By Ben Bruns, Former Cyclone All-American and CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Saturday’s blowout caught me completely by surprise, and I’m guessing you didn’t see it coming either. I knew that the Hawkeyes had a very good football team, but I certainly didn’t think they would dominate the game the way they did. When the Cyclones went three-and-out on the first possession, the game immediately took a turn that the Iowa State faithful had not expected. By the time the Cyclones went three-and-out on the second possession, the first quarter was gone – and so was ISU’s chance of winning.
Our football players didn’t see this coming either. I think they expected Iowa to score, but they expected to be able to answer. When they couldn’t, things turned ugly.
Expectations are an important part of life. They set the framework for everything we do. The Cyclones’ expectations were that they would put themselves in a position to win the game late. When they had no chance early, they struggled to respond. Having watched the game, you might question whether the Cyclones delivered on Paul Rhoads’ expectations: Were we smart? Were we physical? Did we hit you coming off the bus?
No. Cyclone football didn’t deliver on these expectations Saturday. We played hard – no one lacked effort, but we didn’t play Cyclone football. When Iowa thoroughly dominated the game early, the expectation of winning was stolen from our players’ minds by the end of the first half. That is disappointing for fans, but it’s unbelievably hard for the men in the locker room.
The Cyclones are in a bad place right now. They are in the valley. A week like this is torturous. The frustration of an experience like Saturday hangs on players and coaches like a weight throughout every waking moment of the week. For several hours a day, the pain is lessened as the team exerts itself on the practice field. Work is the only form of therapy that even comes close to helping. At the end of the day, the only real way out of the valley is to step back on the playing field.
The challenge of Kansas State looms ahead. This is a game I had circled on my calendar before the season. It is a game that Cyclone football needs in order to get where it wants to go. Heading into it in this fashion is not where we wanted to be, but it is reality. Iowa State has to accept that nothing can be done to correct what happened in Iowa City last Saturday. All that matters is playing Cyclone football this Saturday.
Kansas State will want to do all the things Iowa did: Win the battle in the trenches and then throw it deep. ISU started Saturday’s game in cover four – a zone coverage in which the corners and safeties have the deep portions of the field. Cover four allows your safeties to get into the run game and be aggressive toward the line of scrimmage because the corners have some cushion. Early in the game, Iowa threw underneath this coverage with 7-to-10-yard out routes, causing ISU to have to change to several different pressed coverages (meaning the corners are tight on the wide receivers and the safeties are still up in the run game). When the ball is thrown deep, it is tough for the corner and the safety to get back fast enough, allowing accurate down-field throws to chew up huge chunks of yardage. Look for KSU to try and pressure the Cyclones the same way: Establish the run, get the safeties up in the run game, then throw over the top.
From my vantage point, guys like Bailey Johnson and Brayden Burris took steps forward last week, in spite of what happened at the line of scrimmage to the Cyclones. Their continued development will be critical in the KSU game and beyond.
Offensively, ISU’s guards must play significantly better this week in order for the Cyclones to be successful. And as Austen Arnaud goes, so goes the season. It’s for this very reason that he played the entire game Saturday. The staff gave him the chance to work things out in a game that has been tough for him. The offense has to take the pressure off the defense by being productive each time it has the ball. Our first down efficiency must improve, allowing more flexibility in play calling on 2ndand 3rddown.
In the opening minutes of last year’s game at Arrowhead, the Wildcats looked like they would dominate the line of scrimmage. Iowa State adjusted well and largely shut the Wildcats down, save for scramble throws down the field in critical situations. Kansas State simply made the plays it needed to win. Look for the Wildcats to try and intimidate Iowa State early on this Saturday. The Cyclones need to punch them in the mouth from the onset.
To my Cardinal and Gold brothers: Play smart, play physical, and hit them coming off the bus. The scoreboard will take care of itself.