Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Q&A Time: Iowa State

If you're up for it, we've got quite a load for you today. Due to our equal opportunity professional standards and our insatiable desire for knowledge of Iowa State football, we sought out two interviewees for the Q&A this week. Answer #1 will be provided by the ISU blog Clone Chronicles, while answer #2 will come from Robert La Gesse of the Ames Tribune. With that, let's get to it...

1. After having their way with a couple of inferior opponents, ISU has had a lot of trouble with their last two. There are some pretty obvious reasons why, specifically that they were road games, against better opponents and they weren't able to force nearly as many TOs. Can you tell us anything else that changed from the first two to the last two?

CC: I don't think the impact of playing on the road can be minimized here - ISU currently has the third longest road losing streak in the country. We just aren't a good road team and haven't been for a while. ISU has also struggled running the ball and the conditions during the Iowa game were not conducive to that. Plus the competition was a lot better. As for the UNLV game, they played the worst half of football I have maybe seen since ISU played you guys in 2006 - followed by the best half of football I've seen out of them since probably 2005. The team is young at a lot of key positions and until they get a little more talented and experienced it's going to be a struggle.
RL: The biggest difference was ISU's inability to move the ball and put up points on offense. For the first six quarters against Iowa and UNLV the Cyclones only managed 14 points out of their offense. In the second half against UNLV, ISU exploded for 28 points and almost 300 yards of total offense. It will be interesting to see which offense takes the field Saturday against Kansas.

2. What one thing would you say the Cyclones do best?

CC: Probably defend the pass. Leonard Johnson and his personal fouls will be back after getting ejected from the UNLV game and Devin McDowell will also return from his slight injury. If ISU is still missing LB Michael Bibbs who is very solid in pass coverage this could probably change as well. ISU is also very, very good at picking up personal fouls. Most in the country baby!
RL: Without a doubt it's special teams. The punting unit is fantastic and has done a great job pinning opponents inside the 20. They have blocked punts, covered kicks well and have players who are threats to take any kick off for a touchdown. Special teams are the one thing ISU has done consistently well all year long.

3. Arnaud certainly seems to be the #1 at QB, but what do you think of the rotation? How effective has it been and would you expect it to continue?

CC: I'm not a huge fan of the rotation - but it has been somewhat effective and I think it's important to give both guys a chance. I think it will continue indefinitely this season. One thing about it ISU runs their QB's enough that another guy coming in to give the other a blow is helpful. At this point Arnaud is a shoe-in for the starting position after this season but we'll see what happens.
RL: There hasn't been much of a rotation in the last two games as Austen Arnaud has taken most of the snaps. After leading ISU on a 98 yard game-tying drive in the fourth quarter against UNLV, he looks to be coming into his own. Phillip Bates is still available as a change of pace option - he relies on his feet more than Arnaud does - and he is more than capable of taking over the offense if Arnaud struggles.

4. Statistically, ISU has been a much better team against the pass only allowing 176 ypg (30th in nation), but in doing so they've only been able to notch 5 sacks. How do you think they'll fare against Todd Reesing and Kansas' passing game?

CC: This has been a major topic of discussion but I don't anticipate that sack number to increase much after this game. ISU hasn't had a decent pass rush since 2005 and Reesing gets the ball out of his hands so quickly it will be hard to get a lot of pressure on Reesing. Honestly the defensive backs are greatly improved from last year though - at the time of the KU game last season I think ISU only dressed three scholarship CB's because of injuries. A guy who started every game last season at CB in Allen Bell is not a starter this season. There is great depth back there and it's likely ISU will be jamming KU receivers at the line to try and give the pass rushers more time and help in the running game which has struggled this season.
RL: I doubt ISU will shut down the Kansas passing attack. Heck, ISU doubts it will shut down the Kansas passing attack. The Jayhawks are just too good. They have too many weapons and Todd Reesing never makes a mistake under center. All ISU will look to do is limit the number of points Kansas scores. That means trying to hold the Jayhawks to field goals instead of giving up touchdowns.

5. ISU is last nationally in punt defense, but have only had three logged against them, one that went for a TD. Am I right in assuming that contrary to the stats, they have had great punts/coverage(Brandtner has an avg. of 42 per), leading to a lot of fair catches, or is this a big area of concern?

CC: Brandtner is a very good punter and that is one aspect of the team that I don't think any Cyclone fan is too worried about. Brandtner has done very well putting the ball inside the 20 where it can't be returned - honestly he almost has too much of a leg and can outkick his coverage sometimes which is kind of what happened on the return for a touchdown.
RL: Like I said earlier, punting has been a strength this year. That is a misleading stat because Iowa took a punt to the house on them, throwing the numbers out of whack. Punter Mike Brandtner has had eight kicks land inside the 20 and he's had five kicks fair caught.

6. Would you say they're a better offensive or defensive team?

CC: Probably a better defensive team at this point. The offense has been pretty disappointing so far, especially the running game. A lot of us are very excited about the young skill players on offense but they have a way to go before they may be ready game in and game out both physically and mentally.
RL: Right now coach Gene Chizik will tell you the Cyclones aren't great at either one. But if I had to pick one I would go with the defense because it has forced 13 takeaways. Both sides of the ball have looked like a
Top 25 unit at times this year, but follow that up with a few series where they look like a I-AA team. The Cyclones lack consistency on both sides of the ball.

7. What would you say the expectations are for the Cyclones this year? How long does Chizik have to make them competitive and what constitutes acceptable (McCarny didn't strike me as doing a poor job)?

CC: I would say the high end of expectations for Chizik this season was get to .500. Chizik will get at least five years in my opinion and I think that is fair. Mac was a good coach and we are thankful he was here but his recruiting really fell off and there was a severe lack of overall talent his last season and it continues today as a large percentage of the players on the two deep were not recruited by Mac.
RL: Fans would like a bowl game, but four or five wins is more realistic. Dan McCarney had had success at ISU, but the program had a few down years at the end of his reign and the talent level dipped in his final recruiting classes. Chizik will have a few more years to turn the Cyclones around. The majority of the team is extremely young. A bowl game really shouldn't be expected out of Chizik until next year.

8. Along those same lines, how have the crowds been (avg. attendance of 48, 211 or 88% full) this year? I've always considered Ames tough, but was there in '06 and the crowd was out of it pretty quickly. If KU starts fast, would you think this might again be the case?

CC: The first two crowds were actually really good. The 88% full number may not sound all that amazing but there really only are about 43,000 actual seats in the stadium so that means about 5k people have been sitting on the grass hillsides for each game. As for the 2006 game that was one of the worst games I've seen in person at JT and the only game I've ever left early. I believe Mac announced his "resignation" after that game as well. The fanbase had pretty much given up on the previous staff at that point and it was really showing up in the stands. I don't think it will get nearly that bad this weekend even if we are down.
RL: ISU officials have been pleased with the crowds so far this year. I have only covered the team since last year and in my time here the fans have come out in droves to support Chizik. But like any fan base if a game gets out of hand early - Kansas up 21 in the first quarter - there isn't much they are going to be able to do turn things around.

9. I've been to Ames a couple times and gave my preferences, where would you recommend for visiting Jayhawks?

CC: Most people always say Hickory Park (BBQ) on Duff Ave, but there are several good places to hit up on Main Street as well - Great Plains (Pizza), Olde Main Brewing Company (restaurant, brews own beer), and several other restaurants such as The Spice (Thai) that may not be regular gameday fare. Welch Avenue by campus will have your bars and vendors, pick yourself up a Gyro and I like Welch Ave. Station for a beer either before or after the game. Paddy's, Cy's Roost, Mickey's, and others will provide you with the typical college bar experience and usually people welcome outside fans.
RL: If you are looking for a bite to eat go to Hickory Park. It's the best food in town and there is nothing bad on the menu. If you want to have a few beers go to Welch Avenue Station on campus or Olde Main Brewing Co. downtown.

10. Iowa State will win if...

CC: I'm a big ISU fan but I think ISU needs to force some turnovers to stay competitive here.
RL: The offense can keep pace with the Jayhawks. In the modern Big 12 teams have to be able to score points to pull out wins.

11. And finally, what's your score prediction?

CC: KU-31, ISU-17. It could be higher scoring but with the new clock rules you never know. I still think ISU is a year away from being truly competitive in the Big 12.
RL: Kansas 38 ISU 21

So there you have it. Thanks to Clone Chronicles and the pride of the Ames Tribune, Bobby La Gesse for their time and their insightful answers. We look forward to hopefully enjoying a win at your team's expense this Saturday.

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