Rohlfing: Positives to take from close Cyclone losses


Courtesy of the OU Daily

Then-redshirt sophomore Tarique Milton runs past his defender during the game against Oklahoma on Nov. 9, 2019. The Cyclones lost to the Sooners 42-41.

Noah Rohlfing

Compared to the play the Cyclones have given on the field, Iowa State’s 2019 record doesn’t add up.

When you dig into the numbers and what the computers say the Cyclones should be at, it gets even worse. But in a way, it shows just how close Iowa State is to making a big step forward on the field — if the Cyclones choose to see it that way.

At least, that’s how redshirt sophomore tight end Chase Allen sees it.

“The team could take it one of two ways,” Allen said. “They could use it positively and see like, ‘hey, these few plays and this is how close we are,’ or they could say ‘man, we just can’t do it.'”

The Cyclones have suffered four losses by a combined 11 points, with three of those losses by two points or fewer. 

Each game has at least one play fans and reporters alike point to as the one that decided a win or loss. 

In the defeat to rival Iowa, it was a mishap on a late punt return between blocker Datrone Young and return man Deshaunte Jones. 

In the Cyclones’ loss to Baylor, it was less of a single play and more of the inability to stop Baylor on the final drive of the game despite multiple opportunities. 

Brock Purdy’s pick-six against Oklahoma State halfway through the fourth quarter was the turning point of the game and the Cyclones couldn’t recover from it.

You could absolutely say the play against Oklahoma last weekend was the two-point conversion attempt that fell short. But in my opinion, it was a missed opportunity by safety Greg Eisworth in the first half, when the junior dropped what looked to be a certain pick-six. That drive led to an Oklahoma touchdown.

I don’t think these plays are indicative of Iowa State’s quality as a team — and neither do the Cyclones.

“I’ll measure our success or failure at the end of the football season,” coach Matt Campbell said. “I see great growth that’s happening right now.”

The numbers love Iowa State. SP+, the system used by numbers wizard Bill Connelly to calculate the overall quality of a football team, still has Iowa State ranked in its top-25 (the Cyclones sit at 21st, the third-highest ranking in the Big 12). The Cyclones rank in the top-30 on both offense and defense, with their special teams lagging behind at 81st in the country.

The Cyclones have the second-best defense in the conference, SP+ states — only behind Baylor.

Monday afternoon, Alex Halsted of 247Sports asked Connelly on Twitter what the Cyclones’ expected current wins total in SP+ was.

It was 7.2. 

See? The numbers love the Cyclones, despite the 5-4 record the team holds.

Wide receiver Tarique Milton said the close losses do carry some positives.

“It just shows that it’s possible,” Milton said. “We are good, we just have to work a little harder and we’ll be there.”

The Cyclones are a young football team on both sides of the ball, and with that youthfulness comes boatloads of promise — take, for example, the rise of Breece Hall and the continued growth of Purdy into one of the nation’s best quarterbacks as a true sophomore on the offensive side, or the emergence of Tayvonn Kyle as a starter at cornerback along with Anthony Johnson and Young.

But with the youth around the program also comes inconsistencies. Campbell has often mentioned the Cyclones’ need to play good, consistent football for all four quarters and win in the margins. In each of their four losses, the Cyclones had bad halves, quarters or moments that put them in a losing position. 

Clean those instances up, and maybe Iowa State’s on-field record will match the analytics’ view of the Cyclones.