Flynn Puts Best Foot Forward

Some early fireworks on the offensive side made way to a stout defense performance Saturday afternoon, as both sides of the Iowa State team experienced success in the biggest scrimmage yet this spring. And despite near-freezing temperatures and spots of snow on the field, the Cyclones put together one of their best days since workouts began March 26.

A 50-yard touchdown run by Michael Wagner in the opening minutes got ISU's offense going. Wagner showed a burst of speed not often seen, as he broke away from the defense and took it into the end zone. Wagner would later add another 10-yard scoring dash to cap off a drive spearheaded by redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Flynn. Flynn, getting some reps with the first-team, fired a 50-yard strike to David Banks-Bursey to set up the touchdown run.

Tailback Hiawatha Rutland also put together a solid day, scoring a five-yard touchdown to give the offense a goal-line conversion, and rushing for 25 yards overall on three carries. Wagner tallied 68 yards on five carries and had an impressive 15-yarder run turned back by a false start penalty.

"Hiawatha Rutland is really making some plays and today Michael Wagner really looked good," said running backs coach Tony Alford. "A lot of things people don't see – you watch those kids pick up blitz protections. There was a two-minute drill and they had a safety blitz coming from the weak side. The tailback scanned all the way across the formation to him and picked up the blitz. Those are intangibles that the older guys have because they've been there in those situations."

Penalties continued to hamper the offense at times, as the Cyclones were whistled for a pair of false starts, two holding penalties and an illegal touch by a receiver that had stepped out of bounds.

While the offense opened practice with a flurry, it was clear that the defense had an upper hand through the latter parts.

"When you start off and things are going real well, when something bad happens, you have to be able to let it go and continue on," Alford said. "We've got to learn to take advantage (of early starts) and step on the throat a little more. But that's why you practice."

Jordan Carstens continued to be a terror for the defense, breaking into the backfield on numerous occasions and forcing quarterback Cris Love to roll out. JaMaine Billups added another sack of the first-team ISU signal-caller. Nik Moser showed up again for John Skladany's unit and demonstrated his speed and rushing ability from the edge.

Skladany said he was pleased with how the defense recovered after being caught on a few big runs in the early going.

"We started off slow and then got going, got into it and started making plays and hits," he said. "You have to play with enthusiasm on defense, hit and play fast. We started getting off blocks and making tackles. That was the biggest thing. We were padded up and locking up for a while and not getting off the blocks quick enough.

"We're making progress. We have ups and downs. There are some good players on the offensive end that get us sometimes, but the intensity and effort are good. I think a couple additions we made to our scheme are paying off."

One of the adjustments on Skladany's defense has been inserting Cephus Johnson at first-team defensive end and moving Tim Tebrink inside as a top reserve behind Carstens and Nick Leaders.

Johnson appears to be having the big off-season and spring practice coaches were looking for, and has become a fixture alongside Carstens, Leaders and Tyson Smith along the defensive line. Tebrink is getting plenty of opportunities as well, giving Carstens and Leaders some rest when needed.

"We're keeping (Tebrink) in our pocket, because we know he can play outside," Skladany said. "Cephus Johnson has been playing pretty well, so we moved him over to that end spot to see if he could battle for that number one spot."

With Nik Moser moving to SAM linebacker, one safety that's taking advantage of increased playing time with the reserves is Gabe Bakker. The 5-foot-10, 195-pound junior from Dike is playing stout as a safety and was in on some physical plays in the run game. Bakker is playing behind top safeties Billups, Marc Timmons and Stevie Paris.

Fellow reserve defensive back Henry Poullard also made a nice play in the open field when he shed a blocker to make the tackle.

ISU's defense also took advantage of some short-yardage, goal-line and red zone drills late in Saturday's practice.

Although the offense scored on a few rushing plays, the defense went through three consecutive series of forcing field-goal attempts on 4th-and-long.

"The best thing is the short-yardage, goal-line and red zone, which were our Achilles Heel last year, we're starting to get some good work on," Skladany said. "(Coach Dan McCarney) is putting us in positions. We win some and we lose some, but the emphasis is going to pay off for us."

Added McCarney, "The offense knocked it in down on the other end a couple times, but when you're going best against best somebody wins each series. I think our defense is getting a little better at short-yardage and goal-line."

Cyclone quarterbacks struggled being efficient during less-than-optimal weather conditions. Austin Flynn was probably the most productive on the day, hitting Banks-Bursey on a long pass while completing 2-of-3 passes on the day. Flynn has emerged as the top rushing quarterback, carrying three times for 18 yards.

Although Flynn's overall numbers weren't as impressive on paper, he showed the ability to lead the offense downfield on scoring drives. In addition to executing the best pass play of the day, Flynn showed some nifty moves around the goal-line as he spun away from Johnson and evaded Jared Otto during a five-yard touchdown run.

Waye Terry put up the best passing numbers. But his play mirrored that of the offense's overall, in that he got off to a fast start before struggling down the stretch. He completed 4-of-5 passes for 43 yards, including a 33-yard connection with wide receiver Todd Miller.

First-strong quarterback Cris Love was unable to complete a number of passes to the sidelines on his way to another lackluster performance this spring. He completed 4-of-9 passes for 33 yards.

But in defense of the top three quarterbacks, defensive pressure has played a big part in their struggles. Carstens' presence inside and the outside rush from Smith, Billups and Moser have made it difficult.

"We didn't expect an All-Big 12 candidate this spring by those kids," McCarney said. "They're all doing some good things and are getting a lot of heat put on them by our defense right now. It's a veteran defense, then there are guys that haven't played much that are stepping in and playing good football. We're not where we want to be yet, but I like how they work.

"It's going to be great evaluation tape. We'll be able to make more decisions out of this scrimmage than any of the other practices put together."

Spring practice resumes Monday afternoon at 3:30 on the Johnny Majors Practice Field.

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