Season openers can set the season’s pace and UNI is a formidable first foe

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One season ago, the Big 12 was the only Division 1A conference in the nation that did not lose a football game on the first week of the college season. The good start led to nine teams (an unprecedented 90%) making bowl games.

 Among the first week losers, just 17 went on to accumulate more wins than losses. And, only four of those teams recovered from the opening defeat to claim division or conference championship. That foursome included Tulsa (which lost to Iowa State in the first week), Northern Illinois (Iowa), Boise State (Michigan State) and Arkansas State (Oregon).

 Certainly, it’s crazy to suggest season openers are “must wins”. But, the final records of the schools which lost in the first week of 2012 were nearly 100 games below .500 (238-336).

 Paul Rhoads spoke about how the first week can set the table for a successful season. Rhoads is 4-0 in season openers as head coach at Iowa State. As an assistant, Rhoads was 1-0 at Auburn, 7-1 at Pitt, 2-3 as a Dan McCarney assistant at ISU and 1-2 at Pacific in openers.

 “It’s a huge boost to get the first win,” Rhoads said. “I correlate it to (earning) credibility. You do get heightened credibility with your kids if you come through the first game with a victory.”

 When the Cyclones open with Northern Iowa Saturday, they’ll do so against a school that has put a major scare into several BCS teams in recent years.

 The Panthers lost to #12 Wisconsin 21-26 last fall, dropped a one-point decision to ISU in Ames two seasons ago and suffered a crushing one-point loss to Iowa in 2009.

 Getting off to a good start is important. The Cyclones will need to play an outstanding game to do so this fall.

ISU linemen are now quick/strong versus left/right and it’s all match-up driven.

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It’s not that Iowa State assistant coach Chris Klenakis is looking for ambidextrous offensive linemen necessarily.

 But, you can expect to see the same players appear on both the left and right side of formations from play-to-play.

 Klenakis will be trying to match his personnel with what he seeks from each specific position.

 When Iowa State’s depth chart was released Monday, the offensive line read QT, QG, C, SG and ST. That replaced the more traditional code of LT, LG, C, RG and RT.

 For the novice fan, the Cyclones now label their linemen as quick/strong rather than left/right.

 “We’ve been a traditional left and right side guard/tackle combination,” Coach Paul Rhoads explained to the news media Monday. “What the left/right side gives you is a comfortable stance and always lining up with the same hand down and same foot back.”

 Klenakis has used the quick/strong designation for years.

 “Now, you work more of the same techniques as opposed to being on the same (side),” Rhoads said. “The physical traits of the personnel playing those positions (quick/strong) match up better.”

 In a game that revolves around match-ups and taking advantage of mismatches, the flexibility of Klenakis’ approach and not locking blockers into the same spot is another area to exploit.

Switch was a “win win” for Irving and Cyclones.

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When you look at 6-foot-7, 272-pound David Irving, you dream of his potential impact on the field. Irving is physically imposing.

 He has shown onlookers his potential and, occasionally, star-level play. But, you felt there could be more.

 Two weeks ago, Irving was abruptly shifted from end to tackle on the defensive line. Irving went from operating in space to battling double teams inside.

 The question was obvious. Can he make the position transition quickly enough to become a factor on this year’s Cyclone defense? The answer came Monday as Irving’s name was on the top line of the depth chart at DT.

 “David has probably exceeded expectations in making the transition,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “Here’s a guy at his height and range playing on the edge and covering ground and (you think outside) is where he belongs.”

 But, things change.

 “When he (Irving) got inside, he was a natural,” Rhoads said. “Using his hands, with his quickness off the ball, the ability to control his gap… he’s made a speedy change and excelled at it.”

 Irving demonstrated a willingness to help the team with his late-in-camp position switch. He didn’t protest the move and, in fact, embraced it quickly.

 Irving also reported that he’s been able to put more pressure on the quarterback from the inside.

 The benefit of his switch is that Irving, himself, has prospered as well as the team. You love those “win-win” propositions.

 

 

Cyclones count upon their “union” to set the pace up front.

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For 24-plus years, Chris Klenakis has (sort of) been the head of a union.

 And, the Cyclones’ first-year offensive line coach even uses the term “union” to describe his offensive line position group.

 “We’re the brotherhood that does the blue collar work and has each other’s back,” Klenakis said in the latter stages of fall camp. “Without our efforts, the company doesn’t run.”

 When Klenakis says “… the company doesn’t run”, he truly means run… as in run the football.

 To run the ball, Klenakis has been pushing physical play in the trenches.

 “They’ve bought into the physicality aspect and we practice that way,” Klenakis said of his blockers. “(We need) to play hard, finish blocks and play with an edge.”

 Klenakis also thinks his “union” must be adaptable.

 “There are lots of ways to do things,” Klenakis said. “The good thing is when you can get to a common place and do what’s best for the team. I’ve always believed in that.”

 Those are the words of a union head dedicated to the good of his whole organization.

 

Cyclones’ offensive staff room has the most coordinating experience in the Big 12

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Paul Rhoads mentioned several times during fall camp that it was helpful for his young defensive team to be tutored by Wally Burnham.

 The Cyclone defensive coordinator has been coaching college football 41 years, most in the Big 12 (K-State’s Mo Latimore and TCU’s Eddie Williamson have 40 years of college experience).

 But, Rhoads can count upon some pretty significant experience in the other staff room as well.

 When Courtney Messingham, Bill Bleil, Chris Klenakis, Kenith Pope and Todd Sturdy gather in the “offensive staff room” at the Bergstrom Facility, there is more than three decades worth of college coordinator experience in the room.

 That’s (tied for) the most years of combined college coordinating experience on the offensive side of the ball of any school in the Big 12.

 Like the Cyclones, Kansas State also has 33 years of coordinator experience on offense, but 12 of those years are on head coach Bill Snyder’s resume. TCU has 32 years and long-time assistant Rusty Burns (22) has the most years of offensive coordinator experience of any one individual in the league.

 Ultimately, player execution will determine Iowa State’s fate. But, Rhoads has certainly collected some experienced teachers for his classrooms.

 

More pressure, more wins is how Iowa State’s recent history reads.

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It’s naive to say that sacking the opponent’s quarterback a lot is the most important indicator for season win totals, but there appears to be a correlation for Iowa State football.

 In the last decade, the Cyclones have won half of their Big 12 games twice. Not surprisingly, ISU ranked sixth (2004) and seventh (2005) among league schools in QB sacks those years.

 In the other eight seasons (2006-12), Iowa State has placed eighth or lower in sacks by. None of those teams had a .500 record in conference play.

 That probably explains some of the excitement that the coaches shared after the team’s final scrimmage last week. The defense got pressure.

 “I don’t know who all was in there on the front, but we continued to make tackles for loss,” coordinator Wally Burnham told the Ames Tribune.

 When asked who impressed, Rhoads blurted out, “David Irving, without a doubt.”

 Irving just moved from end to tackle recently and Rhoads cited his team’s depth at end as the reason for Irving’s move.

 “Rodney Coe showed up more (too),” Rhoads said of his JC transfer. “He’s still learning the position, but he was in the backfield. Coe and Irving give us a nice 1-2 punch there.”

 Rhoads knows what he’ll get from his current listed starters (Brandon Jensen and Walter Woods).

 “The wildcards are (Delvin) Cousins and (Pierre) Aka and how much we get out of them as redshirt freshmen,” Rhoads said.

 Rhoads’ first two ISU teams finished 12th in the league in sacks but his defense has improved the last two seasons.

 History indicates that a little more improvement will show up positively in the league standings and he is getting good signs regarding that potential this fall.

Some pretty amazing golf feats at ISU this summer with Hoiberg leading the way.

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Golf stories are like fishing stories. They can quickly morph into the “did that really happen” category.

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 Men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg distinguished himself twice this summer on the golf course. He recorded a rare double eagle (holing out a 3-wood on a 555-yard par-5) at an event in Mexico in June. Hoiberg followed up that feat by recording a hole-in-one (wedge from 135 yards on Wakonda’s No. 17) at the annual Coaches vs. Cancer outing last Monday.

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 Iowa State junior Scott Fernandez had an interesting August. He was the lone player to participate in two of the world’s top amateur events – the European Amateur and the U.S. Amateur – over a seven-day period.

 Fernandez placed third in the European event (he had an ace in the first round) at the Real Club de Golf in El Prat, Spain. After the event, the Cyclone boarded a plane and flew 3,627 miles to Brookline, Mass. for the U.S. Amateur Championship.

 With no practice rounds, not much sleep and after an across-the-ocean flight, Fernandez shot a 69 in the opening round. He missed the cut by one stroke, but no one else even pulled that “double double” of the European and U.S. Amateurs. His excellence was noteworthy.

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 Incoming freshman women’s golfer Pimrawee “Ning” Huang capped her summer tying for medalist honors in the Ladies A-Class Open at the Dragon Hills Country Club in Thailand. The 18-year-old Huang shot 73-71. Two of her future Cyclone teammates – seniors Sasikarn On-iam (7th) and Prima Thammaraks (14th) – were in the field.

 Youth was served.

 In the photo above, you can see Huang (left) holding one of the runner-up trophies while her more veteran ISU teammates pose with the larger hardware. It’s all in jest among friends.

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 Lastly, Iowa State’s new assistant men’s golf coach Peter Laws (today is his first day on staff) qualified (shooting a 64) for the RBC Canadian Open on the PGA Tour. He shot a pair of 74s and his opening round score was better than both Dustin Johnson and former PGA Champion Y.E. Yang. Well done, Peter.

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 If Hoiberg, Fernandez, Huang or Laws start spinning a tale about “the fish that got away”… you know the stories are, indeed, true.

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Can the “Pistol” offense ignite Iowa State’s power running game?

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One of the storylines for Iowa State’s football team in 2013 will be the utilization of the “Pistol” offense.

 Iowa State’s offensive line coach, Chris Klenakis, was on the staff at Nevada while they developed, tinkered with and excelled using the “Pistol”.

 There is a DVD on the market called “The Pistol Offense: Power Running Game.” The featured presenter is Klenakis.

 Successful “Pistol” teams dominate in the run game. Interestingly, the quarterback has a fundamental role in that run-game excellence.

 Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kapernick was ringleader for Nevada’s “Pistol” offense for four seasons (the first three with Klenakis on staff). Kapernick had three seasons of more than 1,000 yards rushing and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.

 In the 2009 season with Klenakis as the offensive coordinator, Nevada averaged more yards per rushing attempt (7.4) than passing attempt (7.2).

 The Cyclones averaged 150 yards on the ground last season (4.2 per carry) and Coach Paul Rhoads wants more.

 He has an abundance of backs on his roster to carry the ball. It is the deepest position on the team.

 Rhoads also has a QB with a knack for tucking the ball and running for big gains when necessary. Sam Richardson already has a 100-yard rushing game on his college resume.

 We won’t know if Iowa State’s “Pistol” offense is hitting on all cylinders for a couple of weeks, but there appear to be some of the pieces in place to run it successfully.

Playing “smart” football pleased Rhoads at recent scrimmage

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Coach Paul Rhoads put his team through its final scrimmage of fall camp Saturday night and he came away pleased.

 “Effort and physical play (stood out),” Rhoads said. “It was a much cleaner scrimmage than the first one.”

 When Rhoads talks about the “cleanliness” of a scrimmage, he’s invoking coach-speak for playing intelligent football.

 “In the last 48 hours, we’ve become a smarter football team,” Rhoads said afterwards. “And, it’s been dramatic.”

 How does the fifth-year Cyclone coach define playing “smart” football?

 “Stay deeper as a defensive back than the offensive player,” Rhoads said. “Stay outside the block as a defensive player or take the appropriate steps and look the ball into your hands (as a receiver).”

 Rhoads is looking for simple gains.

 “When a game that is played as physical and violent and fast as football – and you’re younger – it’s hard to (play smart),” Rhoads said. “I think we’ve really improved in that regard and it is very encouraging.”

 Play fast… play hard… play physical… and play smart.

 That’s a recipe that any coach would like.

Johnson-Lynch loves her team’s talent and now she searches for ballhandlers.

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Christy Johson-Lynch was pretty excited about prospects for her volleyball team at last week’s media day. Considering the team’s significant graduation losses from a year ago, the positive buzz was noticeable.

 “We’re talented,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I’m really excited about the athletes we have on the floor this year.”

 The Cyclones must replace two-time All-American Alison Landwehr at setter. That’s offset, some, with the return of All-Americans Kristen Hahn (libero) and Victoria Hurtt (outside hitter).

 Johnson-Lynch did note that the team’s ballhandling – which could be impacted by the graduation of Landwehr – will likely determine success.

 “We are athletic and very talented,” Johnson-Lynch reiterated. “But, we have to pass and handle the ball well enough for those (athletic) hitters to get the ball.”

 Johnson-Lynch, a former All-America setter herself in college, is enthused.

 “For me, it’s a new challenge because we have so much to replace,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m excited for the challenge.”

 Johnson-Lynch probably knows there are answers on her roster and that’s the source of her enthusiasm. She and her staff just have to figure how the pieces go together.