By Ben Bruns, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor and former Iowa State All-American
Reviewing the Northern Illinois win
Nothing gets the juices pumping like college football’s opening night and it was a great one for the Cyclones last Thursday at Jack Trice Stadium. I was shocked by how much better we were in our 2010 opener than we were a year ago. And I’m continually impressed by the fact that this team improves every time it gets the chance. On Thursday, we had a chance not just to win a game against a solid Northern Illinois team, but to blow the Huskies out. Both teams made some critical mistakes: Iowa State allowed Northern back in the game and Northern allowed itself to be nearly taken to the woodshed. Penalties and inconsistent offensive line play, as well as a disastrous punt, were indications of areas in which Iowa State needs to improve dramatically to have a chance to win this week against ninth-ranked Iowa.
The Cyclone defense was praised by fans and media after the game but I think we should be careful. The addition of David Sims will dramatically upgrade the Cyclones’ run support and pass defense on Saturday. Mike O’Connell gave a gutty performance and was likely playing with injury in parts of the game, but he missed several plays behind the line of scrimmage that were costly to the ISU defense. Zac Sandvig played well enough to earn time ,with O’Connell and Sims this week.
Perhaps more important in reviewing Thursday night’s performance is an analysis of the defensive line’s effectiveness. The Cyclones’ defensive line is filled with tough, accountable guys, who play as hard as they can but are limited in several areas. And on Thursday night, those limitations occasionally prevented Iowa State’s success.
In offensive line play, the center and guards are responsible for the depth of the pocket – they have to win the battle right at the line of scrimmage. The tackles are responsible for the width of the pocket – they have to keep the rushers wide. Due to the size of Iowa State’s defensive ends, it will be rare for them to beat tackles with initial moves. In order to be effective, they will need the pocket to collapse, forcing a quarterback to move so that they can counter the offensive tackle to a spot the tackle doesn’t expect them to go. One of our preseason keys was whether or not the defensive tackles could get a pass rush up the middle to compress the pocket. In game one, the answer was no.
Despite not having the horsepower (at least in game one) to get to the quarterback just rushing four, the Cyclones were very successful in keeping the offensive line off the linebackers, who made the majority of the tackles. Further, when the Clones blitzed, they were successful in getting pressure. That’s improvement.