There may be just a one in a million chance that the Iowa State football team can make a bowl game in 2014, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen! Until there’s seven losses registered in the loss column, the Cyclones still have a chance, and there’s reasons why the faithful fan can still hold on to the dream.
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Iowa State is 2-5 with five games to go. Obviously, if you do the math, the Cyclones can only afford one slip-up. Here’s the upcoming slate (all games on Saturdays, Big 12 record followed by overall record):
- November 1st – vs Oklahoma (2-2, 5-2)
- November 8th – at Kansas (0-4, 2-5)
- November 22nd – vs Texas Tech (1-3, 3-4)
- November 29th – vs West Virginia (3-1, 5-2)
- December 6th – at TCU (2-1, 5-1)
With Kansas ramping things up on offense, there’s no longer an easy game on that schedule. If Iowa State is able to do the unthinkable and roll through 4-1, they’ll definitely earn it.
So why can the Cyclones still make it even though the road is difficult?
Oct 18, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson (12) warms up prior to kickoff against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Richardson is improving on his accuracy. Things were getting sketchy when the quarterback dialed up exactly 43.6 percent in back-to-back games against Baylor and Oklahoma State. Since then, he set a new record in completions in one game for Iowa State and has thrown for 65.5 percent or better in the last two games. He completed 36-of-55 passes against the third-best passing defense in the nation.
It’s been happening because the leading receivers are establishing themselves. Allen Lazard, D’Vario Montgomery, and tight end E.J. Bibbs all have the build to compete against any secondary. They’re huge, muscular athletes that should be able to dominate one-on-one coverage and hold the opportunity to catch any ball that’s accurately thrown to them.
As Richardson’s passing becomes more consistent, we’re seeing that happen.
Also, give credit to the offensive line. One of Paul Rhoads’ most notable observations when speaking to the media was that in the last two games, the holes have gotten bigger for the running backs. Aaron Wimberly finally tallied past the century mark in yards against the Longhorns.
The interesting thing about the offense is what happened against Toledo transferred over to a Big 12 game. Perhaps a schedule change before the season set up the Cyclones to get some confidence back in the middle of the year facing a team that’s not up to the same caliber as other Big 12 schools.
What happened to the defense?
Oct 18, 2014; Austin, TX, USA; Texas Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes (18) carries the ball as Iowa State Cyclones defensive lineman Brandon Jensen (93) and defensive end Dale Pierson (45) chase during the first half at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Strangely enough, what was a staple of this team in the early part of the season is more in question than the offense is now. With the surge of the offense has flipped the script defensively. Their stats continue to tumble after giving up a ton of rushing yards to Toledo and over 500 yards and 48 points to Texas. The defense needs to get their mojo back.
If they can, then Iowa State has a chance. It doesn’t need to be shut down, hold every team down to under 17 points, Stanford-like incredible because the Cyclones don’t face a tough defense like they have in the first half of the season.
Consider this: Take away Oklahoma State and Toledo, and put in North Dakota State despite not being ranked among the top FBS schools (because you know they would be). Of the first seven games, five of those teams had a total defense currently ranked 39th or higher. The rest of the slate? No one’s higher than 45th. TCU is at that ranking, followed by West Virginia (57th), Oklahoma (61st), Kansas (73rd), and Texas Tech (109th).
Oct 18, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) dives over Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Dylan Schellenberg (20) during the game at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The one issue statistically is that West Virginia, TCU, Texas Tech, and Kansas hover around the average pass defenses in the nation. It’s going to be more important than ever that Iowa State continues to pound their running backs with improved offensive line play and to overcome statistical odds.
Finally seeing the offense come to life against Toledo and putting up 45 on Texas will do wonders for that offensive confidence. Now it’s time to see if that can continue, to see if the defense can rebound, and to see them pulling out more close victories like they had against Iowa earlier this season.