ISU 24 UConn 20
For the third time in as many games this season, the Cyclones came from behind in the fourth quarter to preserve a Cyclone victory. This time it happened on the road at Rentschler Field and it was on a Friday night game.
This game started so ugly it almost hurt my soul. I mean we looked baaad! Somehow, someway we never gave up and the players continued to fight hard and in the end, it allowed us to come out of the conference schedule at 3-0. I think Coach Rhoads summed it up best in his post game press conference when he said, “We were fortunate, but not lucky.” That is so true. They were fortunate that despite the terrible start on offense, they were still able to remain in the game, but it was not due to luck. The tough play of the defense and the outstanding play of the special teams had everything to do with us being able to win this game.
For those of you who watched the game on TV, you know what a crazy game it was so I will not bore you with the play by play details, but I do want to highlight some things I think made all the difference in us getting a victory in that game.
We started this game horribly. About as bad as any offense in Iowa State history. On our first four possessions on offense, we had 3 turnovers and a punt. Steele Janz threw 3 interceptions on his first 4 throws of the game. Can’t really start worse than that. I really don’t have a good reason why this happened. I can tell you though that when you are playing your first major college road game and there are thousands of people letting you have it, it can cause a lot of butterflies. Jantz is a gamer, there is no doubt about that in my mind. He is able to make plays that most people can’t. There is a down side to that though. Sometimes that ability brings too much confidence and you try to make something happen when you might be better served throwing the ball out-of-bounds and trying to get them on the next play. I think that is what happened with Steele. I think he wanted so badly to get off to a quick start on offense that he forced a few passes when he should have thrown it away. Despite this, Janz came back after UConn was ahead 10-0 and led the Cyclones on their first scoring drive. He completed a 48 yard throw on 3rd and 19 to keep the drive alive and two plays later, James White scored on a run of 26 yards. Overall, I do not think that Steele had a very good game, but he is tough and he never quits. When Steele got hurt right before the half there was a collective gasp among ISU fans and I was one of them. Here we go we thought. But Steele came back out and played the second half showing a tremendous amount of toughness. While, his play in the second half was not spectacular, he played good enough to keep us in the game and the ability of other players to step up and make plays made the difference. A leader does not have to always win the game himself, sometimes you just have to make sure we have the opportunity to do special things and Steele did this very well and I am very excited that he is the type of leader he is. Steele will be just fine, but I am glad that we do have a bye week coming up so he can rest his injury.
I thought that the offensive line definitely took a step back from the progress they had shown in Game 2 vs. Iowa. Honestly, the line started out terrible and again Jantz was not given any time to make any plays. We had drives where I thought the line blocked much better, but it was not consistent. We were only able to collect 101 yards rushing to UConn’s 112 yards rushing. We really need to run the ball better than that for our offense to be balanced and run successfully. I understand that UConn’s run defense was outstanding, but we still need to find a way to run the ball better and that starts with better O line play.
I thought that the running backs, Shontrelle Johnson and James White did a pretty good job making some decent runs during the game, but we need a lot more as we move into conference play if we want to be successful.
I thought that the highlight of the offense was the play of the wide receivers. A big focus for the receivers this year was not dropping the ball and making big plays. The receivers did a great job at both in this game and it was a game that we really needed them to step up. Reynolds played the greatest game of his cyclone career so far and would definitely be the offensive MVP in my mind. He made an amazing catch along the sideline in the second half and the move he put on the UConn defender on his 20 yard TD catch was definitely a big time big play. Josh Lentz came around on the reverse and threw a beautiful 40 yard TD pass to a wide open Reynolds in the third quarter that put us up 14-10. Reynolds ended up the game with 4 catches for 128 yards and two TDs. Lentz had 6 catches for 58 yards. Both of these receivers stepped up big time.
Let me start with the great. I think this was the best game the defensive line has played in 5 or 6 seasons. They were knocking back the UConn line on run plays, they were providing pressure on the QB on pass plays. Stephen Ruempolhamer played amazing. Amazingly athletic interception and a fumble recover to boot. Lattimer showed up and was really providing some pressure on the outside. Patrick Neal, despite his small size, was able to win a lot of his line battles and was making plays. Having our defensive line do this takes a lot of pressure off our linebackers and secondary and they are the biggest single reason that UConn was not able to run away with this game. I am naming the entire defensive line the MVP for this game.
I thought the linbackers played another very good game. I thought that Jake Knott and A.J. Klein really stepped up and played outstanding. Their tough gritty play and hard hits really sent a message to UConn about how defense is played in the Big 12 Conference.
Our secondary played a pretty solid game. I thought that CB Jeremy Reeves played an outstanding game and really made a difference in coming up on blitzes and collecting 10 total tackles. Leonard Johnson continued to show his superior covering ability in this game. He has been a very good CB for us. I thing our two starting CBs (Johnson and Reeves), despite their height, are two of the best starting CB tandems in college football right now. I also thought that James Washington played a pretty solid game at free safety.
There were many good things we did on defense and if our defense had not played such a strong game, we would have never been in this game. Causing 3 fumbles and getting two of them for turnovers is outstanding. We have to continue to get turnovers on defense and that will be a big key to our success this season.
The biggest reason for the success by the defense this season has been their ability to get tough when it counts and stop offenses from scoring touchdowns and holding them to field goal attempts. That has been a huge factor in all three games. Against UConn, they held them to several FG attempts and UConn missed on two of those FGs.
The defense they showed in the second quarter was simply amazing. They held UConn to just one first down and 13 total yards of offense. That is big time defense.
On a down note, I thought the defense was the weakest at the beginning of the game. We let them start the game by going down the field and scoring a touchdown. You just can’t do that on the road and expect to win.
Coach Burnham has the defense playing hard and they are really exciting to watch. I think they have the potential to have an outstanding season.
Special Teams A
Our special teams have been outstanding all season and they had another great game on Friday. Simply put, our special teams play has put us in a position to win all three of these games. If our special teams had played bad in all three of our first games, we would be 0-3 right now. It is really nice to see them stepping up.
Our kickoff returns gave us great filed position. Lentz had one return for 23 yards and Johnson had 3 returns for 66 yards. This gave us major filed position on a night that our offense was not moving the ball or having sustained drives. It is huge having great starting field position. Lentz also had 2 punt return for 13 yards.
Van Der Kamp had another outstanding night punting the ball. He may end up being the greatest punter in the history of ISU. His ability to punt the ball a long way gives us a huge advantage, especially when the offense is not moving the ball.
Zach Guyer was able to kick a 36 yard field goal, which was the first FG of his career. Grant Mahoney came up just short on a 50+ yard attempt, but it was a quality kick.
There are still two major areas that continue to plague this team. The first is penalties. We continue to have too many penalties and we are just shooting ourselves in the foot. It is so hard to have long, sustained offensive drives when you have so many penalties. The thing that bothered me a bit was that UConn only had one penalty for the whole game. Seems a little fishy to me. This was a Big 12 crew and they certainly were not doing us any favors.
The other major area is turnovers. We have got to stop having turnovers on offense, interceptions and fumbles. We have found a way to overcome them, but we will not be able to continue to do that and expect to win.
Overall, I know it was not the prettiest win ever, but 3-0 is so much better than 2-1. We are now half way to bowl eligibility and with the upcoming schedule, that is huge.
Next Opponent: Texas at ISU (Oct. 1st)
Well both teams have a bye week this upcoming week to prepare for us. There is no doubt that it was a down year for Texas last year and we were able to come up with a huge upset last year in Austin beating the Longhorns 28-21. They still have a lot of questions at QB, but they really looked strong Sat. beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl 49-20. Case McCoy (yes another one) threw for 168 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also watch the young WR D.J. Grant.
If we start like we did against UConn, we will get blown out of our own stadium. I don’t think we will though. I think we will play a very tough game and it will be close going into the 4th quarter and then who knows what could happen. It would be pretty special to start the season 4-0 and to beat Texas 2 years in a row. Who knows, this may be the last time we ever play them in football. Can’t wait for the game!