Posted: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013
By Wescott Eberts
A deep running back corps was supposed to help the Iowa State Cyclones survive the loss of many of the team's top receivers and build upon the late-seaosn success of now-sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson.
Breaking down how all that is going for the 1-2 Cyclones.
Accomplishing the task of slicing up the Cyclones offense can be done in a variety of ways that ultimately amount to the same thing.
S&P;+ doesn't adjust Iowa State too far in a positive direction based on their competition (from No. 89 nationally to No. 79), they aren't good on the ground (80th in rush S&P;), through the air (102nd in pass S&P;), poor on standard downs (97th), and poor on passing downs (94th).
The unadjusted numbers tell a similar tale -- the Cyclones are 83rd in scoring offense at 26.3 points per game, 84th in total offense (387.7 yards per game) and 94th in rush offense. The good news? They manage mediocrity in the passing game in terms of yards produced, sitting 51st nationally with a per-game average of 252.3 yards per contest.
Basically, Iowa State is the very picture of mediocrity on offense.
After spending several years wandering through the post-Austen Arnaud quarterback wilderness with cameos by Jared Barnett, who transferred, and Steele Jantz, who exhausted his eligibility, Richardson emerged last season as the starter late to provide some hope for the future.
As PB mentioned on Monday, Richardson's legs are a big value-add to his overall game, but he's still recovering from an ankle injury suffered in the opener and has barely recovered his explosiveness, if at all. The Longhorns have to be prepared for him to run some read option, as that has traditionally been a part of the Iowa State spread offense, but Richardson's health may determine how effective those plays are as much as the Texas defense.
Based on the overall numbers, the running game has been a disappointment, as it was expected to be a strength of the team heading into the season with the addition of junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly from Iowa Western, where he teamed with Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters, and the return of James White, Shontrelle Johnson, and Jeff Woody.
It hasn't been the case, as White and Johnson have struggled to produce, opening the door for Wimberly to get his chance.
A 5'11, 185-pounder who was rated as the top all-purpose back in junior college last season, Wimberly has taken over control of the job with more carries (29) than White (15) and Johnson (12) combined, though he didn't truly break out until the Tulsa game, when he was something of a revelation with a 19-carry, 237-yard performance against the Golden Hurricane defense.
Not the most powerful back around, Wimberly does have good balance and enough explosiveness to run away from junior college defenders on his highlights from Iowa Western. He's not as physical as Jamaal Williams of BYU and he's not quite as dynamic as Ole Miss' Jeff Scott. He is good enough to break off a play or two, however, if the Texas defensive line loses gap control and the linebackers continue to suffer from occasional lapses in their reads and beating blocks, which is highly likely.
With only 10 plays of 20 or more yards through the air this season, the Cyclones are struggling with ways to get big chunk yardage through the air. Two of those plays have come from the running backs and the biggest from sophomore Quenton Bundrage, who had a 67-yard touchdown catch against Iowa among two other touchdown catches.
A former two-star prospect by 247Sports out of Florida, Bundrage isn't a physically imposing player at 6'1 and 190 pounds, but he was able to break a high tackle attempt after running a short route (it looked like a hitch) and the Iowa defense wasn't fast enough to catch him down the sideline on his long touchdown reception. Even though the Texas defensive backs haven't been superlative tacklers, the odds of a similar play happening against the Longhorns don't seem nearly as high because of the speed in the secondary. That is assuming that the safeties would take good angles, though.
He got open on a post pattern later in the game for a touchdown and scored on an inside-breaking route that looked like busted coverage from Iowa to provide the final margin in that loss to the Hawkeyes. The big takeaway? Bundrage has better speed than suggested by his modest ranking from 247Sports coming out of high school, so the Texas defensive backs will have to be careful about taking the right intercept angles when he does make catches.
The Cyclones had to replace four of their top five wide receivers after last season and besides the success of Bundrage against Iowa, a game that accounted for 146 of his 186 yards on the season, neither Bundrage nor the rest of the receivers have completely stepped into that void.
The only two real weapons for the Iowa State offense -- Wimberly and Bundrage -- haven't produced consistently and the offense hasn't been able to stay on the field consistently either, converting third downs at right around 40%, a decidedly average number.
Throw in the injury to Richardson that is limiting him as a runner and some bad decision-making under pressure against Iowa throwing balls into tight coverage with defenders in his face, the odds of the Cyclones scoring more than a couple touchdowns against a Texas defense that has basically had as long to work with defensive coordinator Greg Robinson since the last game as they did prior to that, the Longhorns should dominate most of the proceedings when the Cyclones have the ball, even without Jordan Hicks leading the linebackers.
Coming into the game with a 3.63 yards per carry average doesn't exactly suggest that Iowa State can run the football against a defense that has struggled over the last two years stopping it. With potentially poor weather conditions that could include thunderstorms, they may have to run the football.