Campbell’s winning ways

Campbell, Matt Press Conference (16)

When a new coach is introduced at a school, among the first questions asked is ‘what offense and defense do you favor’? Everyone wants to know the coach’s philosophy on the X’s & O’s.

Fair enough. What may be more important at Iowa State, however, is Matt Campbell’s ability to help the Cyclones win close games.

Campbell inherits an Iowa State team which entered the fourth quarter tied or leading six times last fall. The Cyclones, however, dropped three of those games late.

An undersold trait of Campbell’s background is that he is accustomed to winning. As head coach at Toledo, the Rockets won 70% of their games. As a player and coach at Mount Union, the Purple Raiders won five national titles and 83 of 85 games.

Mount Union built a program that expected to win. Campbell copied that blueprint at Toledo. A culture was developed and a confidence was created.

“Our record is games decided by fewer than seven points was pretty impressive,” Campbell said of his UT teams that won 71% of their games decided by six or fewer points. “That’s culture and getting your program playing at an elite level. (It) is not easy to do. It doesn’t happen at the snap of a finger.”

Campbell has been a part of winning cultures throughout his career. Building a confident culture will probably have a larger impact on the ISU program than the formations and plays that are used.




Mobile QBs distinguish Big 12

Lanning, Joel 15 Texas (23)

Much has been written and said about Big 12 defenses. How about a new perspective? Why are the offenses so good?

In a sentence, Big 12 quarterbacks make plays with their feet better than their peers. The mobile QB is an unaccountable player for defenses.

Here are some things to consider about Big 12 offenses…

  • The Big 12 has five of the NCAA’s current Top 20 passers in yards per game. We are in an era similar to roughly five years ago when the league featured Brandon Weeden, Landry Jones, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Griffin at QB. Each of them is still active in the NFL.
  • The Big 12 features three receivers (more than any other league) who are among the 10 semi-finalists for the 2015 Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s best receiver
  • The Big 12 has four players with at least 1,000 yards rushing (including Iowa State’s freshman Mike Warren) in 2015, which is tops in the nation (tied with the Pac-12) among conferences; and
  • The Big 12’s quarterbacks run the ball effectively and are an additional big-play threat.

Eight Big 12 schools have gained more than 300 yards rushing from the QB position this season. The average net rushing total (to this point in the year) among the schools is 418.5 yards.

Only five SEC teams have quarterback groups, who have rushed for at least 300 net yards. The average net rushing total by SEC quarterbacks is 252.8 yards.

Two Big Ten schools have QBs who have gained at least 300 yards on the ground. Teams in the Big Ten are averaging 179.4 net yards rushing by their quarterbacks. Four of the Big Ten schools have negative rushing totals by the quarterback position.

Offenses in the Big 12 are fast, boast extremely accurate quarterbacks, field-stretching receivers and a dynamic tailbacks.

Then, add in a dose of game-breaking run skills by quarterbacks like Trevon Boykin, Seth Russell (before he was injured), Patrick Mahomes, J.W. Walsh or Tyrone Swoopes/Jerrod Heard. And, don’t forget about ISU’s Joel Lanning. The sophomore has rushed for nearly 250 yards since he was named the starter three-and-a-half games ago. Interestingly, the Cyclones have outscored Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (cumulatively) 98-97 since Lanning started running the offense and adding the QB run game element.

Instead of trying to pick apart the Big 12 defenses, you might spend some time trying to stop ‘em. You might find that it’s a pretty challenging endeavor.

Run game emergence boosts Richardson’s production, too

Warren, Mike_UNI_2015_ (3)

Mike Warren earned the headlines against Kansas with a school freshman record 175 rushing yards as Iowa State gained more than 200 yards on the ground for the second game in a row. The last time that happened was the final two games of 2013.

The biggest beneficiary of Warren’s breakout might have been quarterback Sam Richardson. A quarterback’s best friend is a good rushing attack. During Sam’s three years as the on-again, off-again starting QB, Iowa State has rushed for more than 200 yards six times.

In two of those outings – the previously noted Kansas and West Virginia games of 2013 – Sam was out of the lineup.

The four games that Richardson has behind the center and the run game registered more than 200 yards included Toledo and Kansas this fall, Texas Tech in 2014 and Texas in 2013. In those outings, Richardson completed 67% of his throws, averaged 276 yards passing per game and the team scored 30.5 points per game.

There were 16 games (not counting five outings in 2013 when Richardson threw a total of 44 passes in spot duty) when the Cyclones failed to reach 200 rushing yards with Richardson at the controls. Richardson completed 57% of his attempts, threw for 235 yards per game and the team tallied less than 25 points per game in those games.

Ah, the benefits of the run game.

Coach Paul Rhoads has been seeking a consistently productive run game for a couple of seasons. If the last two games are the beginning of a trend, Warren will continue to get the headlines. But, there will also be a fifth-year quarterback reaping the benefits without as much fanfare.

Cyclones hope to follow the example of a freshman tailback

Warren, Mike_Iowa_2015_1

At the end of the first half Saturday night, Coach Paul Rhoads sprinted onto the field and put his arm around freshman tailback Mike Warren.

With his halftime radio interview pending, Rhoads was telling the rookie to stay confident and keep his head up. Warren had just rushed for 54 yards in the opening two quarters of his first college start.

His last attempt had advanced ISU to the Toledo 15-yard line – giving his team a chance to take the lead – before a fumble was recovered by the Rockets.

Rhoads needed to remind his freshman before halftime to hang in there and Warren responded.

Iowa State had not run the ball well the first two games of ‘15. Warren was tabbed to start at Toledo and his 126-yard evening included a season-long 41 yarder. He became the first Cyclone freshman in five years (Shontrelle Johnson) to rush for more than 100 yards in a game.

His team, likewise, made progress Saturday. The Cyclones outrushed (207-171), outpassed, (274-138) and outgained (481-309) the Rockets while building up a 16-plus minute advantage in time of possession. However, they didn’t get rewarded in the won-loss column.

Now, Rhoads needs to remind his team to hang in there. They improved in too many areas and showed some resiliency in bouncing back from a deficit.

And, they’ll have an off week to learn from their mistakes and build off the improvement.

The hope is that the team responds as well as its freshman tailback did in the second half.

Turning up the heat and forcing the action


It’s only two games in, but Iowa State’s defense is on a blistering pace for pressuring the quarterback.

The Cyclones had 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks in their opening two games. Nine of ISU’s tackles behind the line came from linebackers, eight from linemen and three from the secondary.

“We have a lot of different people from a lot of different spots to come after the quarterback,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’ve had sacks from a number of different guys – some on stunts, some on blitzes and some on 3-man rushes.”

In their opening two games last fall, the Cyclones managed just five tackles for loss. For that same timeframe (two games), Iowa State had six TFLs in 2013, 11 in 2012, seven in 2011, 10 in 2010 and 11 in 2009.

Twenty, so far this year, stacks up nicely.

In his first six seasons, Rhoads’ teams averaged 4.68 TFLs and 1.2 sacks per game. So, per-game averages of 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks in 2015 dwarf historical trends for Rhoads’ teams

Dale Pierson (5.5) and Janor Jones (4.0) are leading the way among Cyclones in tackles for loss and they rank first and tied for second among Big 12 players.

A year ago, TCU and Baylor ranked second and third in the league in sacks and they shared the league title. ISU has ranked last among league schools for sacks four times in the last six years.

Defensive pressure is frequently an element among successful teams.

In week one of NFL play, teams which recorded at least three sacks in their openers were 7-2. Seven squads failed to record a sack last week and none of those teams won.

Viewer’s guide: watch the big guys


When a TV network opens its telecast for a football game, it doesn’t take long for them to highlight the “players to watch” on both squads. Seldom are those players linemen.

Whether watching on TV or in-person, most fans follow the ball when it’s snapped. Seldom do fans watch the linemen.

The men in the trenches operate in anonymity. Few people remember their names unless they blow a block or make a sack.

And, yet, it wasn’t surprising to hear what Coach Paul Rhoads said Monday about the key match-ups in Saturday’s game with Iowa.

“I think you’ve got to look at the trenches, especially in this game,” Rhoads said. “Iowa has always been so strong in the offensive and defensive lines and they are again this year. We looked improved on our defensive front and (we’re) still building on the offensive front.”

Most casual fans don’t truly understand line play. It’s hard to decipher. But those who know the game realize its impact. Line play sets the tone.

Frequently, one of the visitors to Iowa State’s practice is Cecil Rhoads, father of Paul and a high school hall of fame coach. During positional work on the practice field, Cecil is almost always camped out by the linemen. Like his son, he knows where the game is controlled.

“I think I’ll keep my eyes close to the line of scrimmage,” Paul Rhoads said of Saturday’s game. “I’m a ball coach and (we know) that’s where games are won and lost.”

Construction in end zone and on d-line get high marks


There has been a lot of construction on the grounds of Jack Trice Stadium in the last 10 months.

Part of it has been on somewhat public display (the complete enclosure of the facility’s south end) and part of it has been quietly retooled inside the Johnny Majors Practice Field (a total overhaul of the team’s front seven on defense).

Both rebuilds have impressed.

The SEZ project opened to rave reviews Saturday night in front of the first crowd of more than 60,000 in stadium history. A sellout of 61,500 marveled at the huge videoboard on that end, the spectacular ring beam and the Sukup End Zone Club.

Thirty-eight Power 5 conference teams opened play in their home venues this weekend and less than half drew 60k. Here is a sampling of the schools that failed to reach 60,000 for their home opener: Oregon, Minnesota, Pitt, Maryland, Arizona, Iowa, NC State, Illinois, Utah, Texas Tech, Kansas State, Northwestern, Syracuse, Indiana, Rutgers, and Miami.

Only one Big Ten school (Nebraska) outdrew the Cyclones in the opener. There were two from the ACC (Clemson and Florida State) and two from the Pac-12 (UCLA and USC) that had larger opening day crowds in their home venues.

The other rebuild was on the ISU defense.  The Cyclones recorded six sacks (their most since the Houston Bowl a decade ago) and 13 tackles behind the line vs. UNI. A “3-4” defense (three linemen, four linebackers) was added to the team’s playbook in the off-season. Dale Pierson stood out with three sacks, but the team’s overall defensive pressure was the dominating factor in the game.

The opening act for both the stadium and the front seven earned a standing ovation. Act II is Saturday afternoon when Iowa visits.

Cyclones’ culture change on display Saturday night

Much has been written and said about a changed attitude within the 2015 Iowa State football team.

“Just like I talked about on media day before the start of camp, I think the culture of this football team is different,” Coach Paul Rhoads reminded the news media Monday. “There is a great resolve in this group from both a leadership and responsiveness (standpoint).”

It’s impossible to define a culture shift statistically, scientifically or mathematically. Rhoads and his staff, however, insist they sensed a shift during the off-season.

The first test will likely occur when Northern Iowa visits Saturday night.

“When adversity comes, which it will, we need to handle it,” Rhoads said. “We need to respond to it whether it occurs in the first quarter or the fourth quarter.”

Challenges are part of the routine. Does it surprise you that defending national champion Ohio State trailed in nine games last season? But, that team had a culture of togetherness and toughness.

Rhoads has worked for months in building that type of attitude in his team.

“It is one of the things we challenged our football team with – both on and off the field – in preparation this season,” Rhoads said.

Certainly, many will focus on quarterback play, defense against the run, sound tackling or a stout rushing attack against the Panthers. The stats will explain how the Cyclones performed in those areas.

But, their responsiveness to eventual hardship will be the first indicator of how much the culture has really improved.

Optimism rising for “no name” defense


Back in 1972, defensive coordinator Wally Burnham was just starting his coaching career.

That was the same year the Miami Dolphins registered an undefeated season on the way to winning Super Bowl VII. The headliners on that team were Griese, Morris, Warfield and Csonka. Miami also had an under-publicized defense – nicknamed the “No Name” Defense – that produced consistently without fanfare.

Burnham looks at his 2015 Cyclone defense and, perhaps, sees some similarities.

“We do not have a superstar on defense,” Burnham said after the team’s final scrimmage Saturday. “We have 18-19 kids we feel real good about.”

Injuries and other issues wiped out the defense’s front seven a year ago. The Cyclones of last season had a “no name” defense by year’s end but it was because of attrition.

Paul Rhoads and his staff hit the recruiting trail in the off-season to find some junior college defenders ready to make an impact. You likely don’t know their names yet, but Tucker, Jones, Thomas and several others will have prominent roles this fall.

“Here is what I’m excited about,” Burnham said. “They love to play. It’s got to be a team thing (on defense) and that’s what they have bought into.”

The chance for these defenders—largely unknown to fans right now—to make name for themselves is just around the corner with the season opener just 13 days away.

Curious coach wonders who the hitters will be

Hurtt, Victoria_Oklahoma2014-15-1

For the fifth time in six years, Iowa State has been picked to finish as league runner-up (to Texas) in the Big 12 Volleyball Preseason Poll.

Although Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch is accustomed to that lofty position, the lack of Cyclones on the preseason all-league team (only libero Caitlin Nolan was honored) caught her attention.

“The interesting thing about our team right now is that we were picked second in the Big 12 but we only had one player on the preseason All-Big 12 team and that was our libero,” Johnson-Lynch said.

“(There were) no hitters. That’s really curious to me.”

Although the Cyclones return most of their players from a year ago, the loss of hitter Victoria Hurtt (more than 1,000 career kills) is the most significant. Most great teams, according to Johnson-Lynch have some “go to” players.

“From what I’ve seen, the best teams have a couple of players ready to get 4-5 kills per game every night,” the 11th-year coach said. “To get picked second in the poll and have no hitters says that we have a lot of good players but who is going to emerge?”

Johnson-Lynch is excited about the prospects vying for a shot to be the “go to” players but she feels that filling that gap will determine the success of the season.

“I’m confident we’ll have a couple (hitters) on that All-Big 12 team at the end of the year,” Johnson-Lynch said. “(But right now) I’m as curious as you are as to who that player will be.”