December 16, 2017

The Cyclone Report Card: Quarter Three

Another three games, another 2-1 record. Fortunately for Cyclone fans, that means exceeding expectations as Iowa State is now bowl eligible at 6-3 with three games remaining.

Even more incredible, Iowa State now has two top-5 wins under their belt and that’s no fluke—going into week 11, Oklahoma (No. 5) and TCU (No. 8) are still unbeaten outside of their ISU losses. But there’s still work to be done—another top-15 team will march into Jack Trice Stadium in November before two winnable road games to end the season.

But I’m not here to talk about the future, I’m here to talk about the third quarter! You can read the first quarter report card here and the second quarter report card here. Long story short, the Cyclones entered the second half of the season having improved, grading out at a 3.04 GPA. How did they fare in the third?

Quarterback

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The quiet, studious new kid turned so many heads during his first few weeks that he probably garnered a little bit too much attention. But he persevered and kept his cool demeanor while his popularity grew. But as popularity grows, so does the criticism. After nearly perfect grades at the start, any bumps in the road are met with doubters.

A methodical 3-touchdown performance against Texas Tech was proof Kyle Kempt was more than a flash-in-the-pan QB replacement. Leading his team to a hard-fought upset against No. 4 TCU showed his composure is nearly impossible to crack. However, gutty performances aren’t always perfect performances. Kempt threw bad interceptions in all three games this quarter and if it weren’t for a handful of penalties and “defense” by some ISU receivers, there would have been more. Throwing beyond the sticks hasn’t been Kempt’s strong suit this season and while he continues to show resiliency, he has his limitations.

1st Quarter Grade: B+
2nd Quarter Grade: B+
3rd Quarter Grade: B-

Running Back

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The popular, smart kid is doing popular, smart kid things. He just continues to do them. Nobody is shocked, but everybody is in awe.

Montgomery averaged 124 total yards per game over the past three games and somehow, it feels like he’s becoming even more elusive. As the second-leading rusher in the Big 12, there’s no doubt Iowa State needs his abilities to be successful. The problem? He hasn’t seen the end zone in the past three games. That’s right—despite being second in the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns (8), he hasn’t hit pay dirt since he reached the end zone three times against Kansas. After some major red zone struggles against West Virginia, this staff may need to reevaluate how best to utilize their star back. Even more worrisome is the fact that Montgomery is a one-man show. If something were to happen to the sophomore, who knows what becomes of this position.

1st Quarter Grade: A
2nd Quarter Grade: B+
3rd Quarter Grade: B+

Receiver

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Smart dude in class has been doing his work, but there are still those first quarter tendencies to slack every once in a while that have held him back from reaching his full potential.

It’s always tough to grade this group, as you can see with my hot-and-cold first and second quarter grades. The issue is not talent, there’s plenty of that. Allen Lazard, Marchie Murdock, Hakeem Butler, Matthew Eaton—the list of talent goes so long that you almost wonder if they could help out on the offensive line. And I mean that only half sarcastically as this has been the best blocking receiving crops probably in the Big 12 and maybe the country. However, drops in crucial moments have continued to show up at times and when you’re operating with a third-string walk-on QB, no matter how serviceable he may be, your margin for error is almost none.

1st Quarter Grade: D+
2nd Quarter Grade: A
3rd Quarter Grade: A-

Offensive Line

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As you may recall, this is the hard-working kid who just doesn’t quite have the natural brain that others have. But life has handed this kid some obstacles outside of the classroom that have continued to make life harder in class. At no fault of his own, his grades continue to suffer.

I really wanted to believe the offensive line was just a few games away from a breakthrough. After all, we had seen them go from out-classed by an FCS school to middle-of-the-pack Big 12 in less than a season last year. Unfortunately, injuries and general talent deficiencies have stunted hope for a breakthrough in 2017. The right side of the line was already the weak side, but injuries to right guard Josh Knipfel and right tackle Bryce Meeker make it frighteningly green. There’s a lot to be excited about for the future, but plenty of concerns as we finish out 2017.

1st Quarter Grade: A-
2nd Quarter Grade: C
3rd Quarter Grade: C-

Defensive Line

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The foreign kid is not only smarter, more athletic, and better looking than you, but he’s now better at speaking English than you. That Homecoming King crown you’ve been the front-runner for your entire existence? He’s gonna steal it from you.

Having already faced three of the top-10 offenses in the nation, Iowa State is 34th nationally in rushing defense and 23rd in tackles for loss. Imagine what they’d do against B1G offenses. If you have a complaint about this group, it’s probably the fact there are only three of them on the field at a time, but it’s tough to argue with results.

1st Quarter Grade: B+
2nd Quarter Grade: A
3rd Quarter Grade: A

Linebacker

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Holding steady, this student is doing everything he needs to do. If this were a parent-teacher conference, I don’t think I could say much more than, “keep up the good work!”

This group will never be invincible, the ceiling isn’t that high for them. But Joel Lanning has gone above and beyond expectations in his first year at linebacker, Marcel Spears Jr. is gunning to be an All-Big 12 selection, and Willie Harvey has continued to play well as the veteran in the group. Depth isn’t their strong suit, as we found out when Joel Lanning sat for a series against TCU, but they are a big reason why teams are struggling to score in the second half of football games. They have continued to come into form as the season has progressed.

1st Quarter Grade: B-
2nd Quarter Grade: B
3rd Quarter Grade: B+

Secondary

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The slacker student who always got the benefit of the doubt finally got his act together in the second quarter, and just in time. His third quarter was a mix of good and bad, but it’s obvious there won’t be another quarter like his first.

On one hand, this unit dominated. It stole touchdown passes from receivers (see: above), made high-powered quarterbacks look bad (hello, Kenny Hill), and continued to shrink its massive early-season yards allowed per game total. On the other hand, it allowed some big plays. But this unit is the definition of “bend but don’t break,” and even when they’ve given up big plays (first half of WVU), they fight back to put the offense in a position to win the game.

1st Quarter Grade: D-
2nd Quarter Grade: B+
3rd Quarter Grade: B+

Special Teams

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The smart kid in class even has his bad days. Although “bad days” for a smart kid are still pretty darn good.

The first real special teams gaffe of the season nearly derailed the season as we know it. If not for an incredible second-half defensive performance by ISU, the returned kickoff for a touchdown to start the second half against TCU may have been a moment we look back on as a turning point in the season—in a bad way. Luckily, Colin Downing didn’t allow a returned punt the entire game and Trever Ryen has done enough in the punt return game to keep ISU feeling good about their special teams going forward.

1st Quarter Grade: B
2nd Quarter Grade: A-
3rd Quarter Grade: B+

The Final Report

Alex Gookin | The Tailgate Society

Two things stand out to me. First of all, this team has become very much balanced, especially considering their up-and-down first quarter. Secondly, it’s weird that the defense is now the strength of the team while the offense is actually struggling in areas. Now, “struggling” is relative here, as the Cyclones are on pace for their best offensive season in at least a decade and when you play in the most high-powered offensive conference in the country, even “good” offenses can look weak in comparison.

Overall though, my highly objective and accurate GPA of 3.08 is slightly higher than last report’s 3.04. While this doesn’t seem like much of an improvement for a team that’s now been in the top-25 for three straight weeks, there is plenty of room to continue improving that grade—especially if they run the table and find themselves in the Big 12 championship game.

Okay, that might be a bit much.

But as a Cyclone fan that has known nothing but trying to hold the cellar door shut on Kansas the past few years, its refreshing to be miles away from the cellar, enjoying life on the outside. Ask any Iowa State fan what they’d think about an 8-4 season and I’ll show you a smiling fan. Here’s to hoping the fourth quarter is as satisfying as the first three.

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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