Frustrating losses leave Cyclones searching
AMES, Iowa (AP) — The numbers tell one story about Iowa State’s football team.
The results on the field spin quite a different tale.
Iowa State is scoring more than it has in coach Paul Rhoads’ first four seasons. The Cyclones are plus-six in turnover margin and lead the Big 12 with nine fumble recoveries. Their kick coverage and return teams have been solid. They’ve given up only five more points than they’ve scored.
Yet they’re scuffling along at 1-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12 with several challenging games still ahead, including Saturday’s test at No. 12 Baylor, operator of the nation’s most prolific offense.
Most frustrating of all for the Cyclones: They’ve lost those four games by a total of 22 points. No loss has been by more than a touchdown.
“We feel like we’ve kicked the door hard enough that the next kick’s going to open the whole thing,” running back Jeff Woody said.
The Cyclones will have to play more consistently on both sides of the ball for that to happen, and that’s been a problem.
Despite the improved scoring, the offense has been hit and miss. Because of injuries, the starting offensive line hasn’t been together for an entire game. Quarterback Sam Richardson is playing on a bum ankle. Running back Aaron Wimberly missed the second half of last Saturday’s 42-35 loss at Texas Tech with a shoulder injury.
Wimberly is back in the lineup, but Rhoads sounded more pessimistic than ever about Richardson’s prospects of getting close to full strength and what that means for the offense.
“We’re not going forward because he’s not getting any better,” Rhoads said. “Whether it’s any worse or not, we’re not progressing. That is part of the game, but at the same time it’s dissatisfying having to try to improve with that in mind.”
While the defense is creating turnovers, players have let potential interceptions slip through their hands and they haven’t come up with enough third-down stops to get off the field. Texas Tech amassed 36 first downs and its six scoring drives ranged from 69 to 86 yards.
When the defense has gotten stops, the offense often has faltered. The Cyclones forced Tech to punt on four of its first five second-half possessions, but the offense went three-and-out after each punt, managing a grand total of 4 yards.
“That’s one of those key pieces,” Rhoads said. “When you look at some of those other statistics, this team’s right there. It’s maybe not reflective in their 1-4 record. But unless you finish one of those drives and catch a little momentum and catch a lead -- which we’re having a hard time doing -- that won-loss column is not going to change.”
The Cyclones also aren’t making their own breaks.
Much has been said about the no-call on an apparent Texas fumble at the goal line just before the Longhorns scored the winning touchdown in beating the Cyclones 31-30. But minutes before that play, Iowa State had second-and-1 at the Texas 4 and ended up settling for a field goal when a touchdown probably would have sealed a victory.
Last Saturday, Iowa State’s Deon Broomfield was in perfect position to recover an onside kick with under 2 minutes to play and the Cyclones down seven. But he couldn’t grab the ball, Tech recovered and ran out the clock.
“When opportunities present themselves, we have to take them,” Woody said. “This team can still do what we initially set out to do. The only thing that’s standing in our way right now is us. We’re getting smarter, we’re getting more technically sound from week to week. It’s not a thing that we’re not able to compete. We just need to close the deal and fix those minor errors to get us over the hump.”