Riding a two-game winning streak, the Iowa State Cyclones head into a well-deserved bye week sitting alone in second place among the Big 12 Conference. Since their embarrassing loss on the road to Ohio, the Cyclones have won three of their last four games. During the bye week the goals are simple: heal up and find a way to win two of their final five games and become bowl eligible. Here is what I have learned about Iowa State through seven weeks.
NATE SCHEELHAASE HAS FLIPPED THE SCRIPT ON THE OFFENSE
Going into the season, many fans and experts put most of their faith into the defense to win games for the Cyclones. I fell into that same category. With the youth and inexperience both on the field and in the headset, I thought for Iowa State to win it would come down to their punishing defense. Through the first three games this season, Iowa State only averaged 140 passing yards and 97 rushing yards with a record of 1-2. Criticism came in from all directions, with some fans even calling for Coach Matt Campbell to be on the hot seat.
What good coaches and teams do is adapt and that is exactly what Scheelhaase and the Cyclone offense did. The run game was stagnant and the offense was showing promise being led by Rocco Becht. Instead of honing in on a rushing attack that was struggling, he went with what was working. Since the shift from Becht being utilized as a game-managing quarterback to becoming a leader, the Iowa State offense improved greatly. In the last four games, the Cyclones are averaging 232.3 yards passing, two touchdowns, and 0.5 interceptions per game.
Scheelhaase has this offense rolling but must continue adapting and utilizing his playmakers with teams like Texas, Kansas and a road game to the defending Big 12 champions Kansas State on the horizon.
TOP DEFENSE STILL NEEDS WORK
It is hard to crack down on a defense that currently ranks second in the nation with 12 interceptions. Yes, this defense is loaded with talent and continues to be consistently one of the Big 12’s best every season under Coach Jon Heacock, but there are some concerns. Let’s start with the positives and then we will move on to what this defense needs to build upon.
Any team would be grateful to have a secondary led by TJ Tampa, Jeremiah Cooper, Beau Freyler, and Malik Verdon. This secondary has been tested by experienced and talented quarterbacks all season long. Opposing quarterbacks have headaches trying to get the ball downfield against Iowa State and Cooper especially. Since his two-interception performance in week one against UNI, the sophomore continues the takeover. The dominant backfield is allowing only 198.1 yards through the air and is coming off of holding Emory Jones and the Cincinnati Bearcats to just 99 yards passing.
Now, the biggest concern for the defense is stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Much like the offense, the line backers are young and are still finding their footing. Ranking seventh in the conference against the run allowing an average of 131.1 yards, the physicality among the front seven must be better. Making the opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in the pocket moving forward is key with the fourth, fifth, and seventh-best offenses in the Big 12 remaining on their schedule. The Cyclones are currently tied for the third worst in the conference with only 12 total sacks and a total of just nine quarterback hits in the last three games.
Iowa State must win two out of their last five games to have postseason hopes. What remains on the Cyclone schedule is only two home games against the Kansas Jayhawks (5-2) and the Texas Longhorns (5-1). Leaving three road games against Baylor (2-4), BYU (4-2), and Kansas State (4-2). The Cyclones start their quest towards their first bowl appearance since 2021 against the Bears next weekend at 2:30 p.m.