Scrimmage Highlights First Day in Pads

Iowa State's defense struggled mightily in short-yardage and goal-line situations one season ago, so it made sense when coaches made that a point of emphasis in Saturday's first padded practice and scrimmage of the spring. A brief 30-minute team scrimmage included three goal-line series and several more third-and-short plays.

But it was clear that the defense still needs some more work when its back is against the wall, as the offense gained the upper hand. Both the first- and second-team units scored touchdowns.

Hiawatha Rutland converted on a 1st-and-goal at the five for the starters, before Mike Wagner dove into the end zone from two yards out on a 2nd-and-goal play. Waye Terry nearly converted one snap before, but was tripped up after a three-yard gain. The third-team defense, however, did get a stop on the following series by recovering a fumble.

"Short yardage and goal-line is an area of emphasis," McCarney said. "You can see why we came out and scrimmaged it the first day in pads. We weren't very good last year and have to get better. We were last in the Big 12 in goal-line defense and that's unacceptable.

"Your offense should have a little bit of an edge when it's short yardage and down there on the goal-line, but the defense has to rise up and make some plays. It's hard to stop that roaring train, number 27, when you see him coming at you. Hiawatha and Mike Wagner are also hard runners down there."

But short-yardage and goal-line situations didn't make up the entire scrimmage, as the Cyclones did go through an abbreviated scrimmage with referees. Cris Love struggled at times with a few throws, but recovered nicely by hitting Lane Danielsen for a 50-yard touchdown strike. Danielsen caught the pass coming across the middle, burning defender Stevie Paris. Love and Danielsen hooked up a few plays earlier, but the wide receiver fumbled into the hands of the defense.

Those in attendance got the first glimpses of quarterback Austin Flynn's running abilities. When he saw his receivers were covered, the redshirt freshman tucked and broke away from the defense. Flynn's exceptional speed and burst surprised many.

McCarney said the quarterback battle is still fairly even, but was impressed with the way Love rallied from his problems early on.

"There is nobody that's way out in front of anybody at quarterback right now," he said. "It's a real close race. None of them are where they need to be yet, but are conscientious and have a lot of potential. It's consistency, not turning the ball over and moving the chains. I don't need a flashy, fancy, pretty guy. I need somebody who is going to move the offense.

"If you do make a mistake, don't let it effect you the next play or series. That's one of the things I saw in Cris today. He had a bad throw or two, but then comes back out and throws a strike right down the middle for a touchdown. That's what you're looking for."

Other than Love's pair of strikes to Danielsen, ISU didn't do much in the way of passing. Brian Thompson and Hicks got a majority of the carries. Thompson rushed five times for 16 yards, while Hicks carried for four yards on three carries. Rutland added three carries for six yards, while Wagner had a 10-yard run to the left side.

The first-team defense looked to have the upper hand in this version of practice, allowing very little in the way of rushing yards. Through the air, Marc Timmons nearly intercepted a deep pass but it dropped out of his hands. In a team inside drill, reserve SAM linebacker Jamar Buchanan made a jarring hit for a loss.

Overall, McCarney gave his team some high grades in its first day wearing pads.

"I thought it was a good first day in pads," he said. "We're not ready for anybody on our schedule right now, but I didn't expect that the first day we come out in pads. But these guys know how to compete against each other, are physical and work good."

The running back and tight end battles also remain close, as several different candidates continue getting reps with the first-team. Hicks, Rutland, Wagner and Thompson all got their fair share of opportunities at tailback, while James Wright, Kenny Segin and Brett Kellogg split time at tight end. Wright was the lone tight end to catch a pass, hauling a six-yarder in from Love.

"Tight end, running back and quarterback – there isn't anybody out in front of anyone right now," McCarney said. "It's a toss up at all of those positions. We're going to take a look at all of them.

"We're basically working four (tailbacks) with ones and twos. The most important thing right now is to find out who the starter is. They're all Big 12 backs, but who can make a difference, break the most tackles, block the best and do all of those things? We're going to keep rolling those guys through."

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