116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa State closes out its 2022 football season at No. 4 TCU Saturday.
Here are three keys for the Cyclones.
1. Stay loose …
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell still is at a loss in terms of finding concrete explanations for why his offense bogs down repeatedly after moving down the field with relative ease, as it did in last week’s 14-10 loss to Texas Tech.
The Cyclones are clearly pressing when there are chances to make decisive, winning plays, which can often lead to a “don’t mess this up” mentality that means, of course, messes will be made.
ISU scored three points on five red-zone trips last week. The Cyclones failed to score any points at all four times — or twice as many times in one game than they did all of last season in such situations inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Clearly, messing up is in the back of the mind. It’s time to scramble the pattern and interrupt that season-long trend. But how to do that? Who knows, but any change, however small, could have a cascading positive effect.
2. … Yet tighten up
The Cyclones didn’t turn the ball over last week, but still found plenty of ways to prevent a win, whether it be penalties, dropped passes or poor reads in the running game.
ISU is tied for 39th nationally in penalties per game at 5.3, but most have been of the pre-snap variety (e.g. false starts) that often hamstring promising drives. Avoiding those snafus could go a long way toward actually finishing those drives with touchdowns, which have, of course, been scarce.
Only 20 of the 131 FBS teams have scored fewer touchdowns than ISU (27). Keep the turnover number low again, while cutting back on the other chronic gaffes, at least will give the Cyclones a chance against the Horned Frogs.
3. Ride the ‘D’
There’s just one team that’s among the worst scoring offenses in the country while boasting a top-10 scoring defense. That’s Iowa — and the Hawkeyes’ defense finds ways to score points, not merely prevent them.
ISU’s defense ranks eighth in the country in average points allowed (16.5), 13th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (105.2) and eighth nationally in average passing yards allowed per game (172.1). That’s astounding, considering the Cyclones have faced six teams that rank among the top 45 in total offense.
The defense must put forth its best effort Saturday to maintain slim hopes for an upset. TCU is the best scoring offense ISU’s faced this season (eighth nationally, 39.5 points per game).
What’s at stake
Fifteen practices. If the Cyclones can stage the unlikely upset, it’s quite possible a sixth straight bowl game can be reached, depending on a variety of other factors.
ISU is one of eight programs with 90 or more underclassmen on its roster — and giving Campbell and his staff 15 more opportunities to drill those younger players on the fundamentals of heading into the offseason would be huge for the program’s future prospects.
Still, getting to a bowl game at 5-7 — if such a scenario emerged — wouldn’t exactly excite a fan base accustomed to winning seasons, which the Cyclones have forged five years in a row. But scraps are the only remaining morsels of positivity that can be clung to after seven close losses this season, and it’s impossible to overstate how valuable those 15 practices would be for underclassmen such as quarterback Hunter Dekkers, wide receiver Jaylin Noel and defensive end M.J. Anderson, among several others.
Iowa State-TCU prediction
It would arguably be better for the Cyclones to lose this game because of money and the Horned Frogs’ presumed inclusion in the College Football Playoff if they go on to win the Big 12 title game.
But there’s obviously not a single ISU player who doesn’t yearn for one more win — especially senior leaders such as O’Rien Vance, Anthony Johnson and Will McDonald. I don’t think that will matter Saturday, but ISU will put up a fight, as always, only to fall (yet again) a play or two short.
TCU 23, Iowa State 17