Before I get into the grades, I just wanted to throw out some general thoughts on this game. First, while the outcome was disappointing and far more negative than the fanbase expected, I'm not going to go overboard on the doom-and-gloom stuff. It didn't change my opinion that the general trajectory of this team under this staff is upward. It just reinforced that we still have a long way to go and some issues that need addressed. Don't get me wrong, we really sucked Saturday. I'm just not going to overlook the general play over the course of the season because the one game we all thought was our best chance for a win went badly.
One other thing I wanted to address. First, I generally don't do a lot of coaching critique. While I second-guess some playcalling here and there, I generally think it would be inane for someone such as myself, whose football career pinnacle was "starting JV quarterback," to assume that I'm in any position to say I know what's best for the team better than guys who have coached at a high level as long as Weis, Campo, etc. All that said, I was very upset about the way this game was handled.
Defensively, we clearly had spent the week preparing for the Iowa State offense. Which makes sense, given that we were playing Iowa State. The problem is, Iowa State evidently spent the week installing Baylor's offense. I don't hold it against the coaching staff that they had no idea ISU would come and run plays so quickly that the refs weren't always even in position by the time the ball was snapped, or that the Cyclones, predominantly a conservative, run-heavy team, would be trying to stretch the field and move the defense laterally on nearly every play. Having watched a few ISU games this year, I was stunned by the offense they trotted out for this game and I give all the credit in the world to their coaches for what they were able to implement in preparation for this game. That said, it would have been nice if we could have adjusted to it.
Our linebackers, as good as they've been, lack lateral mobility. It's the reason that Baylor was able to run for 300 yards on us. They had a running back who was faster than anyone on the defensive side of the ball, and instead of running him at us, they decided to make our defense chase him. We couldn't. It's the same reason those 4th quarter jet sweeps killed us against Texas. Tharp, McDonald, Heeney and Love aren't slow, but they don't change direction well and Baylor used that against us. ISU doesn't have the team speed Baylor does, but saw that trend and decided to use it to our advantage as well. Once they used it to spread out the defense, they were able to hammer it inside as well, plus find open receivers in one-on-one coverage. From what I saw, we didn't really adapt. Part of the issue is simply that our defensive personnel is not athletic enough to stop this type of offense, but I felt like it could have been addressed by using more 3 safety sets, less PT for guys like Love and Willis (and more for Tunde Bakare) and moving Opurum off the line more (since he hasn't exactly been terrorizing QBs this year anyway). I saw more of this late in the 2nd quarter and in the second half, but by then it was too late anyway. I'll close the rant at that for the sake of space, and add that overall I've been impressed with Campo's work with the defense. I was just very upset with the lack of defensive adjustment Saturday.
Offense - D+? C-? Does it really matter?
While the offense wasn't really the issue Saturday, the box score makes the offensive effort look a bit better than it really was. 6 yards per play (441 total) against one of the best defenses in the conference is pretty solid, but overall we didn't do what we needed to when we had the ball. It was disappointing to see James Sims' streak of 100+ yard games come to an end, but with the aid of a 55 yard Pierson run, we did manage 5.2 yards per carry. Dayne Crist even looked like a passable quarterback at times, throwing for 156 yards on 20 attempts. Still, we couldn't complete even half our passes (again), going 11 for 25 on the day. If you needed any confirmation that Michael Cummings isn't the QB of the future, I think you got it on Saturday, as Weis removed him from the game any time we actually had to pass. The receivers once again failed to rise to the occasion, though Mundine continues to make plays here and there. Chris Omigie dropped two adequately-thrown balls on third downs that halted drives, and the receivers in general just couldn't get open. I hope this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone at this point. I'll give a quick shout out to the line, though. They didn't allow a sack, and despite a lot of pass blitzing in the second half, usually gave Crist a lot of time to throw, in addition to opening up the holes in the running game we've grown accustomed to. We're really going to miss Hawk, Zlat and Gelli next year.
Defense - F
This wasn't just an F, it was a zero. Like I mentioned in my rant at the top, the defense was completely unprepared for what Iowa State was going to do, and that doesn't necessarily fall on the players. ISU had a fantastic game plan that preyed on the defense's weaknesses and we didn't adjuster well. That said, ISU's game plan doesn't excuse awful tackling and DBs failing to cover the worst group of receivers in the conference (outside of ours, of course). Even Greg Brown, who has to be the most improved player on the team at this point, was picked on several times in the passing game, and Patmon and the safeties were as good as we've come to expect them to be in coverage (that isn't a complement). The d-line wasn't getting pushed back, but they weren't exactly clogging holes, either. We were able to get into the backfield a few times to make things happen, but overall the defense was completely picked apart. I actually thought we looked better in the Baylor game (where we gave up 666 yards). At least we were making enough plays to keep that one respectable for 2+ quarters. We were simply abused in this game, and it was disappointing to see against the worst offense in the conference (again, outside of ours), that had really been falling apart as of late. This is to say nothing of the third string quarterback who looked like Joe Namath, who I'm not even going to talk about.
Special Teams - D
We actually won the net punting battle, but Doherty's 29 yard punt from deep in our own territory when the game was still close was an early backbreaker. So was Cox's dropped kickoff return. Have you ever seen a team drop more kickoffs than we do? It's unreal. I know Clint Bowen is well-liked, but I think we need to take a good look at whether he's in the right position as Special Teams Coordinator. He doesn't have the best specialists to work with, but overall, every element of the special teams game has been a failure this year.
Overall - F
The defense was too bad to consider this anything but an F. Iowa State's offense has been similar to ours in terms of production this year (i.e. bad), and we made them look like the '07 Patriots. Like I said at the beginning, I'm not giving up on the team or the staff because of this game, but between Senior Night, the nice crowd turnout, Weis buying the students' tickets, the new uniforms, and the perceived winability of the game, it was hard to keep this one in perspective. West Virginia looms as our final opponent, and while I'm expecting a blowout (West Virginia is nearly identical in makeup to the Baylor team that ripped us apart a few weeks ago), one thing gives me a a little hope. We seem to do poorly in games where we have some expectation of being competitive (Rice, Baylor, Iowa State), and outside of the KSU and OU games, we tend to overachieve when we're given no shot (TCU, Okie State, Texas, Texas Tech). We'll see.