As every Cyclone fan knows, a good bit of fun and excitement (Texas Tech) is often followed by a sobering bucket of cold water (Utah). In this case, the bucket of cold water was more like a 55-gallon drum of cold water, and instead of being poured over your head, it was dropped on you from the top of the press box. It wasn’t much fun sitting in Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, and the post-halftime attendance made that very clear.
Quite honestly, I try to avoid too much conversation with other fans immediately following a game like that. There just isn’t a whole lot to talk about. I didn’t read a single article or check the boxscore, and I avoided the messageboards for a good 24 hours. My only conscious effort to consume ISU football information in the days immediately following the game was to watch Rhoads’ post-game presser. I always want to hear what the coach has to say.
While I tried to avoid over-exposing myself to other frustrated fans, I did hear enough to know that a fair number of fans wanted to pin this beatdown on a lack of preparation or desire on ISU’s part. While Iowa State certainly didn’t perform at its peak, this was just one small factor that led to the huge margin of victory, in my opinion. In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily question ISU on these aspects, specifically, as the Cyclones did hold the lead after one quarter and a lack preparation and desire is often exposed in the first 15 minutes.
If anything should be questioned, it is Iowa State’s ability to respond after being punched in the mouth by an opponent. We did it two weeks ago against Texas Tech, but Utah is clearly a much better team than the Red Raiders, and light years better than many fans (including myself) were giving them credit for prior to kickoff. If I’m Iowa State, Utah was Mike Tyson in his prime. I could huddle up in a ball in the corner of the ring, or I could swing away and try to defend myself, but it’s going to end the same way.
In my mind, there were ten factors that led to the beatdown:
10. Iowa State’s response after getting punched in the mouth. Once Utah exposed just how easy it was for them to exploit Iowa State’s weaknesses and mistakes, I think the collective “oh crap” from the east sideline may have allowed things to get worse than they would have otherwise.
9. Utah’s bye week. Rhoads said in his presser that Utah used the bye week to install, not just new offensive plays, but some entirely new formations. When your limitations make it hard enough to respond to the known, these unknowns are usually an unpleasant surprise.
8. BCS. With Boise State and TCU hogging the headlines, Utah was out to make a statement in the midst of its last season as a non-BCS conference school This was painfully clear in how the Utes continued to play the game after the lead became insurmountable. And, for the record, the chest-bumping between Utah players and coaches as they ran up the score was a bit tacky.
7. Talent differential.
6. Talent differential.
5. Talent differential.
4. Talent differential.
3. Talent differential.
2. Talent differential.
1. Talent differential. If you actually witnessed Saturday’s game and have identified anything other than talent differential as the biggest factor in the blowout, you’re either blindly looking to rag on players and/or coaches or you don’t know what you’re talking about. Off the top of my head, I can’t remember watching an Iowa State game where the difference in team speed was so glaring. There were examples in all phases of the game, but the most insulting may have been the punt returner who was able to stop after catching the ball, read the lanes, then take off and do his damage. Ugh.
Losses are always frustrating. A blowout loss when you were expecting a reasonably competitive game is even more frustrating, But the most frustrating thing to me was that reminder of just how far Iowa State has to go on the recruiting front. Let’s assume that Iowa State had played a nearly flawless game on Saturday against the same Utah performance. Can you say with any confidence that the margin of victory would have been any fewer than 21 points? 28 points? I can’t. That’s a monstrous talent gap, and Iowa State’s coaches need to find a way to start building a bridge.
As a side note, I was also disappointed for the fans. The crowd was electric during much of that first quarter, and you got that sense that there were a lot of lukewarm/fence-sitting fans on-hand that were looking for a reason to go “all in”. As I looked around me during the buildup to some key defensive plays early in the game, there were more fans than normal standing and yelling. While all fans were disappointed on Saturday, I always wonder how such a let-down will affect the fence-sitter. The diehard will always show up, even after the brutally tough losses, but the fence-sitter may decide not to buy another ticket this year. This is critical as it’s these fans who make up the difference between 45,000 and 55,000.
Things could get rough over the next couple of weeks. Regardless, you won’t hear from me as I will be gone fishing. A well-timed vacation? Perhaps…