Paul from Clone Chronicles, an Iowa State blog, was nice enough to answer some questions for me. I also did the same earlier this week and you can read my answers here.
So hopefully today's Q & A gives you a better idea of what to expect Saturday!
1. Outside of Iowa State's win over Texas Tech, the Cyclone offense hasn't been awful, but they really haven't looked explosive. What changed last Saturday and do you expect that to carry over this week?
Going into 2010, most of us that followed the Cyclones anticipated an offense that was significantly better than 2009. Through the first four games, that offense failed to materialize. What I think happened, is that two elements of the Cyclone offense which had not previously performed up to standards made a huge improvement while playing Texas Tech. First, the offensive line finally coalesced into a fully functional and disciplined unit. They opened blocking lanes for the run game, limited their penalties and protected the quarterback. In any offense, the offensive line is the bedrock and the foundation, until the game against Tech, that foundation had been shaky at best. Now that they've found their rhythm I fully expect them to perform well the rest of the season. The other unit that finally stepped up was the Wide Receivers. They dropped very few passes, made plays, knew were the chains were, and got behind the defenders to open up explosive passing plays. Obviously we expect Utah's defense to be significantly tougher than Tech's, but I doubt you're going to to see Utah's defense stacking 8 or 9 in the box to stop the running threat. They know they have to honor the deep ball too.
The last point I wanted to make in regards to the offense was just that Tom Herman's spread offense at Rice put up some unprecedented numbers when he was the OC there. Then Paul Rhoads brought him onboard at Iowa State and he became the third OC at ISU in 4 years. We knew that he was good, but we've also seen some uninspired play-calling by him until the Tech game. I honestly don't believe what we saw last week was a fluke.
More questions and answers after the jump...
2. What are the biggest threats on offense?
Iowa State runs a balanced offense between running and passing. If anything, we run more than we pass. As such we have a stable of good running backs, starting with Alexander Robinson as a senior, and Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson to back him up. All three have their strengths and the diverse nature of the running game has really come as a nasty surprise to opponents. Robinson is our agile back, he can cut and dart, but he's not all that fast. Jeff Woody is the power back for short yardage. Shontrelle Johnson is the freshman speed demon. Don't expect Tom Herman to give any freebies on who's getting the ball, ISU can and does run two tailbacks out of the spread offense.
On the passing side of the game, there's one guy to talk about. Colin Franklin, the 6'5" 252 lb Tight End. The guy is simply enormous and very good with his hands and feet. On third down, he's the guy Arnaud looks to to grab the ball and fall on the first down side of the marker.
3. The Cyclone defense might be the team's biggest weakness. What makes them good and what are some of their biggest weaknesses?
Believe it or not, I actually consider the defense to be one of the surprising strengths for the Cyclones this year. The defensive side of the ball returned a measly 4 starters, none of whom was a line-backer. Yet, the two players with the most tackles in the Big 12 are Iowa State LB's AJ Klien with 52 and Jake Knott with 48. In addition, AJ Klien has returned two of the teams three pick-six's. So, how can I say such nice things about a defense that's giving up so many yards? Simply this; Wally Burnham's (ISU's Defensive Coordinator) preaches the bend but don't break philosophy. He gives up the underneath pass, but keeps his players between the opponents and the end-zone. Then, when the field shortens, the defense uses the short field to shut down the opposing offense and prevent scoring. And you know what? It works. Last year Iowa State tied for the 2nd best red-zone defense, with the Alabama Crimson Tide. This year ISU is 13th. Will the defense shut down Utah? Absolutely not. Will they slow them down and prevent some possibly critical scores? You bet.
4. Do Iowa State fans look at this as one of their biggest home games of the season? Certainly any time a top-ten team comes to your stadium, it's a big deal. But do they look at Utah as a legitimate top-ten team?
Honestly I don't know if the fans look at this as one of the biggest home games of the season. Yes, it's a big deal when you play a top 10 team, but ISU is actually relatively used to the idea. When you play in the Big 12, facing ranked and high ranked opponents is part of the landscape. When you throw in the yearly game with Iowa, you get another potentially ranked team. In fact, Utah will not be the first top 10 team ISU has faced this year. In week 2 we played (and got decimated by) the #9 Hawkeyes. At the same time, I know that Iowa State respects Utah as an opponent, the fans, the coaches, and the players. A lot of the Iowa State fan base has pegged Utah as a winnable game, and it's hard to blame them for that. Bottom line is that Iowa State won't over-look the potency of Utah, but they're not going to be overawed by it. Come ready to play, and the best team will leave the field victorious, if that's Utah, then the Iowa State fanbase will tell you that Utah was the better team. They're pretty good about that and it's not like losing is an uncommon occurrence in Ames!
5. Let's hear your prediction for the game.
This may seem like something of a cop out, but if the ISU offense plays like last week, I would look for the shoot-out, which I will give to ISU because of the home field, 38-35. If the offense chokes, we'll stay close until the 4th quarter and run out of gas trying to come from behind, 35-27.
Way to commit to a score there, Paul. haha I'd like to thank him, though, for taking the time out to give us a better look at his Iowa St. Cyclones. Again, check out his blog Clone Chronicles for some great ISU coverage!