It's been a rough season for Iowa State this year, as the Cyclones are heading into the last week of the season without a Big 12 win against a team that will be playing for not just a conference championship, but one that is attempting to impress the playoff committee. Fortunately for ISU fans, there is always one bright spot in every season- they have Wide Right and Natty Lite, every Big 12 team's second favorite blog after their own team's and one of the best sites on all of SBN. This week KnowDan was kind enough to answer questions for us without having any questions of his own- so let's get to know this year's version of the Cyclones.
HawkeyedFrog: It's been a rough season for Iowa State since your early win over arch-rival Iowa, but what's been standing out to me is that in previous years even when losing, the Cyclones have looked close to making something happen in a lot of games. This season, outside of a weird shootout at Texas and a home contest against Tech, I haven't gotten that feeling this year. What's different between this year's team and previous teams?
KnowDan:The coaches talk about confidence being the biggest difference between this year's team and the ones from previous years. It's hard to disagree with that sentiment. The offense can go on tears where they look like one of the best offenses in the conference (see: 1st half KSU, Texas game, 1st quarter West Virginia) but then follow it up with a complete bed wetting the rest of the way. We're 11 games in to the season so the "system" excuse no longer works, and it's all between the ears with these guys. Having senior leaders that can help the rest of the team fight through adversity and then hang in the fight long enough to do some damage late. That was the hallmark of a Paul Rhoads led team, and it's evaporating over time.
You can also make an argument that we don't have the horses on defense to stop anyone, and I definitely agree. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein were linebackers that made the rest of the defense look good and it's readily apparent that those two had more of an impact on this program than anyone originally thought.
Hawk: When Iowa State hired Mark Mangino to run the offense, I thought it was a great hire- you take him away from the sole position of power, which he abused (allegedly along with his players) at Kansas and put him back in the position he was when he coordinated Oklahoma's offense to a national championship. What's the thought on Mangino's offense and playcalling his first year at ISU, and is he someone you think the university looks at if they decide to move on from Rhoads down the track?
Dan: Mangino gets a passing grade, and maybe even up in to the C+ or B- territory. Yet there's still a bit of a hangover from the Messingham Era and the players playing with the lack of confidence noted above. I'm still not completely sold on Mangino being the coordinator long term because he has some fundamental flaws in his coordinating that have hurt the offense in multiple ways. He's quick to abandon the run, and even quicker to outright ignore it when the defense isn't respecting it. He can't devise a consistent way to gain yards in short yardage situations. He made a commitment to it against Toledo with a few heavy formations, but it all but disappeared after.
That said, Mangino is a clear upgrade over our previous coordinator but still lacks something in his consistency that will help him take Iowa State's offense to the upper reaches of the Big XII. With that in mind, and the fact his success in Kansas was helped in large part to Ed Warriner (OC) and a weak schedule, he would be an absolutely terrible fit to take over the program long term if Iowa State and Rhoads were to part ways.
Hawk: Quarterback Sam Richardson has had some injury issues this year, and TCU fans don't really know him outside of one pass (an incompletion) and two rushes (one for a touchdown) last year. Is he more of a passer or a runner this season, and what sort of performance should we expect against the frogs?
Dan: Sam is absolutely devoted to passing more this year than in the past. Some of that is due to his shoulder injury sustained against Oklahoma (don't get me started), and some of it is what the offense dictates. Make no mistake, however, Sam can hurt you with his legs when he's healthy. He's a viable alternative in the option game and man coverage situations usually result in him scrambling to keep the chains moving. He does it less than in the past, and credit Mangino and quarterbacks coach Todd Sturdy with that development, but he'll do it when necessary.
Hawk: Iowa State has been absolutely gashed on defense a few times this year, with Baylor racking up 600 yards, Oklahoma clocking in over 750 yards and even offensively limited Texas going over 500 yards. Has there been a common theme in these games that you expect TCU will try to utilize?
Dan: There is no depth in the middle of the defense after the off season dismissals of DTs Rodney Coe and David Irving. The one bright spot, MIKE Jevohn Miller, tore up his knee against Oklahoma so the middle of the defense might as well be the Red Sea and Trevone Boykin and Aaron Green might as well be Moses. The lack of depth/talent in the middle frequently results in eight men in the box and man coverage on the outside. Naturally you can see why this would spell doom for a defense that maybe isn't the most athletic to begin with.
Hawk: Name two Cyclone players on offense and defense that TCU fans may not have heard of that will make the biggest impact in Saturday's game.
Dan: Offense: Allen Lazard - 4 star freshman receiver that is having a great season and one of the best freshmen in the country. D'Vario Montgomery - Receiver, transfer from USF, and former high school teammate of Richardson. Teams have started to scheme out Lazard, especially without TE E.J. Bibbs in the line up, and Montgomery is seeing a lot of single coverage. He's been able to make teams pay for that in spots, and now it's a matter of the offense making sure he gets the ball in those situations.
Defense: No one. Seriously. I'm not giving them the time of day because aside from the secondary there really isn't a bright spot here.
Hawk: Finally, prediction time. After the debacle that was our last "it's sure to be a blowout" game against Kansas, what do you think the final score is in Fort Worth?
Dan: TCU: 63 Iowa State: 21. There is no way in hell that Iowa State keeps this a game after halftime. None.
Hawk: I meant to ask if he thought TCU would end up in the playoff, but it totally slipped my mind at the end there. Sadly for Frog fans, as I mentioned, the last time an opposing blogger predicted gloom and doom for his team, Kansas happened, so I'm still wary about Iowa State this week. My thanks to KnowDan and be sure to check out Wide Right and Natty Lite for their take on the game, as well as miscellaneous articles of interest.