First Team Defense Shines

In the biggest scrimmage to date Saturday, a pair of Iowa State running backs showed some signs of life and each took turns reaching the end zone. However, the Cyclone rush game didn't take such a quantum leap in some other situations that the defensive dominated.

Dan McCarney's team wrapped up practice number eleven with some positive plays on both sides of the ball, but Saturday's scrimmage could be chalked up as yet another victory for the defense. ISU didn't force the turnovers it has most of the spring, but physical play up front kept the offense back on its heels for most of the day.

"The offense definitely started good, and there was a lot of give and take in the scrimmage," said McCarney, whose team left the field Saturday with four practices remaining. "I saw both sides making some real good plays.

"We have maintained some real consistency and intensity with our defense all spring. The situations we keep emphasizing – we're doing some good things defensively. We didn't have a lot of turnovers and penalties on offense, which was good. That means we're not beating ourselves."

Tailbacks Hiawatha Rutland and Stevie Hicks shouldered the offensive load Saturday, as the production from quarterbacks Cris Love and Austin Flynn decreased. Rutland netted 60 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown, while Hicks carried eight times for 44 yards to go along with a score.

In the opening stages, Rutland capped off the offense's most impressive drive of the day with a seven-yard touchdown run. Hicks' four-yard plunge came late in the day. But for the most part, a stout Cyclone defense made holes hard to come by for Rutland, Hicks and the foursome of tailbacks.

"I thought we did some good things and are improving," said offensive coordinator Steve Brickey. "We got off to a great start, got off fast and came ready to play. We executed well and did a lot of good things early on. But what I'm a little concerned about is when a few things went bad we didn't show a lot of mental toughness to get it going good again. That's something you have to develop as individuals and a group. That was probably the only real low light of the day.

"Some other things that were good is we didn't have any turnovers and cut down on the penalties considerably from the other day. So there were some good parts."

Hicks' play on Saturday was a welcome sight for the offensive coaches that watched him struggle over the past week or two. The redshirt freshman struggled mightily in an abbreviated scrimmage Wednesday, but was much more fluent in Saturday's 95-play intra-squad affair.

"Today went a little better," said Hicks. "I didn't have as many mental errors, but I still have a lot of work to do. This spring went pretty tough in the beginning, but it's getting better. I'm picking up different plays better, and once you know where you're going you're not thinking about it so much. It's easier to just play and have fun."

One glaring weakness for the offense continues to be producing in short-yardage and goal-line situations, where the offensive line has been unable to open up much for tailbacks against the first-team defense.

Defensive linemen Jordan Carstens and Nick Leaders plugged the middle well and paved the way for Joe Woodley (eight tackles) and Brandon Brown (seven tackles) to have big days.

"I would like to see (better play around the goal-line)," Brickey said. "We had purposely taken the approach this spring that we're not trying to trick anybody down there. We're trying to tough it out. In that regard, we're not giving our players as many options to possibly trick the defense. We're in a mode of wanting to play more physical and be more physical. That's what we're doing down there. The play selection has been a little limited, but that's on purpose." The right-guard duo of Seth Zehr and Aaron Brant are drawing a good share of the responsibility.

"We're still making a few mistakes, particularly at right guard where those guys are so young," Brickey added. "We had a couple of protection breakdowns today that hurt us. Quite honestly, that hadn't been happening. The protection had been pretty good the past few days. On one of those one of the young right guards didn't react to something. They're both talented, though, and have good upsides so we've got to keep hammering away until they get it."

Now on an even plain atop the offensive depth chart, Flynn and Love struggled with their accuracy and missed numerous passes that could have brought about a fresh set of downs. Love completed 9-of-18 passes on the day for 94 yards. Flynn tallied 77 yards through the air while completing 8-of-15 pass attempts. Neither quarterback accounted for a touchdown, but turnover-prone Love and second-year quarterback Flynn didn't throw an interception either.

Brickey was a little disappointed with the play of his two quarterbacks, especially since their decision-making was good but the passes weren't as crisp.

"We need to get more consistent play out of the quarterback position," he said. "Both did reasonably well today, but still have plenty of room to improve. I thought they made some good reads today, but as the day wore on we got a little erratic with our throwing. We had some guys open and missed them, which could have gotten the momentum going back our way."

As a result, ISU receivers didn't put up much in the way of statistics. Tight ends Kenny Segin and James Wright were the lone two players to catch more than one pass. Segin hauled in a pair for 53 yards, including a nice 30-yarder early in the day. Wright, meanwhile, caught two for 19 yards.

Lance Young added one reception for 31 yards, while third-teamer Eric Snyder caught the lone touchdown pass of the day, a 22-yarder, from Kyle Van Winkle.

The first-team defense probably reaped the most reward Saturday, as it made yards and first downs hard to come by. In addition to inside linebackers Woodley and Brown, safeties JaMaine Billups, Stevie Paris and Marc Timmons stood tough against the run and defended passes well.

Billups garnered just one tackle on the day but made another diving pass deflection. Paris recorded seven tackles on the day to go along with one sack. Timmons also sacked the quarterback once and made five tackles.

"It was good work again," said defensive coordinator John Skladany. "The kids are hitting hard and there's enthusiasm out there. That's the key. Jordan Carstens always has a good day. Brandon Brown showed up better today. Tyson Smith and Ellis Hobbs played well. JaMaine Billups is playing well every day. I thought pretty much everybody on the first unit played pretty well. I didn't see a let down anywhere.

"We didn't let them scramble around and run all over the place, and I was pleased with that. We lost contain on the ball at times. Hiawatha got outside of us and the twos let a long screen pass go by missing a tackle. Those are some things that we've got to stop. So we certainly have some things we need to clean up."

Skladany also praised the work of his defense in some vital situational reps Saturday.

"The goal-line and short yardage were good, and the two-minute was great," he said. "It was a good day for us in some situations."

The place-kicking duel between first-team All-Big 12er Adam Benike and Tony Yelk is getting more heated as spring practice goes on. Yelk clearly was the better of the two Saturday, but only because of Benike's 2-of-5 showing on field goals.

Yelk opened scrimmage by hitting a 48-yarder, but struggled home by failing to convert on attempts from 45 and 35 yards. Benike, meanwhile, hit chip shots from 25 and 27 yards but missed on longer attempts of 35, 37 and 42 yards.

McCarney praised Yelk's work this spring, but adds that the two kickers need to become more productive between now an next fall.

"Benike and Yelk are on the same line," McCarney said. "There's no doubt, Tony has improved his consistency. He's always had a strong leg, but the consistency out there on game day was the thing he needed to improve on. But you're talking about an All-Big 12 kicker that Tony was on the same line with going into today."

Scrimmage notes

Starting SAM linebacker Nik Moser wrapped up Saturday with a flurry, stopping Rutland in his tracks for a seven-yard loss in the red zone. He followed that up with a crushing blow that jarred the ball loose from Brett Kellogg. The first-team tight end was slow to get up from the hit.

Timmons nearly gave the defense its lone turnover of the day when he went up for an over-the-middle pass from Love, gathered it into his hands and dropped it.

Redshirt freshmen linebackers Matt Robertson and Kyle Smith stood out for the second-team defense. Robertson made six tackles on the day, while Smith added three stops and a crucial pass deflection in a two-minute drill.

SAM linebacker Jamar Buchanan and safety Christopher Jones stood out as defenders further down the depth chart. Buchanan had three tackles, one sack and a forced fumble when Flynn lost and recovered his own bad pitch. Jones laid out a third-team receiver on what could have been a 20-yard connection for the offense.

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