Sorry for the lack of a report card last week. I had a lot of Halloween-related activities going on with the kids, and the Texas game wasn't exactly something I wanted to make time to write about.
This week provided, at the very least, plenty of material for discussion. Sure, we lost again, but it wasn't in the fashion to which we've become accustomed in the Turner Gill era. The thing is, I would have thought after getting brutalized every week in October, a 3 point loss would have felt better. The way this played out, I don't really find myself feeling any different about this team than I did a week ago.
Quarterbacks - D
Is it just me, or is the passing game slowly regressing to last year's form? Webb's stat line of 13-21 for 127 yards and 0 TDs is representative of the team overall: safe, conservative...and ineffective. Webb seems to check down to his nearest receiver immediately half the time. Sure, having someone open downfield every now and then would help his cause, but Webb no longer looks like the confident, effective leader we saw in the first few games.
Running Backs - C
Overall, the running backs averaged over 5 yards per carry, but once again, the bulk of the damage was done in the first half. In the second half, the running backs had 11 carries for 32 yards. I hate to grade the backs down for what would seem to be a coaching issue, but at the end of the day this group averaged out to, well, average.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - D
In our criticisms of the offense in recent weeks, I think this group has unfairly managed to escape scrutiny. While I don't blame our offensive struggles on the receivers, I think they're playing a bigger part than is being recognized. Webb catches a lot of grief for holding onto ball and running around too much, but I've been noticing in recent weeks that he rarely seems to have open receivers more than a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage. It's not hard to figure out why. Pick is a possession receiver in his first year at the position. Beshears has all the athleticism you could ask for, but is simply not a polished route-runner yet. Matthews isn't especially fast for a WR and isn't much of a route-runner either. Jackson and Shepherd have potential, but they're both true freshmen. Throw in Biere, who has become somewhat of a drop-machine, and our receivers sort of...well, they suck. Iowa State has a pretty marginal secondary, and managed to shut down our passing game. Yet somehow, Chuck Long and Jordan Webb are they only ones shouldering the blame. My old goal was to get everyone to realize how terrible our secondary is. The secondary has taken care of that for me, so I'm moving on to spending way too much time talking about how bad our receivers are. The only reason they avoided an F is Beshears' touchdown run.
Offensive Line - C-
Not one of the line's better performances. They did fairly well with pass protection, but there wasn't much for holes to run through. A lot of Darrian Miller's yards were after the first hit (how does he do that?) and aren't necessarily attributable to the line. Overall, the offense averaged 4.5 yards per play, frighteningly similar to the 4.3 we averaged last year. As always, it starts with the big guys.
Overall offensive grade - D
Defensive line - F
3rd and 10 should not be as easy as we made it look. Thanks to the d-line getting mauled on every play, however, Jared Barnett had his choice of gaping holes to run through once his receivers drew the linebackers downfield. Barnett averaged 5.7 yards per carry during his 125 rushing yard performance. Yeah, let that sink in.
Linebackers - F
As always, the linebackers could get better grades if there weren't always one or two offensive linemen waiting to take them out of the play, but that doesn't excuse the tackling, or lack thereof. Steven Johnson had a season-low six tackles, and his fellow backers didn't exactly pick up the slack. The middle of the field seemed wide open for Iowa State the whole day.
Secondary - C-
This may be the highest grade I've given the secondary all year. Barnett did a lot to help them out, but in the end they only allowed 4.5 adjusted yards per attempt, which is superb. A more accurate quarterback would have picked them apart in normal fashion, because there were still open receivers, but it's hard to argue with the results. Bradley McDougald, in addition to getting an interception, has become an asset in defending the run, and it's nice to see any positive development on this side of the ball.
Overall Defensive Grade - D-
I know, I know. We forced 3 turnovers and only allowed 13 points, so why the D-minus? Well, giving up 426 yards to the S&P rankings' 109th best offense (just a shade below North Texas) is one reason. If we're being honest, if Iowa State hadn't coughed up the ball at inopportune times, this game wouldn't have come down to the wire.
Special Teams - D
Even DJ Beshears' electrifying kickoff returns have fallen by the wayside now. Ron Doherty singlehandedly saved special teams from an F with some very nice punting into a strong wind in the second half, pinning ISU inside their own 20 twice. Alex Mueller now has everyone wondering how he got a scholarship. Not long after having one field goal attempt blocked, Mueller simply missed a 36 yard try, which led to his getting benched.
Coaching - F
I'll admit, I'm really getting tired of writing this section every week. Chuck Long did show some promise in the first half with some inspired playcalls. However, in the second half we settled into a familiar (and frustrating) routine of basic run plays and passes short of the first down marker. On the defensive side of the ball, we seemed determined not to assign a spy to Jared Barnett, despite the fact that he was taking everything he wanted from us every time he left the pocket. I'd like to give Shealy some credit here for giving up only 13 points, and he probably deserves some, but like I mentioned above, we were a few dumb ISU mistakes away from letting this one get out of hand as well.
Obviously, the coaching decision everyone is talking about is Gill's decision to punt on fourth down with only 2:30 minutes and two timeouts remaining. I was surprised to hear how many fans were shocked by the decision. This team plays things about as vanilla as it gets, and I expected nothing less than the punt team in that situation. Gill does not take risks. As I said in the game recap, a normal team would probably punt in that situation. You would just like to see Gill recognize that he doesn't have a normal team, and he can't count on his defense to get a three and out in that situation. Or any other situation.