Notebook: Finding an offensive rhythm, the running game, evaluating O-line play

Iowa State running backs Jirehl Brock (left) and Breece Hall (right) warm up before the Cyclones take on the No.10 Iowa Hawkeyes on Sept. 11.

Sam Stuve

Iowa State’s offense has not gotten off to the start that some may have expected it to, including the Cyclones themselves.

Last season, Iowa State averaged 32.9 points per game. So far this season, Iowa State has scored at roughly half that pace, scoring 16 and 17 points in its first two games respectively.

With its first road game of the season, at UNLV, just days away, Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning talked about finding an offensive rhythm, the health of running back Breece Hall and the play of the offensive line thus far.

Finding an offensive rhythm 

The Cyclones offense has sputtered to start this season. Through the air, they have one touchdown and have had just a few big plays and on the ground they’ve scored, but have only averaged 3.7 yards per attempt and Hall has been held to 69 yards in each game. 

Manning said the offense has had periods of playing “good fundamental football” but the consistency hasn’t been there. 

“I think for us it’s just consistently having a little bit better execution at times,” Manning said Wednesday. “I think our kids are prepared really well and for whatever reason, we really haven’t totally hit stride yet.”

One thing that can help an offense find a rhythm is not getting behind the sticks on second down.

This, as well as having better execution, is something that Manning said the offense has been honing in on this week during practice.

“I think overall we have to execute better and play a little bit better as a group, it’s kind of what we’re putting our attention to, is just trying to have more on schedule drives and consistently play a little bit better,” Manning said.

A lack of multiple big plays down the field has been something that Iowa State also didn’t have in the first two games. 

Sustaining drives can lead to some big plays down the field, Manning said. 

“We got to put ourselves in a position to sustain drives, so you have the opportunity to be able to make some of those plays,” Manning said. “Then I think some of it is we gotta make the play, we had a couple opportunities down the field that we didn’t make.”

Something that can help sustain drives, establish a rhythm offensively and set up big plays down the field is establishing the run. Iowa State has usually been able to do that but hasn’t in the last two games, partially because Hall has been “dinged up.”

Looking for more success on the ground 

So far, Hall has been a bit dinged up and has yet to have a game over 100 yards in a game this season. 

Last year, that is something that happened in three out of the 12 games. 

“I couldn’t tell you what percent he is,” Manning said. “But I can tell you, he’s worked really hard to get himself prepared to play this week.”

Hall has scored in each game, but hasn’t been able to get that many rushing yards, as he’s averaging just 3.5 yards per rush.

Hall said after the Northern Iowa game and in the first media availability after the Iowa game Tuesday that this hasn’t been the start that he and the offense were hoping for.

Manning said he’s seen Hall working diligently to fix that. 

“He’s a really good player and I know he’s working really hard and he’s doing right now, to feel as best as he possibly can, to run the football and do all the things that are required to play running back,” Manning said.

But the running game can’t take off without good play from the offensive line.

Manning talks offensive line play

Through the first two games, Iowa State is averaging 111.5 yards per game on the ground. On pass plays, the offensive line has let up just two sacks, both of which came against Iowa. 

Manning said the offensive line has done a decent job of protecting the quarterback so far. 

“It’s been expected, but I think it’s been a really bright sign that the group has played really hard,” Manning said. “I think they’re working really hard in terms of their fundamentals and trying to get a little bit better and help Breece out a little bit in running the football.”

Additionally, Manning said he saw growth from week one to week two. And he thinks growth will be shown from week two to week three.

“I think there’s been growth from week one to week two,” Manning said. “And by the way they’re practicing, we will hopefully see some growth from week two to week three.”