It's Runnin' Season

To get through its first three games with an acceptable record, Iowa State will have to stop the run

A tight end or two, a fullback — remember them? — and a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust philosophy that's old-hat in the Big 12. From Iowa State's defensive standpoint, Saturday against North Dakota State is going to look a little different. The next Saturday, against Kansas State, will too. And the one after that — the big game at Iowa.

"I've got to read different blocks, be ready for a pulling guard, be ready for a fullback to come kick me out and everything," ISU defensive end Cory Morrissey said Monday. "So I've always got to be on my toes — it's a little fun for me."

To call Saturday a dress rehearsal would be a major and underserved sign of disrespect toward a Bison program that's three FCS titles in a row and 24 consecutive games. Let's say it's a tuneup, a helpful way for Iowa State to begin its 2014 season. There'll be time to fret over a young secondary come Sept. 27 versus Baylor. For now, it's about stopping the run. The Bison was No. 7 in FCS last season in rushing yards per game (257.3) and while it loses lead back Sam Ojuri, senior John Crockett is plenty good (1,277 yards, 11 scores last season).

Bill Snyder brings his Wildcats to Ames the week after. Quarterback Jake Waters, an Iowa boy, is running a variation of the Colin Klein draw/pop offense — the traditional power concepts remain, but the Wildcats have a dangerous vertical passing attack with Waters' favorite target, Tyler Lockett.

And then it's to Iowa, which ran the ball 43 times a game last season, No. 28 nationally, and will do so again with a motley of backs behind stud left tackle Brandon Scherff.

So if the Cyclones are going to get through the first three games with their spirits high — 2-1 will do just fine — they'll have to be better against the run than they were in 2013, when Wally Burnham's unit surrendered 224 yards a game, No. 114 nationally — of 125 teams.

"They need to hold their own, hold the point," coach Paul Rhoads said. "We don't need to lose gaps up front; we don't need to lose the line of scrimmage. We need to get pressure on the quarterback when we're called upon to get pressure on the quarterback."

The Bison is breaking in new head coach Chris Klieman, a Northern Iowa alum who joined the NDSU staff in 2011. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek comes from Northern Illinois, but he only spent one season there; Polasek coached in Fargo from 2006 to 2012. So it's a new regime, but they'll do things the old way. Junior quarterback Carson Wentz has big shoes to fill, with Brock Jensen and his 34 passing touchdowns currently finding his way around NFL coffee shops.

Iowa State's goal will be to limit the damage on first and second down and get into a clear passing scenario where, as Rhoads says, the Cyclones can "pin their ears back."

"You've got to stop the run and make 'em pass," Morrissey said of the Bison. "They're not as much of a passing team, so you've got to make 'em pass, and stop that, too."

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