Rohlfing: Close call with Northern Iowa shows bye week comes at right time for Cyclones


Grant Tetmeyer

Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu runs the ball during Iowa State’s 29-26 victory over Northern Iowa on Aug. 31, 2019, at Jack Trice Stadium.

Noah Rohlfing

The Iowa State Cyclones are 1-0. 

At the end of the day, that’s what matters most for coach Campbell and Co. but realistically, there isn’t much else for him to be happy about after Saturday’s concerning performance. 

The Cyclones were sluggish. They were conservative. They missed blocks at an alarming rate and were lucky they didn’t have more than the one turnover (which directly led to Northern Iowa taking the lead). They fell from No. 21 in the AP Poll to a tie with similarly-disappointing Nebraska for 25th on the ballot. 

There’s a hell of a lot of things Iowa State needs to work on if it wants to become the Big 12 contender people thought it was heading into the season. But thanks to a quirk in the college football schedule this year, Iowa State has a week off before hosting Iowa Sept. 14. 

The Cyclones can use this to their advantage by concentrating on their weak spots. 

Starting with the offensive line — something has to change. The line has been the Achilles heel of the Cyclones since before Campbell took over in 2016, and there were signs of improvement at times in 2018.

But Saturday felt like a step back, and with this week off, I’m in agreement with Cyclone Fanatic’s Chris Williams (Daily alum): A lineup change wouldn’t be the worst thing. 

Waiting in the wings in case Campbell makes adjustments is redshirt freshman guard/center Trevor Downing, who impressed coaches in the spring and fall camp and was the odd man out on Saturday. 

Campbell has another young option he could utilize — although the Iowa game might be too soon — in redshirt freshman Joey Ramos. Ramos was often talked about in the spring and fall as someone who was getting closer to game readiness, and by the end of the season he could very well sneak his way into the playing time conversation.

Even if it’s not inserting youth into the lineup, the Cyclones will have to change something to keep improving. 

Moving Good-Jones back to center if Newell misses any time with an injury could be the way to go, as it opens up a spot for Downing without throwing him into the fire at the center position. As Williams posed, the corresponding move could then be to push Josh Knipfel out to left tackle, as the senior is one of Iowa State’s most dependable blockers.

Campbell admitted the team saw flaws against the Panthers.

“I don’t want other people to figure that out just yet, but I think there was enough there,” Campbell said. “Areas that I went into saying ‘This could be a challenge if we’re not ready’ showed up.”

Also interesting was the lack of a running game from Purdy. The biggest run the sophomore had was an eight-yard scramble for a touchdown that was called back via a holding penalty. Other than that play, Purdy was largely absent from a running game that would benefit from his inclusion. 

Campbell said that it wasn’t a team decision to limit his carries, but it still begs the question: will this happen against Iowa? 

The Cyclones better hope not. Against a defensive line as strong as the Hawkeyes’, Purdy’s mobility and escape instincts will be critical. 

What else needs to be worked on? 

The playcalling and risk-taking against the Panthers was pretty shocking given the opponent, but Campbell is beginning to gain a reputation as a risk-averse in-game coach, ala a certain head coach of Iowa football. 

I have a feeling I’m far from the first to make that comparison, and I doubt it’s one that Cyclones fans will fully appreciate.

The similarities are there, right down to the brutal decisions to punt on fourth-and-short in opposing territory. It’s obviously just one game against an FCS opponent, but Campbell and offensive coordinator Tom Manning can’t really afford to be so conservative against teams such as Iowa, Oklahoma and Texas.

I won’t be negative for the whole story, though. Iowa State has a good problem on its hands — each of the Cyclones’ running backs averaged four-plus yards per carry and each had their own flashes of ability. I doubt the position will be solved by the Iowa game. The Cyclones’ defense was dominant, and apart from a few broken plays turned into yardage by Will McElvain held the Panthers to just about nothing on the ground. They kept Iowa State in the game when the offense was sputtering. 

None of the issues Iowa State showed against the Panthers are unfixable. This is still a good football team one game into the season. I’m not saying the sky is falling, or that the Cyclones will even lose to Iowa. 

But there definitely is room for improvement — and this bye week could be a chance to iron out those flaws just in time for the Cy-Hawk game.