Months of preparation and talk will finally be put to the test and judged by the human eye Saturday night as Iowa State opens the 2015 season against in-state rival Northern Iowa at the renovated Jack Trice Stadium.
From talk of a new culture to an improved defense with a bevy of new faces to a veteran offense, recent weeks have been spent determining the ways this Iowa State squad will be improved from the two that have preceded it.
Now, the on-field performance will do the talking.
Iowa State enters the 2015 season on the heels of two seasons in which it has won five combined games and two seasons in which it has lost its season-opener. Hoping to change that tune will start with Week 1.
Returners Emerge on Depth Chart
After losing Aaron Wimberly and Jarvis West, its primary returners from 2014, to graduation, Iowa State spent its two-week fall camp running a variety of faces onto the Johnny Majors Practice Field to field punts and kicks with the hope of determining who could fill that void.
It appears the Cyclones have an early answer.
"Catching the ball is what puts the two guys at the top at punt return. It always has and always will," coach Paul Rhoads said of the decision. "Trever and Allen have done it with the most consistency and that’s why they’re listed where they are."
Iowa State actually returned only 14 punts (11.1 yards per return) in 2014, resulting in one major 82-yard return for a touchdown. The Cyclones could use two returners in a safe-punt formation this season with Lazard as the safe returner.
"I’m hoping to make some plays and do as much as I can," Lazard said. "[A big return] gets the offense going, it gets the sideline going and it gets the crowd into it. It’s just a big game-changer if you get a good return."
On the kick return side, Iowa State lists four options with D'Vario Montgomery and Ryen followed by Jomal Wiltz and Orion Salters.
"Catching kickoffs is not as challenging so now it’s about what guys can do with the ball in their hands," Rhoads said. "The guys we’ve listed there we think are all dangerous and capable of both being the return man and the blocker, which is equally important."
Iowa State returned 30 kicks in 2014 for an average of 20.6 yards per return.
Iowa State Seeking 'Fresh' Defense
With the addition of eight new junior college defenders —three from 2014 who redshirted — Iowa State has hope that its defensive unit will see substantial improvement in 2015, and it appears the group could attempt to do more with less.
After allowing nearly 39 points and just more than 246 rushing yards per game in 2014, the Cyclones are focused on keeping players fresh in 2015 with the hope that energized bodies could help make a difference.
"I don’t know if we’ve singled out any guy that we expect to play more than 40 snaps along the front," Rhoads said of the defensive line. "If you can keep the numbers at that or below, I think you’ve got a chance of playing hard the first snap and playing hard the last snap."
That strategy isn't solely for the defensive line, either.
"I think you’re going to see a lot of rotations out there on the field," Rhoads said. "I think you’re going to see linebackers rotating and I think you’re going to see corners rotating. The more you can keep a team fresh [and] the more you can continue to play fast and get as many bodies to the ball as you can, you’ve got a better chance."
Iowa State is primed to have its best depth on the defensive line as JUCOs Jhaustin Thomas (No. 4) and Bobby Leath (not listed) are currently deep on the depth chart but both are expected to see snaps in Week 1.
No. 2 Quarterback Unnamed
Iowa State has its starting quarterback, and his backup is being kept in-house.
While there is tought that Joel Lanning has emerged as the No. 2 guy behind starter Sam Richardson, Iowa State lists Lanning or Grant Rohach for the No. 2 job. Regardless, there is comfort among coaches in both candidates.
"We’ve got two backup quarterbacks and we feel confident in both Joel and Grant and what they bring to our football program," Rhoads said when discussing the battle. "I don’t feel necessary to name who that guy is. We’ve got two guys that are very capable and have done a great job on the practice field."
Lanning is said to have made big strides entering his redshirt sophomore campaign while Rohach has five career starts (and two Big 12 wins) under his belt.
Odds & Ends
- Paul Rhoads said Iowa State enters Week 1 healthy with the exception of backup center Patrick Scoggins, who was lost for the season during fall camp after sustaining a knee injury, and tight end Cole Anderson, who recently tore his ACL at the end of fall camp. Anderson will undergo surgery Thursday.
- Iowa State has moved Trever Ryen to running back from receiver. "We thought we needed some added speed back there," Rhoads said. "So Trever Ryen is a guy we’ve shifted from wide receiver to running back."
- Redshirt sophomore Tyler Brown (the veteran of the bunch with 24 career carries) is still No. 1 on the depth chart followed by Mike Warren. True freshman Joshua Thomas moved to No. 3 in the group, as expected.