Coming into this game, nearly everyone felt better because of the win over TCU last week and they should. The team had looked better but there was still the question of “Did we look better because TCU is bad or are we improved?” and the question is legitimate because TCU is not a good football team, especially on defense. So just how good were the Mountaineers?
As I sat and watched the game, the first thought that came to my mind was that we looked like we had a plan. Whether that is because there are new voices calling plays, reduced voices calling plays or some new iteration there of, the offensive gameplan looked - dare I say - competent? One of my bigger complaints about the offense, aside from the entire lack of progress it had shown 28 games into the current tenure, was that there was no thought out plan. Were we a running team? A passing team? Were we trying to throw to set up the run? What about deep passes? 28 games into the season and the only thing we looked good at were 8 yard slants. Yesterday was a complete reversal of that.
The offense started out hitting out breaking routes which Iowa State was giving the team. The offense came out and used pistol formations (quarterback in shotgun, directly behind the quarterback) and ran a version of an iso-counter. It wasn’t a true iso-counter since there is no fullback to isolate a defender, but the concept is similar. Quarterback Jarret Doege would receive the snap, turn right as the entire offensive line blocked right. Doege would continue to spin and give to Leddie Brown or Tony Mathis on a left-going play. The resultant of the play would be the offensive line walling off the Iowa State defenders and creating large running lanes. Later on in the game, after we ran multiple out routes all game, Bryce Ford-Wheaton ran an “out-and-up”. I watched it live and as soon as I saw Wheaton turn up field I’m screaming in my head, THROW THE BALL!. It was a huge gain.
The biggest compliment I can give is what Neal Brown said after the game. He said that they knew the Iowa State Defensive Coordinator, John Heacock, would have a counter for their gameplan. So they intentionally devised counters to those counters. That is the type of planning and execution I have been wanting for three years and we got it on Saturday. They had a plan, they executed the plan and when they thought Iowa State was about to change it, they used plan B.
I am sure I have said at some point this season that the team looks like it is waiting for someone to take charge. Sometimes, teams can get stuck in the mud, looking around for someone to make a play to show them that everything is going to be alright. Against Iowa State that had to be Ford-Wheaton. Touchdowns are good. Big plays are good. But acrobatic, tough, how in the world did he do that?! plays, those are gamechangers.
That play was needed, partly because Wheaton dropped potentially a third touchdown when Jarret Doege threw a perfect slant pass and Wheaton bobbled it and it was knocked in the air and picked off by Iowa State. Those are plays that have typically been the bugaboo for the Mountaineers, but not on Saturday. Bryce shook off the play and Doege showed confidence and trust in his receiver by continually throwing to him.
Doege and Greene
I don’t try to bring up social media too much but the fans who are gloating about “Doege haters” no longer being vocal - a reminder. No one was “hating” on the player. They were rightfully pointing out that the quarterback was not performing well. I fully admit I was all aboard the bench Doege and play Greene train. QB1 did not look decisive, he could not make any throw but a quick slant, and he could not run. That changed on Saturday. He threw deep. He threw across. He threw with touch. Brown told us that Doege was the most improved player in the offseason but for 7 games we had not seen it. Now we saw it. If that quarterback continues for the rest of the year, I feel really good about the team going forward.
To go along with that, yesterday finally slammed the door on playing Greene. Against TCU you wondered why Greene did not see the field more when he had a big run and we could have exploited the bad TCU run defense. I did not wonder that Saturday and it had nothing to do with the fact that he sailed a pass (because he did, it was a horrible pass - to be fair, Doege sailed the same pass one play later). I don’t think we need to play Greene anymore because now QB1 is playing like QB1. Why take out a guy who can make those throws? Why take out a guy who went 5-5 in the redzone with four touchdowns? Why take out a guy who threw for 370 yards? If that quarterback is in the game, he should stay in the game.
I know everyone is frustrated that the defense has given up a few BIG plays the last weeks, going back to the start of the Baylor game, but if I am going to be critical of the run offense after Virginia Tech, let me be critical of Iowa State. Breece Hall finished with 24 carries for 167 yards. He had a 70 yard touchdown run and a 53 yard near touchdown run. His other 22 carries went for 44 yards (2.0 YPC). Brock Purdy complete 16 passes for 185 yards. He had a 68-yard touchdown. His other 15 passes went for just 117 yards. We might be in a situation where the defense has gotten more aggressive and that aggression will lead to breakdowns at times. On Hall’s touchdown run, Josh Chandler Semedo goes around a lineman and Hall beats him to the point. Alonzo Addae filled in a C-gap and Hall hit the B-gap. It was just a play. Sometimes aggressive play comes at a price. I’d like to see this aggressive play generate more turnovers but I will take an attacking defense over a passive defense any day of the week.
The official tally is that about 45,000 fans showed up for the game. I tweeted with about 6 minutes to go before kickoff that the stadium looked empty. From my view the stadium had nobody in it. I get it. It was cold and rainy and the team was 3-4 playing a ranked team who had beaten them for 3 straight years - badly I would add - and we had not looked competent at all. Fan apathy was high. As the rain stopped and the sun tried to come out, fans slowly filtered into the stands. Students finished drinking and came in. The game gave them a reason to come in. At the end of the game, when Iowa State was trying to tie the game, if you don’t think that Iowa State false start wasn’t at least in part because of how loud you were, you’re wrong. It was loud. I couldn’t hear myself at the end of the game. You made a difference. Make a difference this Saturday too.