We'll be talking about Iowa State all week, but as much as we'll pretend to know about the team, we'll undoubtedly know less than Iowa State blogger, and 2005 BON pick `em champ, Alex Ernst. He was nice enough to sit down for a little Q&A about this year's Cyclones.
Burnt Orange Nation: What's your take on Iowa State's second half performance against the Hawkeyes, Alex?
Alex Ernst: I may be a college kid, but I've seen enough Cyclone football to realize it's some of the same old crap I've been seeing for years. It seems like the coaching staff fails to make adjustments a lot of the time at the half. The `Clones are averaging a grand total of five points after the half this year (not including overtime).
I don't think it was the second half itself, per se, that bugs me and other Cyclone fans, but after Iowa cut the lead to 14-10 with just under a minute and a half left in the first half, Iowa State got the ball back with all three timeouts and what is considered the top receiving corps, by some, in the Big 12. What do we do? Two runs up the middle. It was so much like our game last year at Kansas, where we had a chance to drive down the field and score to win the game, but instead played for overtime and lost. When you're Iowa State, your chances at glory and fame are far and in between. I can understand the coaching staff playing it safe, but we had the strength of our team to work with.
I don't know if this is the way to put this, but the team seems to get complacent with a lead at halftime and they figure they can cruise to the victory. The defense isn't good enough to allow that.
Burnt Orange Nation: With that behind us, we can look ahead to this week's showdown in Austin. When I previewed the Cyclones in early August, I talked about the shaky line play Iowa State got on offense last year. How are things looking so far this year?
Alex Ernst: The line seems to be improved this year, which is what you'd expect with a line littered with seniors. Despite a lack of a 100-yard rushing game against Iowa, I thought the line looked as good as it has in a while in run blocking. Pass blocking still seems to be an issue, even with a lowered number of sacks. There's still a lot of pressure on Meyer.
Burnt Orange Nation: Can you talk about Todd Blythe and how Iowa State likes to use him?
Alex Ernst: I've always referred to Todd Blythe as one of the best receivers in college football that can push off and get away with it. That being said, he's already the career receiving touchdown leader as a junior, and he can go one-on-one with any cornerback in the Big 12 and win more often than not.
The thing is, this year there has been a serious lack of the deep ball to Blythe. That's what single-handedly gave ISU the win last year against the Aggies. When there's a 6-5 guy who can catch the ball with one or two hands, you throw it to him downfield. Something has changed this year, and it's resulting in fewer balls being thrown his way. I think part of it is because of the experience of the rest of the receivers. While Blythe goes up against a team's best cornerback, we have skilled receivers at 2-4. These guys, especially Austin Flynn, will be going up against guys who aren't the best in the defensive backfield.
I'm one of those guys who thinks that when you have a weapon, you use it. The coaching staff must think that we can beat other teams without a focus on Blythe. I think you don't take the ball out of the hands of the best receiver in the conference.
Burnt Orange Nation: Drew Tate and Iowa did a pretty good job of taking what the Cyclones were giving them last week. Is that the ideal way to pick on this defense - by taking the underneath throws and mixing in good power running?
Alex Ernst: The rushing yards allowed by Iowa State against Iowa are somewhat misrepresentative of an actual run defense. Most of the big plays were either trick plays or scrambles from Tate. I happen to think Albert Young is the best player on the Hawkeye offense, and Iowa State shut him down. He's been off this year, but he's still talented. Jamaal Charles will obviously be one of the most talented backs the teams sees all year, but I'd be surprised if he goes gangbusters on the Clones.
Underneath throws are one of the more ideal ways to go against Iowa State. One may notice the multitude of tackles coming from the Cyclone linebacker corps, including Alvin Bowen, the nation's leading tackler, and they may think you don't want to go that route. The reason they have so many tackles are because of the number of passes completed, both short and intermediate, on the linebackers and the secondary. The Cyclones will be without starting safety James Smith for a fourth straight game, and backup Caleb Berg is not Big 12 caliber at safety. DeAndre Jackson has done well enough at cornerback, but he needs to step it up. Jon Banks was a small beacon of light against Iowa, covering Scott Chandler relatively well.
Screens and short passes have always worked well against Iowa State. There's no reason to think that would change now.
Burnt Orange Nation: What's your biggest concern heading into this game? What would it take for Iowa State to pull off the upset?
Alex Ernst: My biggest concern, besides the fact that we're about to play Texas, is the fact that the offense has looked so lethargic. Iowa State was much-ballyhooed coming into this season as an "outscore `em to win" sort of team. That's simply not evident. When Dan McCarney first got to Iowa State, he had the rare luck to have a guy in Troy Davis who rushed for 2,000 yards in a season twice. Ever since, we've committed ourselves to the run in situations when it doesn't quite work. It's alright to throw the ball 40 times a game when there's guys out there that will catch it.
I'm also concerned about the defense, namely against one Limas Sweed. The Clones have an unbelievable knock for giving up the big play on third down, and making pieces of crap look like Dan Marino sitting back in the pocket.
To pull off the upset, Iowa State has to score 35+ points or force at least 4 turnovers. There's not really any question that they can't beat the Longhorns in a good old-fashioned football game. Todd Blythe would need to have a couple of touchdowns, and Mack Brown, Gene Chizek, Greg Davis, and others might need to be held hostage by angry farmers.
FUNNY FACT: Both Pete Carroll and Mack Brown coached at Iowa State, making for a really weird trivia question about last year's Rose Bowl. It's like flowers growing out of cow poop, or something.
The only other reason I can think of that this game might be close is because Iowa State just tends to play Texas a little tougher than some other teams. I remember a 44-41 Texas win in the late 90's where Iowa State hung with the Horns. Heck, Iowa State even beat Texas in softball a few years back. It's a big f***ing deal up here if you can beat Texas.
My prediction for the game, however, is a 51-24 Longhorn victory.
Burnt Orange Nation: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Alex. Good luck on Saturday. Sort of.