INSIDE SCOOP

Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 25, 2018 at 8:52 pm.

Red zone offense in spotlight as Cyclones head to TCU

Iowa State got the win it needed against Akron last week, but not a lot of reasons to be optimistic that it can repeat the feat on Saturday against a ranked Texas Christian squad without continued improvement.

One area that’s crucial: The team’s performance in the red zone.

The good news is that Iowa State kicker Connor Assalley has made all seven of his field goal attempts. The bad news is that the Cyclones have only been in the red zone nine times, meaning the offense has generated a touchdown on just 22.2 percent of its trips inside the 20.

As coach Matt Campbell stressed at his media conference this week, it’s only been three games. The Cyclones had their opener cancelled because of weather, so they have played one fewer game than most opponents. The Cyclones are also breaking in a new quarterback, Zeb Noland, who will make his third start of the season and just the fourth of his career this week.

“Zeb had a really great day,” Campbell said after the victory over Akron. “I don’t think he forced things and I thought he played good football. We knew the one of the ways they could beat us was by us making mistakes and turning the ball over and I thought Zeb did a really good job managing the football game, so I would say we are growing. I think there was a lot of growth.”

Perhaps some. But the growth was in the form of game management, and there are still a lot of areas that need attention. Iowa State is minus-two in turnover margin entering the week.

There isn’t much time to spend on the learning curve. The Cyclones head to TCU this week, then have games at Oklahoma State and vs. West Virginia. The Horned Frogs were ranked heading into last weekend but are coming off a loss to Texas and already have turned the ball over nine times.

Despite the 1-2 record, and an 0-1 mark in the league, Iowa State is far from out of the race. If the Big 12 has shown anything this season, it’s that any team can beat any other team. But entering this critical stretch of league play, the Cyclones still have a lot of questions to answer.