Tackling issues prevalent at pro level, too, but Rhoads is determined to shore it up at ISU.

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Paul Rhoads was talking football – specifically tackling – with former Cyclone and NFL defensive coordinator Larry Coyer on Saturday.

  “I told him (Coyer) that I can’t stomach poor run defense and atrocious tackling,” Rhoads said. “(Coyer’s) simple reply was ‘don’t coach pro football.”

 Apparently, poor tackling technique bothered Coyer while he was working at the pro level.

 Slowing the run game has been problematic for the Cyclones in its last three games. Not coincidentally, ISU’s best run defense came in its top two performances (Tulsa and Texas).

 “We’re not doing the right things to be a good tackling team the last couple of games,” Rhoads said.  “You’ve got to make it a priority as a player. It’s hitting the gap instead of lingering and seeing if the ball cuts back. It’s taking care of your responsibility.”

 K-State will bring a strong ground game on Saturday. The Wildcats’ two-quarterback offense includes the league’s top running QB. That will be a different challenge for the Cyclones. To combat that approach, Rhoads is looking for strong fundamentals.

 “I can’t stand poor fundamentals related to anything defensively and tackling is right at the top,” Rhoads said.

 From what Coyer suggested, tackling is suffering at the highest levels of football these days, too. It is a malady that the Cyclones are working to correct every single day on the practice field.

Rhoads and Snyder appear like-minded as it relates to playing true freshmen

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When people talk about Iowa State’s formula for football success, they sometimes point to Bill Snyder’s Kansas State program as one to emulate.

 Rhoads shared some thoughts about the coaching career of Snyder Monday.

 “Just a first-class, high-integrity professional,” Rhoads said of Snyder. “I have a huge amount of respect and admiration for what he has done… a huge amount.”

 Both men believe in playing fundamentally sound football. Both head coaches also believe in training and developing their talent until it’s ready for game action.

 As such, cornerback Nigel Tribune is the only Cyclone true freshman to play this fall.

 “It has not been a desire to keep true freshmen (off the field) to save that year,” Rhoads said. “It’s been more a matter of if they’re ready or not.”

 Tribune, in fact, is the only true freshman to play from Iowa State’s last 2 recruiting classes.

 “You’ve got 2 things you are looking at,” Rhoads said. “Is there an immediate need where you don’t have a choice – Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Jeremy Reaves (for example) – and is the guy too good that you can’t afford to keep him on the bench?”

 Interestingly, Snyder is using just one true freshman (DE Jordan Willis) this year as well. Both the Cyclones and Wildcats have played three junior college transfers.

 ISU and K-State are at the low end of the range as it relates to playing freshmen from the ’13 recruiting class.

 While the Cyclones and Wildcats have used one freshman each, Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (8), Texas Tech (8) and TCU (6) have utilized the most first-year freshmen. West Virginia and Kansas have not played many freshmen, but have used 10 and 9 JC transfers, respectively, in 2013.

 “We’ll continue that same philosophy as we go forward,” Rhoads said about putting young guys on the field.

 He may as well have been speaking for Snyder, too.

Percentage of bowl-eligible teams in the Big 12 is second-best in the nation and ISU has played 3 of them

Thirty-four football teams reached bowl eligibility before Halloween this year.

Six of them are from the SEC, five from the ACC and four from the Big 12.

As a percentage of conference membership, the SEC (.429), Big 12 (.400) and ACC (.357) rank 1-2-3.

Iowa State has already faced three of the four Big 12 bowl-eligible teams in its opening month of league play.

Twenty-five years ago, only 34 schools in total got to participate in bowl games. Today, there are 70 bids available.

With the inventory of bowls so dramatically increased, a preponderance to schedule weakly by some schools and more regular-season games today, qualifying for bowl consideration isn’t what it used to be.

Three of the already bowl-eligible schools (Buffalo, Rice and Oregon State) have not defeated a team with a winning record. Ouch.

The Big 12 set a college football record a year ago when 90% of its schools reached post-season play. The league will likely fall short of that mark in 2013, but four (of 10) have already qualified before the calendar turned to November.

Thankfully, three of those four league peers with bowl bids coming to them have already played ISU.

 

Make a big play and then get treated… it’s been a tiring combination for ISU.

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The Cyclones have stated a desire to create more big plays on offense in each of Coach Paul Rhoads’ seasons in Ames.

 Through 7 games, ISU has registered six plays of at least 50 yards. That’s the good news.

 Sophomore Quenton Bundrage is the acknowledged big-play specialist on offense. He has TD catches of 97 (longest pass play in ISU history) and 65 yards this season. Bundrage, who leads the team with 6 touchdowns, has also been the healthiest of the big-play guys.

 The bad news is how the injury bug keeps hitting the players, who created the long plays.

 Quarterback Sam Richardson has brought big-play skills to the offense with both his arm and feet. Of the six plays longer than 50 yards this fall, Sam has been involved in four of them (one run, three passes). Richardson, of course, also leads the team in injuries. Several weeks ago, Rhoads noted he was on the injury list for four different ailments. After a crunching hit which folded him over on Saturday, Richardson sat out the second half.

 Aaron Wimberly has a 78-yard kickoff return and both a run and reception longer than 30 yards in his rookie season at ISU. He also emerged from a crowded backfield this season and registered a pair of 100-yard games consecutively to earn the starting spot at tailback. Wimberly didn’t play Saturday after tweaking a hamstring in practice late last week.

 Jarvis West, the third-leading punt returner in the Big 12 and author of a 95-yard kickoff return vs. Texas Tech, recently started making an impact on special teams. Baylor, in fact, kicked away from him all evening. West, unfortunately, suffered a MCL injury Saturday and never returned to action. He is likely out for four weeks.

 Although he has not registered a play of 50 yards yet, tight end E.J. Bibbs did get loose for a 38 yarder vs. Oklahoma State and is becoming another big-play option. Bibbs, of course, also had to get treated on field Saturday and will be nursing an injury in the coming games.

 While Rhoads is getting his wish with the development of some playmakers, it sure would be a nice twist if the Cyclones could get all of them on the field at the same time for a spell.

Sam’s the man and here’s what Rhoads is seeking from him.

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Sam Richardson will be Iowa State’s quarterback Saturday against Oklahoma State Saturday. Coach Paul Rhoads said so earlier this week.

 Rhoads also suggested some ways Richardson can help make the offense more effective.

 “He’s got to make smarter decisions and quicker judgments,” Rhoads said.

 Dan Marino, who threw for more than 61,000 yards in the NFL, built his game on quick decisions and a fast trigger.

 “All of the great ones see the game so quickly and they know exactly where they want the ball to go,” Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott once said of Marino. “You were at Dan’s mercy (because of that).”

 Rhoads also suggested Richardson needs to get the ball out of his hands faster so pass protection doesn’t need to hold up as long.

 Mike Leach, now the head coach at Washington State, has earned a reputation for leading relentless and quick-strike passing attacks. Part of Leach’s approach is getting the ball from quarterback to receiver ASAP.

 “I spend more time trying to make my offense easy for the quarterback to memorize than anything,” Leach said in the book, The System. “I want to make it as simple as possible (for the QB) because I want guys to trigger it as quick as possible.”

 Make quick judgments and get the ball out of the QB’s hands fast. Rhoads believes that’s an attainable key for his offense.

 Based upon what Marino accomplished and Leach’s record, that sounds like a practical approach.

Cyclones bring home a good report card

Report cards were given out to athletics departments across the nation today and Iowa State student-athletes brought home a good one.

 The NCAA released graduation rate data and the Cyclones had a rate of 71%. That mark bettered the school’s undergrad graduation rate (for only the third time), ranked second in the Big 12 and was second-best at Iowa State since 1999.

 Iowa State joined TCU, Kansas, Purdue, Iowa, Washington State and Alabama as the only schools from the Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, American Athletic, ACC or Big Ten with student-athlete graduation rates above 70% as well as better marks than undergraduates.

 The federal graduation rate is the oldest benchmark available. It’s an interesting tool because it tracks the graduation rates of only scholarship freshmen recruits from each class and it gives a six-year window for those cohorts to get a degree.

 If a student-athlete transfers from a school, he/she is counted as a non-graduate even if they obtain a degree at their new school. Transfers (from other universities or junior colleges) coming into an institution don’t count either, even if they gain a degree.

 The Cyclones had four sports – volleyball, women’s gymnastics, women’s swimming & diving and men’s golf – with the highest rates in the Big 12 this year.

 It was, in general, a good report card. The student-athletes, who did the work, should be commended.

Line shuffle continues for Cyclones and here’s some context

Paul Rhoads was pleased to see Jamison Lalk return to action last week as it added another body to the depth chart of the offensive line. Lalk got some second-half snaps.

 Tuesday, however, Rhoads started his media conference with the news that senior Kyle Lichtenberg’s injury at Baylor was more severe than initially thought.

 It’s another one-for-one switch (Lalk is back, Lichtenberg is gone) for the Cyclone’s injury-plagued and inexperienced offensive line.

 “That means we’ll be playing our seventh different offensive line (in as many games),” Rhoads said of this weekend’s encounter with Oklahoma State.

 Baylor and Kansas State have started the same line in all 6 games to date. Oklahoma and Texas have used only two starting lineups in 7 and 6 games, respectively. Texas Tech and West Virginia have used 3 lineups in 7 weeks and Kansas 3 in 6 weeks.

 For the Cyclones, it will be 7 different line combinations in 7 weeks.

 Youth has also been a complicating factor.

 “I looked out there Sunday (at practice) and we had sophomore, sophomore, junior, sophomore and freshman across the board (from tackle to tackle) on the o-line,” Rhoads said.

 Just to give some perspective to the Cyclones’ inexperience up front, I assigned points for the number of seniors (4), juniors (3), sophomores (2) and freshmen (1) on Big 12 offensive line projected starter lists.

 The Cyclones totaled 10 points with Tom Farniok (jr.), Brock Dagel (soph.), Lalk (soph.), Oni Omoile (soph.) and Daniel Burton (fresh.) the probable starters for Saturday.

 West Virginia (18 points), Texas (17), Oklahoma State (17), Oklahoma (17), Kansas State (17), Kansas (17), Baylor (16), TCU (14) and Texas Tech (13) all have significantly more experience in the trenches.

 ISU’s Burton is the only freshman lineman in the Big 12 listed as a starter this week.

 “That’s what we’ve got right now,” Rhoads said.

 Each week the experience meter goes up and that should pay dividends down the road, including the last half of this season.

With a bunched up Big 12 race, one win would change Cyclone fortunes dramatically

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If Iowa State upsets Oklahoma State (and Kansas State wins at home over West Virginia) Saturday, the Cyclones will be one game out of the upper division of the Big 12 standings.

 Let that sink in.

 Five schools – TCU, West Virginia, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State – have 3 league losses each. Five schools – Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas – have 1 or fewer losses.

 Should the Cyclones pull an upset this week (and K-State holds serve at home), ISU would improve its conference record to 1-3. A Cowboy loss to Iowa State would level their mark at 2-2.

 There would be a one-game separation between upper (the fifth-place Cowboys) and lower (several schools, including ISU, tied for sixth) levels in the Big 12.

 It’s also worth taking a look at remaining schedules in the Big 12.

 Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech have four games left against schools currently in the first-division schools. Oklahoma and Texas have three such games left.

 West Virginia has just one game remaining against an upper-division team. Iowa State, Kansas State and TCU have two each and Kansas faces three teams presently in the top half of the league standings.

 The Big 12 schedule is nearing its halfway point, but there is a real opportunity to climb quickly in the league’s standings with a couple of wins.

 Obviously, there is still much to play for.

Self-scout in progress for Cyclones as ranked Cowboys await

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The stop-and-go nature of football leads to over analysis of every snap. As observers, we seem to play the “what if” game ad nauseam in football because there is time to reflect between plays.

 Saturday night’s loss at Baylor didn’t lend itself to that type of scrutiny. Coach Paul Rhoads said his team got whipped.

 “You don’t lose a game like that with players,” Rhoads said afterwards. “You lose a game like this as a complete organization. It starts with examining your plan, why you went with it, why it was ineffective and why things didn’t get accomplished.”

 Rhoads, as team leader, has faced wildly different mental preparations for his team throughout the 2013 campaign. The X’s and O’s is one thing in game planning, but he’s dealt with emotional extremes based upon weekly results, too.

 After Texas, it was rallying his troops after a questionable loss. After Baylor, it will be creating a plan and building a belief in that plan after a blowout.

 “That’s what a team does and that’s what we’ll set out to do,” Rhoads said. “I can’t sulk and I can’t pout. I’ve got to find a way to do my job better.”

 There’s a lot on Rhoads’ plate this week and another ranked team will be visiting Ames Saturday.

Slowing Baylor ground game is the best approach for ISU defenders.

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The top six rushing offense averages in college football belong to Army, New Mexico, Oregon, Baylor, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.

 If you engage a search engine to learn about the offensive styles of those schools, the term “option” pops up in nearly all of them (exception: UW).

 “Read” option, “speed” option, “triple” option, “spread” option. Any old kind of option, apparently, leads to a prolific ground game.

 Certainly, the Black Knights, Lobos, Badgers and Yellow Jackets are ground-based attacks. The Bears and Ducks – especially the Bears – are also known for explosive passing games.

 BU is No. 1 nationally in passing yards per game and team pass efficiency. The Cyclones need to slow the Baylor passing game, right?

 “(A year ago against Baylor), we defended the run very well and every game starts with defending the run,” said Coach Paul Rhoads. “We didn’t do that (last week) at Texas Tech, a team that got more than double what they had been averaging on the ground.”

 Rhoads explained that slowing Baylor’s ground game in 2012 allowed his team to play one of their better defensive games of the season. However, in 2011, Baylor ran for 391 yards against the Cyclones in a 49-26 win in Waco.

 It’s nearly impossible to shut down Baylor’s run or pass game, but here’ a guess that Rhoads and his team are going to put their best foot forward in knocking the Bears’ run game off balance.