Better opponent, better result; improvement continues

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The competition was better.

A year ago, 12th-ranked Baylor hosted Iowa State. Saturday night, the No. 7 Bears visited Ames.

“This Baylor team, in my opinion, is better than the one from a year ago,” Coach Paul Rhoads said.

The results were better.

ISU suffered a humbling loss last fall against the Bears. The Cyclones were competitive early when the schools played last weekend.

“One of our goals was to start positively and we did that,” Rhoads said. “Being at 14-7 at the end of the first quarter gave us a chance to compete.”

The gains from 2013 to 2014 means that Paul Rhoads’ team continued its improvement trend.

“To do some of the things we did against them (leads me to believe) we improved against them,” Rhoads said.

The Cyclone offense sputtered early Saturday, but it got on track.

ISU ran 13 more plays against Baylor than a year ago and averaged 1.7 yards more per play. Iowa State had a season-long 92-yard scoring drive. The team’s third-down conversion percentage was 10% higher and it nearly doubled its total offense (339-174) and did have twice as many first downs (18-9) as the prior time the schools met.

The Cyclone defense also made gains in many areas.

Baylor rushed for 47 yards fewer, passed for 66 yards fewer and averaged more than a yard-and-a-half less per offensive snap. ISU held the Bears to 22 fewer points than the match-up in Waco a year ago. The Cyclones also managed a sack and turnover, and they did neither last year.

In its first three games of ‘14, Baylor had jumped to leads of 35-0, 28-0 and 45-0. When the Bears opened with TDs on two first quarter two drives, you wondered if more of the same was coming. Much like its game vs. K-State several weeks back, however, Iowa State rallied.

That resiliency is important. Add in continued improvement in the coming weeks and the win-loss ledger could very well start to even out.

ISU offense vs. Baylor defense features two coaches with similar tales

Mangino, Mark_Spring Game_2014_5

One of the interesting matchups when Baylor visits Iowa State this weekend will be a chess match between Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett.

It’s an important match-up because it will likely influence time of possession, which is potentially Iowa State’s best friend.

The coaches’ backgrounds are eerily similar and their reputations as coordinators widely respected.

Mangino played collegiately at Youngstown State and later served two separate tenures on the Penguins’ coaching staff. Bennett was a defensive end at Texas A&M and eventually served two terms as an Aggie assistant.

Both Mangino and Bennett (1983-86 as defensive coordinator) have coached at Iowa State.

Each man spent time working for Bill Snyder at Kansas State, but not at the same time. Bennett was the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator from 1999-2001. Mangino worked with the K-State offensive line from 1991-98.

Both coached at Oklahoma, but during different eras. Mangino was line coach (1999) and offensive coordinator (2000-01) for the Sooners, while Bennett led their secondary in 1997.

Bennett was a head coach at SMU for six years and compiled a 19-51 record. Mangino led the Kansas program for eight seasons and built a 50-48 record.

As direct competitors, Mangino and Bennett have been on opposite sidelines three times previously:

• Oct. 19, 1996: K-State defeated Texas A&M, 23-20
• Oct. 14, 2000: Oklahoma defeated K-State, 41-31
• Sept. 29, 2001: Oklahoma defeated K-State, 38-37

The fourth match-up is Saturday night and the competition between their units (ISU offense vs. Baylor defense) will be one of the key storylines.

Time is what’s on Paul Rhoads’ mind

On the one hand, football coach Paul Rhoads felt he had too much time on his hands.

“We’ve had two weeks to prepare for Baylor,” Rhoads, whose club is coming off a bye week, said. “I’m not so sure that two days wouldn’t be better. We’d be less scared in that time frame for preparation.”

Baylor is quick-strike again in 2014. That’s the way they play. Rhoads doesn’t want an offensive battle with the nation’s highest-scoring offense.

In 79 games as Baylor’s coach, Art Briles has watched his team score 3,016 points. It took the Bears 155 games to score that many points prior to his arrival in Waco.

On the other hand, Rhoads is looking for even more time (with possession of the ball) vs. Baylor.

With BU’s ability to score, Rhoads is focused on clock management and making first downs when the teams meet Saturday at 7:20 p.m.

“We have to shorten the game,” Rhoads said. “It’s been evident through three games that we’re not operating at a fast tempo. The bigger piece is not when you’re snapping the ball (on the play clock) but keeping it and getting first downs.

In last year’s game in Waco, the Cyclones managed a season-low nine first downs and endured six three-and-out series. That must change.

“(Our goal) is not to have three long plays but instead having 13 long plays and ending up in the end zone,” Rhoads said.

Shutting down Baylor is improbable, so keeping the ball away from the Bears is a prerequisite for team success.

Believe it or not: Rhoads says Bears are run first.

Baylor is the only school in the NCAA that has averaged better than 340 yards passing in each of the last four seasons.

“I do believe they are run-first,” Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday.

Perplexed? Don’t be. The Bears are equally dangerous via the ground game.

“As explosive as they are in the pass game, you better stop their run game to have a chance to have overall success.”

Baylor is joined by Army, Navy, Air Force, Georgia Tech, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois as the only schools in the nation to run for at least 230 yards per game in each of the last four campaigns.

Guard against the long pass play and they tickle you underneath. Stack up too many people near the line and they’ll fire missiles downfield.

The orchestra leader is Bryce Petty. Rhoads thinks he should be the Heisman Trophy front-runner in 2014.

“I told Art (Briles) a year ago that I felt he (Petty) was better than the two previous (Baylor QBs – Robert Griffin and Nick Florence),” Rhoads said. “He’s that good of a football player.”

Rhoads credited the Baylor offense’s ability to adjust to what the defense shows and do so after the snap.

“It’s extremely unique,” Rhoads said.

It’s extremely productive, too.

Cyclones’ schedule was key in Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series victory

Capezio, Ciara_Baylor13-13

The Iowa State volleyball team swept Iowa Saturday afternoon to assume a 7-0 lead in the annual Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series, but match scores didn’t indicate the closeness of the competition.

“It’s an interesting match (vs. Iowa) because they always seem to play 10 times better than what you saw on film,” Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said. “It’s the rivalry. We know how much it means to the series and it’s important for us to contribute.”

The Cyclones’ schedule – having a full week to prepare – was key according to the head coach.

“This match kept me up all night, all week,” Johnson-Lynch said. “There’s a lot going on with their offense. They run a lot of different plays and there is quite a bit to keep track of.”

Earlier this season, the Cyclones hosted national powers Stanford and Florida State in the AVCA Showcase. The match against the Seminoles, in particular, was great preparation for Iowa.

“I would compare them (Iowa) to Florida State,” Johnson-Lynch said in regards to match preparation. “Luckily, we had a week to prepare and that helped a lot.”

The win was the Cyclones’ 10th in a row against Iowa. It wasn’t easy, however, and good scheduling was a major factor.

Rhoads teaching his Cyclones to believe and they’re learning

Rhoads, Paul14NDSU10

There is a mental resolve with this Iowa State football team and it was on full display Saturday in Iowa City.

As he left the field at halftime, Coach Paul Rhoads told the Cyclone Radio Network audience that his team needed to believe it could win despite facing a 14-3 deficit. The Cyclones had just suffered a damaging end zone fumble as they left the field.

Additionally, ISU faced a negative 10-minute margin in time of possession. Only three times previously – Army (2009), Kansas (2010) and UConn (2011) – in Rhoads’ tenure had his club suffered a 10-minute TOP deficit in the opening half and recovered to win.

But, Rhoads was intent on coaxing a comeback out of his troops. He believed his team could rally because he witnessed a strong will a week earlier vs. K-State.

Trailing the Wildcats 13-0 in the first quarter (and being outgained 176-4 to that point), the Cyclones went to work. Sam Richardson hit 5-5 passes on a scoring drive that cut the margin to 13-7 vs. the Wildcats.

That scoring drive in desperate circumstances was symbolic of the determination this team has.
It was the beginning of a foundation that Rhoads is trying to build upon. Against Iowa, Rhoads added more bricks and mortar.

“That (Iowa) game was won between the ears,” Rhoads said. “One of the things for the week was that we couldn’t have any doubt we would win the game.”

Getting better at throwing, tackling, kicking, running and catching is all part of the coaching curriculum. Rhoads, however, might be making more gains with building a belief.

“I’m a teacher,” said the son of a former high school coach and former teacher. “I love lessons. Through two weeks, we’ve had a lot of lessons to learn from.”

Lesson learned. The payback was Iowa State’s third win in four years of the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series.

Cyclones need to block better

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Christy Johnson-Lynch is intent on improving her volleyball team’s blocking skills. It’s fundamental to success.

“We have really good size, so you would expect us to be a good blocking team,” Johnson-Lynch said. “As one coach told me, if you’re not going to block, you may as well get smaller players that can handle the ball. If you’re going to go big, you’d better block.”

Iowa State has chosen to go big. Eight of the 16 players on the roster stand 6-feet or taller. They are committed to being a good blocking team.

After recording three blocks in each of the season’s first three matches, the Cyclones registered 9.0 blocks vs. Tennessee and 10.0 blocks vs. Northern Illinois last weekend.

The Cyclones’ blocking stats is recent years has taken a bit of a dip.

“We changed our system and maybe tried to fix something that wasn’t broken,” Johnson-Lynch.

The team is, once again, using a stationary blocking technique, instead of a swing blocking technique. Johnson-Lynch said the swinging style is more difficult because there are more moving parts.

“(Stationary blocking) is simpler and I’m probably better at coaching it,” Johnson-Lynch explained. “Now, we go stand where we think the ball will go and jump straight up.”

If the results of the last two matches are a good indicator, moving back to stationary blocking is having the desired effect.

“We’ll continue to work on it every day until we become great,” Johnson-Lynch added.

Behind the curtain of improvement were some leaders emerging

Miller, Jevohn14KSU

Leaders aren’t necessarily defined by title, seniority, ability or electability. They emerge from different circumstances.

Iowa State’s football team got better last week and behind the curtain of improvement were some subtle leadership shifts.

Here are three stories:

Senior wide receiver Jarvis West was given the chance to step forward after a season-ending injury to fellow pass catcher Quenton Bundrage early in the first game. West, a talented and quiet playmaker, led by example. He accounted for three touchdowns (29-yard pass, 17-yard reception and 82-yard punt return) vs. K-State.

“If you would have asked who our go-to wide receiver would be by the time the season ends, we all would have said Quenton Bundrage,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “Right now that shifts to Jarvis West at the wide receiver position.”

Senior center Tom Farniok was elected a team captain by his teammates during the offseason. An injury in the opener vs. North Dakota State took his veteran leadership off the field. Farniok’s quick recovery and return to the field in one week, however, brought a key leader back into the mix.

“Impressed, without a doubt,” Rhoads said of Farniok’s return to the lineup after one week. “Within a week’s time, and on a shorter preparation time, he was back out there leading that offensive line. My hat goes off to any player that is playing through pain and injury.”

Senior linebacker Jevohn Miller made his first college start at middle linebacker after four years of training at will linebacker. The somewhat soft-spoken Miller’s move was one of three changes in the starting linebacker lineup. He called a players-only meeting last week and followed it up by registering a team-best 11 tackles vs. K-State.

“I don’t think I would have ever seen Jevohn as a leader, as a guy who would be vocal and step up,” Rhoads said. “He’s grown tremendously. Without question he and Cory Morrissey (an elected team captain) are the leaders of our defense. I’m proud of him (Miller) for stepping up. I think he realized the position he was in this summer (as a veteran) and has been smart enough to take advantage of that.”

Pieces of the Cyclones’ offensive puzzle are coming together

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The Iowa State offense is putting the pieces of its puzzle together.

One section of the puzzle coming together is the passing game. Through two contests, quarterback Sam Richardson has completed 65.6% of his passes. That is 10% better than last year. ISU hasn’t completed 60% of its throws for a season since 2007.

“We didn’t throw and catch with the rate of success (in ‘13) that we are right now,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “We didn’t finish pass plays like we are right now. Too many pass plays broke down and we never got past the first progression.”

Rhoads thinks that Richardson’s poise in the pocket has led to an improvement in making it through the progressions.

“It’s a quarterback friendly offense,” Richardson offered as the reason for his improvement.

Rhoads now seeks to connect some pieces in the running game. The Cyclone averaged 3.3 yards per carry against North Dakota State and Kansas State. Last season, the average was 3.5.

“Running the ball successfully comes down to two primary things,” Rhoads said. “You’ve got to block well and the runner has to run well. Overall we’re not doing a good enough job.”

Blockers have to keep defenders occupied if they’re not knocking them out of the way. And, the backs have to make people miss.

“There was always a guy we didn’t account for with Troy Davis,” Rhoads said of the former Cyclone great. “He was Troy’s guy. The ball carriers have to account for some people in the run game as well.”

The pieces are starting to fit together, and soon, we should have a good idea of what this puzzle really looks like.

Sam’s improvement mirrors that of the team

Richardson, Sam B14NDSU10

The Iowa State football team opened its season against a defending national champion, then faced a nationally ranked foe and now plays an unbeaten team on the road.

It is against that backdrop that Paul Rhoads’ team is trying to get better.

“We made great improvement from week one to week two in all areas and aspects of the program,” Rhoads said Saturday afternoon.

When pressed for specific improvements on a couple of players, Rhoads said he couldn’t speak candidly until he reviewed game video.

One player that Rhoads heaped praise on without the benefit of his TV remote was QB Sam Richardson.

“I think Sam played very well and I just got done telling him that,” Rhoads said shortly after the Kansas State game. “He’s probably played – overall, top-to-bottom – his best two games as our starting quarterback in the last two games.”

Two years ago, Richardson came off the bench for his first extensive college action with no warning. He completed 36-58 throws for 412 yards and seven TDs in the last two regular-season games (at Kansas and vs. West Virginia).

Statistically, those were Richardson’s top career games to date.

Through two games this fall, Richardson has connected on 41-61 passes for 336 yards. He has also run for 90 yards.

And, Rhoads feels he is playing his best football right now. He’s seeing things better, he’s poised and he’s executing.

Like his team, Richardson is getting better. As long as that trend continues, wins will come, too.