Rhoads teaching his Cyclones to believe and they’re learning

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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.

The “process” moves into adjustment phase

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Alabama Coach Nick Saban talks frequently about the “process.” He is referring to the development of a football team each season.

Iowa State’s “process” this fall is a bit more complex with six new assistant coaches on the staff.

Through the spring and fall, the Cyclone coaching staff was in the installation phase.

“I’ll remind you that everything we had done up until (last) Saturday was against ourselves,” Head Coach Paul Rhoads said. “It’s about installation.”

Bringing into outside competition – in other words, playing games – is another step in the “process.”

“It’s (hard to know) what you are capable of until you start facing other people,” Rhoads said. “Now, we start learning and adjusting to our strengths and try to minimize what are weaknesses are.”

After several weeks of going head-to-head in fall camp, players start to recognize formations and tendencies. Some real issues don’t start to surface until game action begins.

Rhoads admitted that the staff is “still learning about their guys and what they’re capable of.”

That’s expected.

Now, the “process” moves into a phase where the coaches are identifying “things that are necessary to be successful.”

The next chance to implement adjustments is Saturday when Kansas State visits. It’s all part of the “process.”

Who said that? Really, Rhoads and CJL both did.

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“We need to keep things in perspective. It’s easy to feel discouraged. If you keep it in perspective and realize (how many) new people are on the court compared to who we were playing against (and understand) we’re moving on, we’re getting better, we have talent and we’re going to be good.”

That quote was from Paul Rhoads, right?

No, it was Iowa State volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch. The reference to new people on the “court” probably gave it away.

But, Johnson-Lynch’s message was pretty similar to what Rhoads shared this week.

“It’s important where we are in November / December,” Johnson-Lynch said. “Not so much (where we are) at this time of the year.”

Johnson-Lynch saw her team drop matches to Stanford and Florida State – now ranked 2nd and 8th nationally – last week. The gap in play was not so much physical according to the coach but rather about execution.

“I think (the difference) was more volleyball than physical,” Johnson-Lynch explained. “It was more about executing the pass to the set to the attack.”

Johnson-Lynch remains confident as she and her staff work through different lineups and adjustments. Rhoads pushed the same theory that his team will get better with game experience

“From what I’ve seen in practice and through our evaluations, I do think we’re getting better,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I’ve asked the team to not be disheartened even though it didn’t feel very good over the weekend. I know we’re talented and getting better.”

Rhoads could have said the same thing. And, in his own way, he probably did.

Bundrage out; who will help counter “man” defense?

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After a quick start on offense – leading to a 14-0 lead – Saturday, Iowa State’s offense stalled.

Game-ending injuries to center Tom Farniok and receiver Quenton Bundrage were cited by many as the reason for the lull.

Paul Rhoads noted that the Bison switched to a man-to-man defense in the secondary to counter ISU’s good start.

“We didn’t perform well against man coverage,” Rhoads said. “That’s the change that North Dakota State made after we were moving the ball against its zone concept. Then, we didn’t perform against man coverage.”

That ties back into the loss of Bundrage. The Cyclones’ big-play receiving threat was out. With two other receivers on the sidelines for other issues, Iowa State didn’t handle the man coverage well.

“We didn’t have people open,” Rhoads said. “(Sam Richardson) was going through his progressions very well and much better than he has in the past.”

Bundrage is out for the season. Someone needs to get open in the passing game to loosen things up. There are lots of candidates.

“With Quenton out, some guys need to step up and make plays at that position,” Rhoads said. “If they don’t, then the execution of the football team is going to suffer.”

Part of the in-game challenge is responding to injuries and part of it is adjusting to the opponent.

The Cyclones could see more man coverage and must execute better against it.

They control that option much more so than how the injury bug strikes.

Rhoads shares steadying message Saturday

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Paul Rhoads delivered several messages Saturday after his Cyclones fell to North Dakota State.

In the locker room, he told his team to move on.

In the give-and-take with the news media, he credited NDSU for its fifth win a row against FBS competition.

“They played a great game,” Rhoads said. “They run a great program and they execute very well.”

Rhoads then dissected his team’s play, highlighting several areas that coaches always focus on.

“When you give any team 500-plus total yards and 300 yards rushing, you’re not going to win,” Rhoads said. “When you lose the turnover margin 2-0, you’re not going to win many football games.”

His most important message came on his post-game radio chat with Eric Heft. Rhoads suggested this team would improve more than any of his prior teams from game one to the end of the season.

Rhoads thinks this team can be on an upward-trending line graph the rest of the year because it’s an athletic group and has a desire to be coached. It’s also a squad without much game experience, especially up the middle on defense, in key areas.

The coach saw potential in a good fall camp, but there are areas of concern too. Game reps will be the biggest teacher.

After outings like Saturday, emotions are all over the board. A steady hand from Rhoads will go a long ways in helping his team grow.

A tough loss for sure. But, you can only control what’s ahead. That goes for coaches, players and fans.

CJL: “We embrace this week”

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Georgia’s Mark Richt, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, LSU’s Les Miles, Wisconsin’s Gary Anderson and Iowa State volleyball coach Christy Johnson-Lynch share something in common.

They have no fears as it relates to scheduling.

The Tigers – Clemson’s version (ranked 16th) – meet the Bulldogs (#12) and the Tigers – LSU’s version (13th) – play the Badgers (#14) Saturday in college football season openers.

Johnson-Lynch will guide her volleyball squad into matches against third-ranked Stanford and 13th-rated Florida State to open the regular season this weekend as part of the AVCA Showcase.

“The theme is that ‘we embrace this week,’” Johnson-Lynch said. “These are the types of teams we’ll need to beat to get to the Final Four and win a Big 12 championship.”

Johnson-Lynch has voluntarily chosen to play 15 nationally ranked teams – in the non-conference part of the year – in her tenure. She likes the competition.

The Cyclones have won seven matches against ranked competition outside of its conference or NCAA Tournament schedule. Those victories – LSU (2007), Kentucky (2010), UNI (2010), Florida (2011), Illinois (2012), UNI (2012) and Nebraska (2012) – enhanced the Cyclones’ tourney resume and boosted confidence.

“It’s great for our fans (too),” Johnson-Lynch said. “This is what we want to be… the type of program that is ready to embrace great competition right off the bat.”

Certainly, there is a touch of apprehension when playing the best of the best.

“It causes me a bit of anxiety,” Johnson-Lynch said. “You would prefer to ease into it, but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for our team.”