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Iowa State is slowly but surely progressing

Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

Unlike Iowa State’s previous outing–an ugly 42-3 loss to in-state rival Iowa–the Cyclones showed progress in their 41-20 defeat at the hands of the TCU Horned Frogs.

Although the score doesn’t show it, Iowa State’s defense made a huge improvement from the Iowa game to the TCU outing.

Against Iowa, the Cyclones’ defense was abysmal at best. It was missing tackles left and right against the Hawkeyes and allowing them to drive down the field with ease. When Iowa State took on TCU, its defense showed glimpses of the potential and toughness it possesses.

The Horned Frogs easily moved downfield on their first drive, with a 10-yard gain there and then a seven-yard gain here. However, when it looked like TCU was going to march straight into the end zone, Iowa State’s defense came up big and held the Horned Frogs to a field goals. The Cyclone defense produced multiple drives in which they looked like a dominated unit, but kept TCU out of the end zone.

Against Iowa, the defense only forced one three-and-out. Against TCU, the Cyclone defense forced five three-and-outs. Iowa State was wrapping up and not trying to arm tackle TCU’s skill players. The Cyclones’ defensive line was also getting a push for the majority of the game, which affected the performance of the Horned Frogs’ quarterback, Kenny Hill.

Although Hill still finished with a 63.3 completion rate, he failed to complete five straight passes at one point in Saturday’s game.

Here’s the reality check for ISU, however: While the Cyclones’ defense appeared to have improved in this Big 12 opener, it was still slashed and gashed by several big plays. TCU running back Kyle Hicks took a handoff straight up the middle for an untouched 64-yard touchdown run, which put the Horned Frogs up 10-0 early in the first quarter. Later in the first half, Hill completed a 40-yard pass to receiver Emanuel Porter that got TCU to the one-yard line. The Horned Frogs scored a touchdown one play later that put them up 24-7 heading into halftime.

If Iowa State can keep reducing the amount of big plays its defense allows, the Cyclones could become more competitive and maybe win a few games as the season progresses.

Not only did Iowa State’s defense look more polished from Week Two to Week Three, but its offense did as well–primarily running back Mike Warren.

In the Cyclones’ first two games this season, Warren was a non-factor. He rushed for 30 yards on 12 carries against Northern Iowa and 28 yards on seven attempts against Iowa. This was a running back who led all freshman runners in 2015 in yardage, and entered this year as one of the two preseason All-Big 12 backs.

Against the Horned Frogs, the Cyclones made sure to get their former freshman All-American going early and often. He had rushes of eight and 12 yards early in the first few minutes of the first quarter. Utilizing Warren early in the game also allowed Iowa State’s passing game to open up. Warren finished the game with 95 yards rushing on 23 carries while adding 24 yards on three catches through the air.

The Cyclones also committed their smallest amount of penalties in game this season — they were whistled only seven times for 44 yards against the Horned Frogs.

Although Iowa State showed progress, it still has some wrinkles it needs to smooth out–primarily the quarterback situation.

Junior signal caller Joel Lanning entered this season as the Cyclones’ main man under center. However, after his poor performance against Iowa, the buzz around Iowa State was its blossoming quarterback competition between Lanning and backup Jacob Park. Neither of the two were able to separate themselves from one another when Iowa State faced TCU.

Lanning completed 12 of his 21 passes for 127 yards while Park completed seven of his 15 throws for 90 yards. While neither gunslinger looked overly impressive, Lanning seemed to be the man most capable of leading the Cyclones. However, his inconsistent passing is still leaving the door open for Park to take the starting job away from him.

While head coach Matt Campbell still needs to find a bonafide starting signal caller, he should feel good about his team’s outing versus TCU. Iowa State showed that it is slowly but surely progressing and becoming a complete team. The Cyclones gave glimpses of what they can look like when they put it all together, but as Campbell has said before, it takes time to build a winning tradition and trust in the process. With the flashes Iowa State fans saw from the Cyclones against the Horned Frogs, they should feel comfortable about their team’s progression.

Iowa State is slowly but surely progressing

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