Blum: September Shank
I play an unhealthy amount of golf. Each year the story is the same. The first time I hit the links during the spring, my game has a few kinks to iron out; the distances are a few yards off and my short game is frustratingly finicky. After about round number four, I find a rhythm and get some momentum going. I think to myself, “This is the year I finally put all the pieces together and break 70.” And inevitably on a random day in May, I will shank a wedge into the woods. And before I know it I am a head-case.
Iowa State’s offensive performance against Tech was the football equivalent of a shank into the woods. The Cyclones 189 total yards was the second worst total in the last NINE years of Iowa State football. And friends, there were some lean times during that stretch.
BCS conference teams have played in a combined 309 games this season, Iowa State is one of just six teams to be held under 200 yards in one of those games. Here’s the unfortunate list:
1. Wake Forest @ Florida State - 126 yards.
2. Arkansas vs. Alabama - 137 yards.
3. TCU @ SMU - 159 yards (Game was played in a monsoon. Although shouldn’t Frogs be great in monsoons?.... I will walk myself off the stage).
4. Auburn vs. LSU - 183 yards.
5. Washington vs. LSU - 185 yards
6. Iowa State vs. Texas Tech - 189 yards.
Even Cyclone Jerry would have a hard time finding positives from the woeful effort on offense.
There are a few directions one can go after shanking a wedge: Give up and decide not to pick up a club ever again, over-correct and do even more damage to your game (the aforementioned head-case dilemma), or have a short memory, make a slight adjustment as needed and keep banging balls.
The first-blush reaction is to blow everything up and start over. As Einstein said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." But this is a dangerous road to go down. The Cyclones are caught in the perilous position of not having an offensive identity. It's hard to reinvent the wheel when it doesn't exist.
Yes they could change the quarterback and perhaps that would force a rebranding effort, but the issues are greater than the one man under center.
A year ago when the offense was driving the struggle bus, the Cyclones could send James White or Jeff Woody behind Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks, pound out a few first downs and reset the tempo. But outside of a few explosive James White runs, the running game hasn't been able gain consistent traction in 2012.
If you remove White's 56-yard gallop against Western Illinois and his 35 yard jaunt against Tech, the Cyclones are averaging a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry; a number that would put them 108th in the country and last in the Big 12.
The confounding part of this dilemma is James White and Shontrelle Johnson are both averaging over five yards a run, which is superb. Yet, Steele Jantz has been stifled to only 78 yards on 53 carries.
The Cyclones wanted the quarterback to be a bigger part of the running game this season and that has come to fruition as Jantz leads the Cyclones in carries; but he hasn't been nearly as productive as hoped.
You might be thinking "Put Barnett in, he is a much better runner and BOOM problem solved." It's not that easy.
Teams know Iowa State's propensity to run the zone-read game and they have been putting multiple defenders up in the box to shut it down. To do this, they have been jamming receivers at the line and daring Iowa State to throw it over the top. The Cyclones haven't been able to take advantage. Through four games the Cyclones have just FIVE passes to wide receivers that have gained more than 20 yards. Here's the list:
Jantz to Lenz 43 yard touchdown.
Jantz to Young 31 yard completion. (Drive ended in TD.)
Jantz to Horne 40 yard completion. (Drive ended in FG.)
Jantz to Young 32 yard completion. (Drive ended in TD.)
Jantz to Horne 22 yard touchdown.
The Cyclones didn't have a pass over 20 yards against Texas Tech. As the above info illustrates, when they have hit a big play, drives have ended in successful fashion. But the dearth of the long ball has limited the Iowa State attack.
To put things in obscene perspective, Baylor and West Virginia combined to have 19 (!) completions over 20 yards in their bonanza last week.
And herein lies the riddle: you need a quarterback that has the arm strength to throw the ball downfield to take the top off the defense. Steele Jantz has the strongest arm on the team. If you replace Jantz, are you making things even more difficult on the offense by limiting the big play threat?
However, if you take too many reckless shots deep, you increase the likelihood of an interception. As the enCYCLONEpedia Kirk Haaland astutely pointed out this week, 5.9 percent of Iowa State's passes have been picked off, the fourth worst percentage in college football.
And of course the offensive line giving the quarterback enough time adds another layer of instability to the proceedings. Like a golf swing, if one minute thing is out of rhythm, the whole operation comes crashing down. Offensive execution can be as perplexing as the popularity of that "Gangnam Style" song.
However, the great thing about both golf and college football is it only takes a few good moments to get some swagger back.
If Iowa State can loosen the noose on their offense and make a few plays down-field, the run game gets a whole lot easier. And the offense can start humming more efficiently. There are some capable parts, they need to be functioning in unison.
It is easy to forget this Cyclone team is 3-1. There is plenty to be encouraged about. The defense is playing with an unbelievable amount of confidence. They have now held ten straight opponents to 30 points or less in regulation--the longest streak in the Big 12.
The defense is playing well enough that the offense doesn't need to be great, they just need to good enough. I think they have it in them.
Sometimes it just takes a shank to refocus your efforts.
The last time Iowa State was held under 200 yards in a game was two years ago in a hapless effort at Oklahoma. The Cyclones got buried 52-0 by the Sooners. The next week the Cyclones traveled south to the Lone Star state to battle a ranked team with the conference's best defense. The Cyclones walked out of Texas' Memorial Stadium with nearly 400 yards in a 28-21 win over the Longhorns; their first win over a ranked road team in 20 years.
Two years later, the Cyclones are in a similar situation. They got knocked upside the head against Texas Tech and now head south to Texas to meet a defensive stalwart. Will history repeat itself? One thing is certain: Paul Rhoads' Cyclones play best with their nose bloodied.