The best of three. The tie-breaker. The rubber match.
All true yet both teams are at almost an opposite spot to where they were when the first two meetings took place in 2012. Iowa State basically dominated Tulsa in the opener last season and Tulsa definitely dominated the Cyclones in the Liberty Bowl to cap off 2012. This rubber match isn’t the all important deciding game in terms of the series between the two schools; it is a race between the two to right their respective ships. Each stands in the way of the other to accomplishing that sooner.
It has been a disjointed early season schedule that I have been bemoaning since it was first released a few years ago. All the while hopeful that it would somehow change prior to the start of 2013. There was no such luck but perhaps the luck has been in the two bye weeks with a young team and one that has been injury riddled on the offensive line and at quarterback. While the improvement that appeared to be on the field from game one to game two wasn’t enough to result in a Cyclone win, there was improvement.
Can a similar leap be made after the second bye week? At the time of the Iowa game it was widely believed the Hawkeyes were a team well below mediocre while now they may be slightly better than originally thought.
In the meantime, Tulsa is having their own struggles. After getting trounced at Bowling Green, 34-7, in week one Tulsa was able to eke out a 30-27 victory at home against Colorado State (the Rams are 1-3 with their only victory coming against Cal Poly) before losing 51-20 at Oklahoma.
Thus far this season let’s just say that the Tulsa offense has struggled. Of the primary areas I track for game previews only two metrics are inside the top 90 (possessions per game is the 47th fastest at 13.33 and their average starting field position is 59th and starting just inside their own 31-yard line on average).
They’ve been throwing the ball right around 53% of the time which probably isn’t the best recipe for Cody Green. When they do throw the ball they are averaging just 5.84 yards per pass attempt (105th) with a passer rating of 108.53 (103rd). The Tulsa offense scores touchdowns on 15% of possessions and another 15% of possessions end with turnovers. In the end they average 1.43 points scored per possession.
At the same time the Cyclone defense hasn’t exactly been dominant. They’ve struggled with the running games of Northern Iowa and Iowa. Tulsa were surely try to replicate their performance running the ball from the Liberty Bowl last season. Because of the rushing defense struggles and the types of offenses faced so far the Cyclone defense is seeing rush plays 64% of the time over their first two games, the 11th most in the NCAA. In the given statistical areas the Cyclone defense is basically just barely better on the whole than the Tulsa offense.
While the ISU defense has faced its problems early this year the focus has been on the
offense that hasn’t been able to get rolling. That is likely because the expectation for the offense all along has been to carry the load for this team to have any success. The offense bolstered their praised stable of running backs, some experience on the offensive line, and a quarterback that had played in just three games but cemented himself as the starter and leader.
Due to multiple reasons, though, that offensive production has yet to come to fruition for the Cyclones. Most aren’t expecting an offensive juggernaut that would compete with Baylor or Oregon but the extreme lack of success so far is unacceptable.
The most redeeming quality for the Iowa State offense to date has been their ability to avoid turnovers by turning the ball over on just 8% of possessions for the 30th best rate in the country. Sam Richardson has recorded a slightly better than average passer rating at 138.97 but beyond that the offense has really struggled. Scoring at just the 94th best rate of 1.64 points per possession while chiming in at 102nd in the nation in yards per rush attempt of 3.34.
Just as the Cyclone defense mostly matches up with the underperforming Tulsa offense the Tulsa defense also looks to be on the same spectrum as the ISU offense. They have been able to hold opponents’ passer rating down but even then it is just below the middle of the pack in the NCAA.
Usually by this time of the year three or four games have been played and answers are starting to align with all of the questions. But at this point the Iowa State offense has created more questions of bewilderment than were there at the start of the season. From my vantage point I can’t determine whether the issue is coaching, or play calling, or talent, or communication, or the injuries to the offensive line and Sam Richardson.
Which issues are real and the biggest facilitators of the struggles so far? I can say that I almost never play the “poor play calling” card but as Bobby LaGesse wrote earlier this week. There is definitely a disconnection in there somewhere.
What do I think will happen? I’m not sure but (the answer you were expecting, right?) but I do think the improvement is there and that Tulsa is a struggling team in their own right. Basically, as an Iowa State fan I can’t allow myself to pick the Cyclones to lose this game and avoid a nasty downward spiral.
I don’t think that everything that Rhoads has built in his first four seasons is slipping away after just two games but the hopes for this season certainly are which is especially frustrating in what appears to be a down year in the Big 12. However, the appearance of the staff not being on the same wave length as demonstrated in that Ames Tribune column is cause for concern. IF the frustrations with the play calling are legitimate and don’t improve there could come a time where the offensive staff loses the ears of their players. That certainly can’t happen.
With all of that and other doubts swirling and as I said above, I just can’t pick against Iowa State and allow myself as a fan to lose hope in this season, not yet. Then who knows what could happen.
Iowa State – 27
Tulsa – 23