Much has transpired since the last time that I took keyboard in hand and banged down a few thoughts for the World Wide Web. I won’t discuss many of those matters at this time. I’m only going to bang out some thoughts about the UNI-ISU football game on last Saturday. I don’t have a “Snapshot” page of pictures from that game quite put together at this time, but it will burst into existence in the next couple of days. It will definitely be up before we manhandle Nebraska on Saturday.
1. Jon Davis is our best receiver. For all the hoopla that Todd Blythe gets, he has become a ball dropping machine. That is ironic since Jon Davis has the reputation for having bad hands. Even Blythe’s touchdown was a catch that he missed the first time and got lucky that the ball came back to him. Forget the fact Davis has been the most consistent receiver on the team. Forget the fact that he is the only receiver not to have dropped a ball this year. Consider only these facts: 1. He leads to team in receiving yards with 304. 2. He is second on the team in receptions with 21. 3. He has the longest reception of the year at 44 yards. 4. He leads the team in yards per reception at 14.5 YPR. Other Cyclone fans can call sports radio shows and complain that we aren’t throwing the ball to Blythe enough. I will wonder why we aren’t throwing the ball to Davis enough.
2. We might be 3-2, but we could very easily be 0-5. To break it down, our 3 wins are thanks to a dropped pass in the end zone, an overthrown ball in the end zone, and a field goal that floated barely wide right. All three plays were the last play in the game. Football truly is a game of inches. Although dominating performances against inferior opponents would have been nice, I get a certain amount of morbid joy from seeing us on the right end of those inches for once. How many times have we lost by that same small increment? I can think of 9 just off the top of my head: Alabama in 2001, Florida State and Texas in 2002, Colorado and Missouri in 2004, and Nebraska, Baylor, Missouri, and Kansas in 2005.
3. We almost lost to UNI at home. That would have been incredibly embarrassing, but I have had season tickets since 1983. It wouldn’t have been the worst thing I’ve ever seen in Jack Trice Stadium. I’ve seen ISU lose to UNI two other times already. I’ve seen us lose to Baylor. I’ve seen us lose to Connecticut. I’ve seen us lose to Western Michigan. The icing on the cake is seeing us lose to Drake the year before they completely dropped football. I don’t think anything will ever be as embarrassing as that 20-17 loss to the Bulldogs in 1985. I think the modicum of success that we have achieved in the last few years has spoiled Cyclone fans to the point that we now treat unimpressive victories like losses. I’m not sure if that is because we have arrived as a midlevel power conference program or just a statement on how quickly we forget.
4. When UNI kicked a field goal to take a 27-21 lead the two people to our right and the two people to our left got up and departed. I understand if these people would have left because this put UNI up by 10 points or 17 points or even 9 points. It didn’t, it put UNI up by under 7 points while giving our offense the ball with 2 and half minutes left to get into the end zone. At this point in the game our offense was moving the ball at will. The only thing separating us from putting this game away much earlier was a pair of fumbles. One by Austin Flynn as he was trying to power his way across the goal line and another that simply bounced off Ryan Baum’s helmet as he misjudged the trajectory of a Panther punt. There is no good excuse for the thousands of Cyclone “supporters” that streamed out of the stadium after that field goal. I think Jamie Pollard should take the money he flushed down the toilet for that stupid inflatable toy the players use to enter the field, and station ushers by the gates to take pictures of people who leave the game under these circumstances. Obviously we don’t want to ban them from coming to future games. However, establishig a Wall of Shame for such people would be a good deterrent and remind “fans” to support their team to the bitter end. The Cyclones have broken my heart on many an occasion. I don’t use it as an excuse to quit on them in the future. I put my heart back together and remember that next week might be the game where the other team misses a field goal at the buzzer to lose the game.
5. Although I have yet to find anybody to sign on to my theory, I think UNI made a huge mistake by laying up and going for the field goal that gave them a 27-21 lead. Not only do I disagree with the 3 straight runs they called in the red zone, but I think they should have manned up and went for it on 4th down. The worst case scenario was that they don’t get the 1st down and ISU gets the ball on the 15. They still have to go 85 yards to get a touchdown. True ISU could kick a field goal and head into overtime during such a scenario, but I don’t think I have to remind anybody about the Cyclones’ history of missing pressure field goals. Conversely, if the Panthers make the 1st down, the game is essentially over. ISU is out of timeouts. UNI could run out the clock or at worst leave just a handful of ticks left for the Cyclones offense. Now laying up was the prudent decision, but I think you only make prudent decisions when you are playing either your equals or your inferiors. Division 1-AA teams only get so many opportunities to upset 1-A schools. You have to be willing to take some risks to do it. UNI should have taken that risk.
6. Never thought I would write the following tidbit: I want to see more Stevie Hicks. The guy is averaging over 5 yards a carry and he is getting less than 10 carries a game. I understand that ISU has fallen behind in their last 2 contests, but I don’t think that means you abandon the run completely. Not when it is working to the tune of 5 yards a tote. That being said, I think I have finally figured out what is stopping Hicks from being a great back. He is definitely nothing more than an average D1 back, but that is good enough considering how bad our running game has been since Haywood graduated. However, Hicks shows the speed and power to be more than just an average back. There are times when I thought he was just way too indecisive. He seemed to stand in the backfield motionless after getting the ball and then he would get tackled for a two yard loss. I think his poor decision making comes from a lack of vision. I don’t think that Hicks sees the field very well. That explains to me his occasional indecisiveness and his lack of big plays. The play in the UNI game that leads me to this conclusion was late in the 1st Half. UNI was leading 21-7. ISU decided to roll the dice on 4th and 2. The call went to Hicks. There was a cavernous hole to his left. Rather than cutting to the left and perhaps taking it to the house, Hicks followed Koch straight up the middle. The problem with that decision was that Koch didn’t make it past the line of scrimmage. There was no hole where Koch had gone. There was at least a ton wall of cardinal, purple, and gold humanity. Hicks tried to move the pile. I’m sure Hicks is a strong guy. He certainly is an impressive looking human being. However, I don’t think on his best day he could move a ton of human bodies two yards. On Saturday he didn’t move it 2 inches.
7. Jason Scales. I like seeing him getting more playing time. I would like it even more if we could see more plays with him in open space. The screen play was a nice setup for Scales to use his talent. He is quicker and has more moves than Hicks. I think running him between the tackles isn’t the best use of his talent. I’d like to see more options and more sweeps with Scales.
8. Marquis Hamilton caught a huge ball during the game winning touchdown drive. I hope they keep enlarging his role in the offense. Especially with a Nebraska team that has proven an inability to cover tall receivers coming to town this Saturday.
9. Here is a riddle: The ISU defensive line has gotten penetration. What just happened? The other team called a screen play. I know they are young. I know they are small. We need to find a way to put pressure on the QB. Blitzing isn’t the answer unless we stop playing this soft zone garbage. When the opponent is throwing 5 yard passes because your corners are 15 yards off the ball, a blitzing linebacker isn’t going to get there fast enough. Not even close.
10. The other thing that concerns me about our defense is that we are missing an awful lot of tackles. On 3rd and 7 in the 4th quarter, Eric Sanders (who nobody will mistake for Michael Vick, Seneca Wallace, or even Todd Doxson) made Curvey miss in the backfield and then not 1 but 2 other Cyclones miss him as he trekked down the sideline for one of the most pathetic first downs you are ever going to see. I love Alvin Bowen. He is fast and hits like a bulldozer. That being said, I don’t know if he still leads the country in tackles, but I would lay money down that he leads the nation in missed tackles.
Those are my observations. I am still predicting another Cyclone victory on Saturday. Nebraska is a paper tiger. I believe the real Cyclones will show up this week. They have to right? We’re quickly running out of Saturdays.