Kansas State will be the seventh nationally ranked school that the Cyclone football team has faced this fall. That is the order of the day when you play in a league with the firepower of the Big 12. Paul Rhoads and his staff take the same game-week approach no matter if the opponent has a glossy resume or not. Rhoads maintains a steady hand with his weekly preparation and it is paying dividends. Rhoads has won three of 14 games (.214) against Associated Press Top 25 schools as head coach. The wins came at Texas (2010), at Texas Tech (2011) and against Oklahoma State two games ago. Rhoads is currently tied for the second-most wins against ranked teams in school history. Earle Bruce had the most wins (five) and the highest percentage (.238) of victories. Rhoads, the third-year Cyclone head coach, joins Jim Walden (eight years at ISU) and Dan McCarney (12) with three wins vs. nationally rated schools. Donnie Duncan (four) and Jim Criner (four) beat one ranked team each and Johnny Majors (five) earned one tie against rated competition. The polls have changed over the years. Today, 25 schools are ranked each week. The seasons have gotten longer, too. That means there are more opportunities for wins against rated schools today than there were in previous eras. But, you’d be hard-pressed to spin it any other way than saying Rhoads had quickly established a reputation for noteworthy victories. The Cyclones have a shot at a third win over a ranked team this weekend. That has never been done previously at Iowa State. Reader feedback is welcome at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
“Iowa State is the overall #4 seed,” ESPN’s Beth Mowins announced on the NCAA Volleyball Selection Show Sunday night. Let that sink in. Christy Johnson-Lynch has authored a scintillating story with her Cyclone volleyball program. But, it’s hard to put into words how dramatic the climb has been from Big 12 cellar dweller to a top four seed in the NCAA Championship. “That #4 seed is a reflection of the very tough schedule we played and the wins we had over really good teams,” Johnson-Lynch said. “We keep a very close eye on the RPI and that’s what the (selection) committee looks at. We’ve been educated that the RPI counts a lot.” The Cyclones’ 22-5 record included two wins over nationally ranked Oklahoma, a victory at #9 Florida and road trips to both UNI (#6 overall tourney seed) and Nebraska (#2). Johnson-Lynch is embracing the opportunity to host first- and second-round matches at Hilton Coliseum because it’s a huge advantage to play in front of the excitable ISU fans. The field, she said, is more wide open than any season since she became a head coach. “There are no dominant teams,” Johnson-Lynch said. “I feel like we have just as good of a shot as anyone to make a huge run (in the tournament).” Early this season, Johnson-Lynch questioned herself about an especially rugged pre-league schedule. This week, she is celebrating a high NCAA seed and getting the chance to open tournament play in Ames. Reader feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
Iowa State’s defense must have drawn a line in the sand about a month ago. That is when the fortunes of the Cyclone football team changed course. Entering the Oklahoma game, this blog suggested the defensive turn-around is what sparked a second-half-of-the-season surge. Friday seemed like a good day to write that because the high-powered Sooners were on deck. But, it was more of the same in Norman. ISU held Oklahoma to 26 points, it second-lowest (Florida State limited OU to 23) total of the year. Three times the Sooners took possession in ISU territory and had to settle for a field goal. The Sooners’ two biggest plays (88 yards worth) were reverses. In the last month of the season, Iowa State’s defense has been the league’s best in the most important category – scoring. During that timeframe, the Cyclones faced the Big 12’s top two offenses (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma). Here is the list of Big 12 scoring averages the last four games: Iowa State (18.5 ppg), Texas (19.7), Missouri (21.0), Oklahoma (23.2), Oklahoma State (28.0), Texas A&M (32.0), Kansas (34.7), Baylor (37.2), Kansas State (43.2) and Texas Tech (53.7).
It can’t be overstated the importance of the experience in the staff meeting room with Paul Rhoads, Wally Burnham and Bobby Elliott having combined for nearly four decades as defensive coordinators. But, as important as that coaching experience, is the execution by a young football team. It is becoming the storyline of the season.
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Casual observers of the Iowa State football program might point to a mid-season change at quarterback – from Steele Jantz to Jared Barnett – as a turning point of the season.
But, that’s not reality. The Cyclones, in fact, have won the same number of games with each player behind center. “We don’t have six wins without the play of Jantz,” Coach Paul Rhoads said.
The second-half-of-the-season surge has been led by the defense.
After surrendering 37, 49 and 52 points in consecutive weeks against Texas, Baylor and Missouri, the Cyclone defense has stepped up. Consider the facts:
· Iowa State held Texas A&M to 33 points, eight below the Aggies’ season average;
· The Cyclones held then 19th-ranked Texas Tech to seven points, 25 points below the Red Raiders’ season average;
· Kansas scored 10 points – 13.5 below its average – at Ames;
· No. 2 Oklahoma State scored 31points (in double overtime), nearly 20 points below its average of 50 ppg.
Perhaps, people are starting to notice the ISU defense. Linebacker A.J. Klein was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week vs. OSU after registering 14 tackles and a forced fumble.
“I’m happy that a Cyclone finally won that award,” Rhoads said. “We’ve had some other players deserving earlier this season.” Reader feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
Iowa State’s loss at Missouri was a low point of the season. It evened the team record after ISU had opened the year with three wins. People were wondering if the wheels had fallen off the cart. Since then, ISU has won three of four games including victories at 19th-ranked Texas Tech (41-7) and vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State. “We’ve played better and prepared better (since Missouri),” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “We started gaining confidence when we left the field after A&M (the game following Mizzou).” Rhoads knows it sounds strange to say the team improved in a 16-point loss to the Aggies, but it’s the truth. “We played with them (the Aggies) after not doing that at Columbia, Mo.,” Rhoads said. “(Playing A&M competitively) helped accelerate our preparation for Texas Tech, which is still the most complete game we’ve played in three years.” Oklahoma, a 29-point favorite, is this week’s foe. It’s another formidable challenge for the improving Cyclones. “Our confidence has been growing by leaps and bounds in the last five weeks and Oklahoma State helped that even more,” Rhoads said. They’ll need that confidence Saturday facing the Sooners, who lead the series by a large margin and have spent much of the year ranked atop the national polls. Reader feedback is welcome at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
There is a song by Natalie Brown titled “You Gotta Believe.” Obviously, there is a locker room full of Cyclone football players, coaches and support staff who do believe. Nearly all of the experts suggested the 2011 football schedule at Iowa State would be too challenging for success. The Cyclones were picked by nearly everyone to finish ninth or 10th in the Big 12. “I can’t find more than three wins on that schedule,” one said. In advance of Friday night’s game with Oklahoma State, all of the talk centered around the Cowboys’ possible trip to the BCS national championship game and what they would need to do to defeat Oklahoma in early December. I read a number of stories by the national experts and found only one that even noted OSU had to play in Ames before facing the Sooners. The Cyclones have been overlooked all year. That’s OK if the people doing the heavy lifting – players and coaches – are believers. “They believed, they kept fighting, they won,” Desmond Howard said on ESPN Game Day. “If you believe, you can do anything,” cornerback Jeremy Reeves said. “(We won) with a strong conviction that we could,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. The doubters will likely remain. So, the Cyclones will carry that lack of respect into its last two games and, eventually, the post-season. “You men are going bowling again,” Rhoads yelled to his team in the locker room. And, it’s not yet time to stop believing. Reader feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
One way for the Cyclones to slow down the potent offense of Oklahoma State tonight would be to control the clock and play keep-away with the ball. That is usually done with an effective running game. Oklahoma State’s touchdown drives this season average one minute and 49 seconds in length. That figure leads the nation. The Cyclones’ running attack has improved this season and the credit should be shared. Three Iowa State runners are averaging more than 60 yards rushing per game (James White, 68.7; Shontrelle Johnson, 61.8; and Jared Barnett, 60.8). Johnson, of course, has missed much of the season with a neck injury. But, the reality is that the Cyclones still feature two active runners (the QB and TB) averaging better 60 ypg. Unusual? You bet. In the last 20 years, it has never happened at ISU. In seven of those seasons (1991-94, 2002-03 and 2007), no Cyclone averaged better than 60 yards on the ground. The last time ISU had two runners (ironically a TB and QB like White / Johnson and Barnett), was 1991. Blaise Bryant (83.7) and Chris Pedersen (63.3) were the players. In an added twist, Bryant will be in attendance at Friday’s game. He’ll be introduced. Perhaps, there is some karma there. To be in the ballgame against Oklahoma State, the Cyclones need to control the clock and a strong running game would be a fine start. Reader feedback is welcome at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
Paul Rhoads said he gets shivers when watching the Oklahoma State offense. Rhoads said that he went four-wheeling with his kids last weekend after seeing the Cowboys’ first TD against Texas Tech on tape. He kidded that he didn’t want to see more. “That offensive football team is scary explosive,” Rhoads said. “It (might be) the best I’ve ever tried to defend.” Although their statistics are eye popping, it was the Cowboys’ offensive depth chart that surprised Rhoads. “They list 13 starters,” Rhoads explained. “I don’t know how you prepare for that.” Full disclosure: OSU has a couple of extra offensive players listed on the charts because of the different sets they employ. Beyond the five linemen, quarterback and tailback, the Cowboys also have four wide receivers, a tight end and a fullback on the depth chart. Some coordinators have likely felt, at times, like they’re defending a team with more than the legal limit of 11 players. But, in reality, Rhoads feels the success of the OSU attack is based upon execution and not complexity. “On both sides of the ball, (OSU) isn’t overly complicated,” Rhoads said. “What they’re doing offensively is what a lot of folks are doing. They just do it so well they have great success.” Reader feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
The hype machine for Friday’s prime-time game between Iowa State and Oklahoma State is in full force. The ESPN commercials touting the chance to see the second-ranked Cowboys are running frequently. “You accept a scholarship in the Big 12 to play in these types of games,” Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday. Beyond the chance for the Cyclones to measure themselves against the nation’s best, there is another celebration on tap that isn’t gaining as much attention. It is the final Jack Trice Stadium appearance for seniors Ter’Ran Benton, Reid Brandenhorst, Earl Brooks, Darius Darks, Zack Guyer, Hayworth Hicks, Leonard Johnson, Jake Lattimer, Grant Mahoney, Patrick Mulcahy, Patrick Neal, Kelechi Osemele, Tyler Petersen, Stephen Ruempolhamer, Darius Reynolds, Michael Romey, Zach Spears, Matt Ta’fo’ou and Dakota Zimmerman. This group never wavered in their commitment to Iowa State despite (many of them) enduring a coaching transition. “Any time you come into a program (as a coach), you try to establish your philosophies and culture,” Rhoads said. “This group embraced the things we were teaching. To be playing meaningful games in the month of November is a credit to who they are and what they’ve given to the program.” The hype for the game is valid. Just be sure to save some genuine applause for the seniors, too. They are leaving a noteworthy legacy. Reader feedback is welcome at email@example.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow
Oklahoma State visits Jack Trice Stadium Friday night and it will bring the nation’s No. 2 ranking, a 10-0 record and an interesting statistical resume. Much has been written about the Cowboys’ offense and its stable of playmakers working in tandem with a veteran line. Their statistics are video game-like. OSU is third nationally in total offense (565.3 ypg). They score more than 50 points per game overall. At the same time, their defense surrenders 442.2 ypg and is ranked 101st nationally. There is a difference of 98 places between the NCAA rankings of their total offense and total defense. In the last three years, only nine schools – Baylor (2011), Tulsa (2010), Michigan (2010), Texas Tech (2010), Houston (2009), Troy (2009), Texas A&M (2009), Idaho (2009) and Utah State (2009) – had differentials of 98 or more between their offensive and defensive rankings. The cumulative record of those nine schools was 68-48 and only the Bears (6-3) and Tulsa (10-3) lost fewer than four times. Oklahoma State is undefeated this year, so the question is why? The separator between this year’s Cowboys and those other schools is their No. 1 national ranking in turnover margin. The OSU defense has created 34 turnovers this fall, five more than anyone else in the nation. If you are looking for a Cyclone key, you might start with protecting the ball. Reader feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/SteveMalchow