December 17, 2017

The Cyclone Report Card: Quarter Two

After a 2-1 start in the first quarter of the season, the Cyclones have finished out the semester with quite the second quarter. You can read the full first quarter report card here, but the Cyclones ended up grading out above average, finishing with a 2.75 GPA. The problem: the predicted strengths of the team were underachieving and grades were wildly inconsistent from unit to unit.

In quarter two, we saw it all: the worst performance of the season, the best performance (and biggest upset) of the season, and a dominant performance against a terrible team in the pouring rain. Outside of a terribly shaky start to this part of the season, the Cyclones finally found consistency, but how did each unit grade out? Mr. Gookin is here to tell you!

Quarterback

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Something didn’t feel right when the smart, popular kid had an uncharacteristically bad grade in class. As we’d later learn, the issue is more than just one bad grade—it needed to be fixed outside of class. Enter: Kyle Kempt. Who? Oh yeah, that kid that transferred from another school and is almost creepily quiet. Nobody knows anything about him. He’s smart, but he’s one of the kids the teacher never calls on because he always keeps to himself. Well, the teacher called him to the front of the room to solve a massive equation—and he didn’t miss a beat.

After a 24-for-48, 3-interception game against Texas, I was certain this grade would take a big hit. When we learned Jacob Park would be out against Oklahoma, I was worried they’d be receiving a failing grade this quarter. Silly me! Kyle Kempt—a walk-on transfer with almost zero college playing experience—knocked off No. 3 Oklahoma on the road, then delivered another no-turnover performance against Kansas. With a passer rating of 189.2 and great, simple decision-making, Kempt has been as efficient as Park ever was. However, it’s the simplification of the offensive scheme and addition of the Joel Lanning Package™ that has made this unit more complete, even if the talent might have taken a hit.

1st Quarter Grade: B+
2nd Quarter Grade: B+

Running Back

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Remember how we talked about Montgomery being the quiet kid who turned out to be a genius? Well, the secret is out and there’s nothing quiet about him now. This is the kid who is now the president of every club he’s in, every teacher’s favorite, and local hero. And as only a sophomore, this kid is aiming for national awards in his future.

Mr. Elusive—that’s what Pro Football Focus calls David Montgomery, and for good reason. He has broken 54 tackles this season and has graded out as the top back in the Big 12. In fact, outside of Heisman front-runners Saquon Barkely and Bryce Love, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive back in college football. Unfortunately, Texas and Oklahoma are two of the best rush defenses in the nation and he hasn’t finished with 100 yards rushing since the Akron win. Although the addition of some pass-catching out of the backfield has been great, the non-existent rushing play-calling against Texas and some of the struggles along the line have made this group less effective than it probably should be, really at no fault of the running backs.

1st Quarter Grade: A
2nd Quarter Grade: B+

Receiver

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As I said in the first quarter post, this unit is the smart dude in class. He got off to a slow start, but he realized he wouldn’t get that scholarship if he didn’t shape up and get the 10-point homework assignments done. Fortunately for him, the work is paying off.

Allen Lazard was expected to be the best receiver in Iowa State history, and by most accounts, he has been. But if you weren’t convinced before, his game-winning touchdown catch over an Oklahoma defender (along with a crucial 2-point conversion snag earlier in the game) probably sealed the deal. Hakeem Butler is a man among boys, Marchie Murdock has emerged as a big-time playmaker, Trever Ryen is the fastest dude on the field, and everyone in between is doing their job. Talk about a semester turnaround.

1st Quarter Grade: D+
2nd Quarter Grade: A

Offensive Line

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Remember when I said the offensive line is the hard-working kid that just doesn’t quite have the brains? Well, even the hardest working kids can’t always solve the tougher problems.

I probably over-graded the offensive line in the first quarter, maybe because I had lower expectations. I’ll probably be a bit too harsh on them this quarter, certainly not helped by playing the stout defensive fronts of Texas and Oklahoma. But David Montgomery can only do so much to get the run game going and although pass protection has continued to be great, there’s no excuse being the 121st-ranked rushing offense with a back like Montgomery. Play-calling didn’t help against Texas, but the more I watch this group, the more I think they are destined to be average.

1st Quarter Grade: A-
2nd Quarter Grade: C

Defensive Line

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This foreign exchange student is really starting to polish his english and adapt to the culture change quickly. Like, surprisingly quickly.

If I gave an MVP award to a unit, the defensive line would get it. Against Texas, they were one of the few bright spots. Against Oklahoma, they kept the run game in check and bothered Baker Mayfield like no one else has this season. Against Kansas, they were laughably dominant. By far the most surprising group on the team, Iowa State has a bright future along the defensive line.

1st Quarter Grade: B+
2nd Quarter Grade: A

Linebacker

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The linebacking corps is doing its homework—and has surprisingly become the popular kid. He’s not perfect, but he covers up his deficiencies with other things. Sometimes, you almost wonder if he gets good grades because he’s really smart or just charming.

Joel Lanning has stormed onto the national stage in a big way, earning himself a National Defensive Player of the Week award after a stellar performance against Oklahoma. Hell, he even had 20 tackles against Texas and players like Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey have developed into reliable linebackers. The unit continues to be solid and defensive coordinator John Heacock brilliantly utilized his linebackers (specifically Lanning) to play a “spy” on Mayfield nearly the entire game, limiting his effectiveness. But mid-range, over-the-middle passes continue to be the weakness of the Cyclone defense and it appears that may not be easily solved with this group.

1st Quarter Grade: B-
2nd Quarter Grade: B

Secondary

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The kid that didn’t seem to deserve his spot in Honors Society was fed up with that label. Little by little, he’s changed his habits and has continued to improve in all areas.

Last time I wrote about this group, they were 111th in passing yards allowed. Since then, they made Texas’ passing game largely ineffective, Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield was out-performed by a walk-on transfer QB making his first collegiate start, and Kansas didn’t even register 50 yards passing. They jumped nearly 30 spots in passing yards allowed and went from 10 passing touchdowns allowed in the first three games to just three allowed in the last three games. Like the receivers, they had high expectations coming into the season that they didn’t meet, but their second quarter has been a pleasant turnaround.

1st Quarter Grade: D-
2nd Quarter Grade: B+

Special Teams

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The brainiac is at it again. He continues to be extremely smart, but he’s actually gone from “boring nerd” to a little bit interesting.

Garrett Owens and Colin Downing have the most thankless jobs on the team, but they’re doing a damn good job at them. Owens had the impossible task of replacing the best kicker in school history, Cole Netten, but went 3-for-3 in the upset of Oklahoma and only missed one kick these past three games—in the pouring rain in a blowout against Kansas. Downing is absolutely launching punts, putting Iowa State’s net punt yardage at 18th nationally. To top it all off, Trever Ryen returned a punt thanks to a bone-crushing block by De’Monte Ruth against Kansas. Add some fumble recoveries, a pseudo-blocked punt, and general dominance in the Kansas game, and this unit goes from extremely consistent to extremely fun. Still no real kickoff return game to speak of, but this special teams unit is truly one of the best in the nation (14th by FPI).

1st Quarter Grade: B
2nd Quarter Grade: A-

The Final Report

Alex Gookin | The Tailgate Society

Well, well, well. Iowa State went from a B- team to a B+ team in just a quarter of a season. Not too shabby. However, I’m sure Matt Campbell will tell you he’s not satisfied, and with the schedule only getting tougher, the margin for error gets thinner.

On the season, my highly objective and accurate GPA of 3.04 is right at a B. By my quick (and totally accurate) math, that puts ISU right about the top-37 nationally. Judging by the analytics and human polls, that seems about right.

But you never know what might happen, and I’ll be here in three more weeks to tell you how the Cyclones fared in the third quarter. In the meantime, study hard and hope for the best because this season looks like it could be a wild ride.

Alex Gookin 12 Articles

Staff Writer

Gookin is an Iowa State graduate with a degree in journalism, but decided writing professionally wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Instead, he took an unpaid position to write content for this blog, which seems counter-intuitive, but he enjoys it, nonetheless. Gookin was voted male with the “Most School Spirit,” and 2nd most flirtatious in his senior class. He enjoys statistics no one else has the patience to look up and enjoys Iowa State athletics more than he’s willing to admit. A closet Hawkeye fan (false), you can find Alex being harassed by at least one bad Twitter troll and winning nearly all of his online fights (less false, but false).

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