is dominating. 5 tackles, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery. The mere presence of Hyder's in his pursuit of Steele Jantz late in the 4th quarter caused Jantz to drop the ball. That's intimidation, folks. When Steele Jantz was pressured, he made bad decisions. When Steele Jantz made a bad decision, more times than not, Kerry Hyder was a factor.
High Honorable Mention: Cornelius Douglas. 2 INTs. 3 tackles.
Pass offense: It didn't go well early for Seth Doege and company. That was evident from the first pass that was just out of reach to Alex Torres. It wasn't all Doege's fault. Iowa State would pressure the young guards up front and force Doege out of the pocket, then a delayed blitz, or a linebacker staying at home and then trying to close in would force the bad throws. On the Klein interception, I don't think Doege saw him, and it was just a good play. The second interception by Jacques Washington was a actually a worse throw than the one to Klein.
I wrote and talked a lot last week about what would be a better mismatch for the inside receivers versus the Iowa State inside linebackers. Turned out it was the speed of Jakeem Grant and Javon Bell that gave them more trouble than TE Jace Amaro. Neal Brown, though used Amaro very effectively as a blocker on the outside when throwing a quick screens and slants. It wasn't always pretty, but Brown made the adjustments necessary and it worked.
Run offense: Like the passing game, there wasn't a whole lot early. Kenny Williams had a run midway through the second quarter that might have turned the tide. Running to the right off a counter, he slashed past the line and found a little bit of a crease. Kenny Williams is earning some tough yards right now for this team and is overall probably playing better than Eric Stephens. Stephens will be a factor in several conference games this season, but Williams was a better fit against a physical defense.
Pass Defense: What can you say? This group is playing well together. The national pundits will say they are untested until they play the passing teams of the Big 12, but it appears that going up against this receiving corps is reaping benefits. 3 interceptions against Iowa State ties their season total from last year of 5. They will get their tests the next two weeks, but for now, there's not a whole lot to critique.
Rush Defense: This front seven held a rushing team to 155 total yards and 3.1 yards per carry. Minus a 36 yard run early and a 21 yard scramble where Hyder had pressure and then was pushed out of the play by a lineman, this running game was held in check. The most important stat to me was holding Iowa State to 0-6 on 3rd down in the first half. They were at their best when they needed to step up and help their offensive teammates while they figured things out.
Room for improvement: Aside from this team finding a way to win when it all wasn't going their way, the best thing that came out of the Iowa State game was in every aspect of the team, there is a lot of room for improvement.
OL: Has to figure out a way to stop more than 4 pass rushers. It might be a lot to ask, but there are some opponents, namely OU, TCU (and I'm not a huge TCU believer) and Texas that will use this game tape and try to build on it.
Outside Recievers not named Eric Ward: Darrin Moore specifically. Need more out of you. Moore looked very frustrated last night. A couple of screen plays blew up him last night and he had a tough time getting open. I like what Moore brings to the offense, but he needs to raise his game against conference competition and not continue to live off his performance last year against Texas State.
QB: There were a few glimpses of the 2011 version of Seth Doege last night. He has to make better decisions on the run. There were some throws he got away with last night that a faster secondary would have broken up or intercepted. I know it starts with the OL, but Doege's got to trust the process enough to remember as long as you have the next play, sometimes you're doing ok.
DE: The pressure is still coming from positions other than defensive end. And maybe that's how it's designed to be this season. Jackson Richards had a good first half with 4 tackles. Dartwan Bush had some good plays, but this team still needs an edge rusher. Of the 9 sacks so far by the defense, only 2 have come from DE. Bush had one against UNM and Pete Robertson got to Jantz at the end of the game last night.
Special Teams: Bustin missed a FG attempt that would have given a little bit of a cushion, but it was at the end of the field where I think only one out of 4 attempted kicks was made. Of more concern is the punt coverage team that had the opportunity to down 3 punts inside the 5 yard line, but got none. Two awkward bounces and a penalty for fair catch interference hurt a pretty good performance from Ryan Erxleben.
In all, the Red Raiders got out of Ames with a win. They showed the fanbase and more importantly themselves that they can overcome some adversity and like a pitcher who doesn't have his best stuff, figures out a way to win.