Everything I was feeling when I typed up my recap of the West Virginia game seems so far away now. Kansas went into this game with hope. We'd broken the conference losing streak, and were going into a road game just scant underdogs (I believe most lines closed with us +4). Iowa State had looked worse than us, and had zero momentum going into the game. I don't think any Jayhawk fans were confident about the team, per se, but it was hard not to think about the fact that we had a legitimate chance to win two conference games in a row, and finally start to feel good about the trajectory of this program.
I'm not willing to say all of that is gone. Though it may look like more of an anomaly now, the fact remains that we dominated a fellow Big 12 team just over a week ago. The fact remains that, prior to Saturday's performance, the defense has played at a level of respectability we hadn't seen out of this team since 2009. The fact remains that there are some positive things to point to right now. But the fact also remains that we got straight-up obliterated by an awful football team on Saturday.
I'll go through a summary of my whole experience and what I saw on the field for those who are interested, with a summary of my reflections at the end.
First, a big thanks to everyone both here and at WRNL who gave their suggestions on parking, food, etc. for the game. We ended up parking in a large public lot just about a three minute walk south of stadium, which given the weather conditions and my lack of familiarity with the area, was well worth the $20. I'd also like to give major props to Mrs. Penhawk, who despite being 7 months pregnant, honestly withstood the cold far better than I did.
We arrived at Jack Trice about an hour before kickoff, and parked in a snowy lot. Now I knew it had snowed a bit in Ames this week, but I was not expecting the amount of ice I saw up there. I don't know how much snow they got initially, but none of it seemed to have melted. Instead, it seemed to have frozen over into a slick sheet of glass covering the ground. The roads were fine, but nothing else was (including the field, but we'll get to that later).
My wife and I were decked out in KU gear, so I was anticipating catching some crap in the heart of Cyclone territory, but I have nothing but positive things to say about the ISU faithful I interacted with. Outside the stadium a guy just walked up, shook my hand, told me he respected the hell out of our basketball program and wished us a good time in Ames. This is pretty consistent with other ISU fans I have known, and I left with nothing but good things to say about the people up there.
We overestimated the time necessary to get to our seats, so for some reason we sat down and watched warmups 40 minutes before kickoff. It was at roughly this time that the stadium announcer let us know that the temperature was only 11º and we would be a part of Iowa State history...coldest home game ever! The remaining snow in the bleachers wasn't helping. I've been to a lot of sporting events at just about every time of year possible, in extreme heat, wind, rain, snow, everything. This was the most uncomfortable I have ever been at a game.
From the looks of warmups, I wasn't the only unhappy one, either. I saw numerous players on each side slipping during warmups. At that time, I didn't really notice one team sliding worse than the other, because I had no reason to think either side would have an advantage. All I can tell you is that both teams seemed to be having trouble with their footing.
Something that now strikes me as strange is how good the energy was from our players during warmups. They were so amped at that time that I actually mentioned to my wife that I was impressed. Despite the conditions, they were pumping each other up, jumping, yelling, dancing to the pre-game music, etc. As they returned to the locker room and the student section started getting after them, they were yelling back, jumping up and down...they really seemed ready to go. That made the game that followed all the more mysterious.
A couple more quick notes on the overall game experience before I get into the game itself. First, I really don't like the layout at Jack Trice. For those who aren't familiar with it (I wasn't), the stadium is actually built into a small hill. It had three completely sets of stands, with two large ones on the east and west sides, and a much smaller one on the south. The band sits at the north end zone. The thing I don't like that all four corners are entirely open. The stadium just never got loud. Granted, a lot of people were too busy trying not to freeze to get up and yell, but the crowd noise just sort of evaporated. I've heard Memorial, with a roughly equal sized crowd, get much louder, and KU football crowds aren't exactly known for being loud. On the subject of the crowd, I'll throw one more shot of respect ISU's way. A 1-9 team playing in record cold conditions against the other worst team in the conference is a recipe for a very small crowd. But I would estimate they got to about 70-75% capacity. Not bad.
However, as much as I have good things to say about the fans, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the abomination that is the Iowa State pre-game intro. After the national anthem, as the whole pre-game pump-up session or whatever you call it begins, they start by playing an Iowa State rap. Yep, Iowa State and rap have somehow found a way to merge paths, and it's every bit as great as it sounds. To be fair, it's not some ridiculous 80's rap nonsense; it does sound like a real song, but the lyrics are a testament to the fact that Iowa State athletics does not provide a sufficient amount of subject matter to warrant three minutes of lyrical content.
After the rap and the highlight-videos, the crowd is subjected to a loud siren, followed by a message on the videoboard, warning us that "Cyclone doppler radar" is showing a storm approaching. Oh noez! Should the crowd take shelter, Mr. PA announcer? Not the whole crowd, as it turned out, but Jayhawk fans were to advised to take shelter because of a...you guessed it...approaching CYCLONE! If I wasn't so busy shivering, I would have been laughing. It's as though the Athletic Department went to some sort of sports PR firm and said "ok, so we're looking for the cheesiest, least intimidating video pre-game routine ever. Can you help us out?" I just kept thinking about the pregame intro at Allen Fieldhouse and wondering "is this really the best they could put together?"
Anyway, then the game started and any trace of humor disappeared from the evening pretty quickly. I won't write a long summary of the game, because no one wants that. Instead I'll just go over my main takeaways from this one
-Montell Cozart was not just bad, he looked like there was something wrong with him. Physically, he seemed fine, but mentally, he looked downright scared to be out there. He looked more affected by the field that anyone, consistently slipping and falling every time he stepped out of bounds, and looked absolutely terrified by the idea of getting hit. So much so he stepped out of bounds a full yard short of the marker on 3rd down, despite not having a defender within five yards of him. His poor play bled into the passing game as well. I won't hold the inaccuracy against him too much given the conditions (especially on the deep throws), but his decision-making was godawful. On the interception just before halftime, he decided to throw it deep down the sideline to a covered Andrew Turzilli, and never once seemed to notice that his slot receiver (I believe it was McCay) had several steps on his man while running free on a post route in the middle of the field. There were several times where he threw long despite having open receivers (yes, I said open receivers) running routes underneath. Iowa State's coverage was downright awful, and it was the first time since conference play started that I've seen our WRs consistently getting separation, but Cozart either picked the wrong one or threw it nowhere near them. Again, something was up with Cozart, because he played better on the road against teams like Texas and Okie State than he did against ISU Saturday night. Hopefully it was just an off game. I listened to the rest on the radio, but it sounds like Heaps came in and put the ball on them, but then they couldn't catch them. In short, the passing game was a disaster, which leads me to...
-The playcalling sucked. The zone read was picking up 5+ yards just about every play. Cozart was even tipping his hand, leaning in toward the LOS just before the snap each time we ran it, and ISU still couldn't stop it. When they started keying in on Sims, Cozart pulled a few back and took those for decent gains. It was working exactly the way it was supposed to. So, you know, why not start mixing things up? It reminded me of sometimes a pitcher will be owning batters with particular pitch, but at a certain point they just start to feel like they're overusing it, and will start mixing in a bunch of weaker pitches and get killed. Stick with what's working, Charlie/Powlus/whoever the hell calls our plays now!
-Sims was a beast, dragging Cyclones with him on his way to picking up first downs. If he weren't human, I really think we could have given him the ball on literally every single play and scored on every drive. But alas, you can't give a guy the ball 7 or 8 times in a row without him wearing down.
-The footing really caused problems for us in every phase of the game. Offensively, our ballcarriers and receivers couldn't make cuts without slipping. Defensively, Iowa State's running backs kept pushing groups of much larger defenders backward because our guys couldn't seem to get any traction. I have no idea what was going on out there. Whether our guys really did have the wrong shoes, or if they just couldn't handle the cold, there was absolutely, 100% something wrong out there (you know, something other than the things that are always wrong during KU football games this year)
-I've never noticed this from Paul Rhoads before, but he was the Shaka Smart of college football on Saturday. Consistently on the field, yelling at refs, chirping at our players, yelling at/encouraging his own players, gesturing wildly in excitement every time they made a play. There were even times that he was out on the field, jumping up and down like a cheerleader before the play was over. I've never seen anything like it at a college football game, and I was shocked that ISU never once got a sideline warning. I guess it was just the excitement of blowing someone out after so many disappointing losses this year, but wow. Just a very strange sight.
Overall, I don't know what to take away from this game. If it were played in normal conditions, I honestly think it would have turned out vastly different. Once things started to go bad, it seemed like the team was so miserable down there they just couldn't sustain the energy to play anymore. At the same time, the fact is we were thoroughly dominated in every facet of the game by a really bad football team, and you can't just explain that away with weather and equipment.
All in all the game was a disaster, and going to IHOP and eating a dozen pancakes while defrosting only marginally helped my spirits. I left the stadium disheartened, and probably as confused about where the team is as I have been at any point this year, which is really saying something.
Thanks for the good time, Ames. Next time I'll probably go watch KU at Hilton.