The Sky is Not Falling, ISU Fans

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: "Iowa State will improve. Iowa State will improve." After the Cyclones' 17-10 victory Saturday night against a feisty UNI squad, it seemed that every ISU fan who posted on a message board was almost ready to throw in the towel on the 2003 season.

While I definitely understand the frustration of opening the season with a relatively ugly game against a I-AA opponent—a contest that isn't decided until the final minute of play—I think that Cyclone fans need to look at the big picture, as well.

Going into Saturday night's game, there were 10 freshmen listed in the ISU two-deeps. That's a LOT of new guys playing in their first college football game. In that situation, you should expect miscommunications, you should expect missed assignments and you should expect to ride the roller-coaster of youth and potential. Especially when you're talking about freshmen in positions like offensive line, quarterback, fullback and tailback.

Add to that the fact that Bob Montgomery, an All-Big 12 quality offensive lineman, is injured and not in the lineup, and you can see why the Cyclone offense never looked like a finely-tuned machine against the Panthers.

But, that's OK. It's OK because Iowa State won the game. It's OK because the Cyclones are going to find plenty of things to work on this week while they prepare for next Saturday's game against Ohio. It's OK because a lot of guys received one heck of an education on Saturday about what it takes to play college football.

Now, if the Cyclones don't look like a better football team next Saturday, then you'll have cause for concern.

Ohio, which was 4-8 last season, defeated Southeast Missouri State 17-3 on Thursday night in its season opener. The Bobcats only have four returning starters on offense. Defensively, they have eight returning starters, but they're returning to a unit that gave up 30-plus points seven times last fall.

Here's the thing. You may not want to hear this, but a win is a win. You'll always take a victory over a quality loss in college football. Right? And while the game against UNI may not have been a thing of beauty, there were several positives to take from it, including…

Austin Flynn looked like he could be a very good QB in Ames for the next four seasons. While the Cyclones didn't use many pages in the playbook, Flynn managed to put up some decent numbers—154 yards and one TD passing, and 62 yards and one TD rushing—and had a couple of passes dropped. The interception Flynn threw was on a batted ball. If I were scouting Iowa State, one thing that worry me would be Flynn's ability to scramble and run. That ability puts a lot of pressure on a defense and it can bail an offense out on an otherwise botched play. I think Cyclone fans will like Flynn more and more as the game plans become more aggressive.

Iowa State's defense played well. The Cyclones didn't allow a single point in the game's final 33 minutes. In fact, if it weren't for a batted ball-interception leading to a one-yard drive in the second quarter, the ISU defense would've surrendered only three points.

Michael Wagner played with a purpose. The senior tailback gained 82 yards on 17 carries to lead Iowa State. That's 4.8 yards per carry, which will suffice on any given Saturday.

Stevie Hicks got his feet wet and his eyes opened. If Hicks is as close to as talented as Coach Dan McCarney has stated in the past year, then ISU fans didn't see the "real" Stevie Hicks on Saturday night. The redshirt freshman ran for 19 yards on 12 carries (1.6-yard average). One good thing about this is that it should drive Hicks to never want to experience another game like that again. He should be chewing nails by the time the Bobcats arrive in Ames. If not, then he's not the right man for the job, regardless of his physical abilities.

Jack Whitver got into the end zone. That's one thing that didn't happen a single time during the 14-game 2002 season. The 5-10 receiver from Grinnell caught 52 passes as a junior for 685 yards, but never scored a touchdown. Thankfully, that drought is over.

Tony Yelk had a good day, punting eight times for a 48.9-yard average.

The Iowa State defense played very well when it had to on third- and fourth-down situations. In fact, the only third-down conversions I remember the Panthers getting were on a couple of Cyclone penalties. So, that's something that Iowa State can solve and control.

Brandon Brown played very well at his linebacker spot. Brown was in on at least a dozen tackles, including a QB sack. The junior had 137 tackles last season and looks to be in that same ballpark this fall.

The young Cyclones who were playing in their first collegiate game on Saturday will improve immensely as the season goes along. Some will look much better as quickly as next week.

So, don't get too down, Cyclone fans. It wasn't a thing of beauty, but Saturday's game was still a victory. If the Cyclones can find a way to improve steadily throughout the season, nobody's going to care how "impressive" the game in August was. And regardless of how anyone wants to describe the game against UNI, Iowa State's record is still 1-0.

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I listened to the radio broadcast of the game on Saturday night and I thought that John Walters did a terrific job in his first game as the play-by-play man for Cyclone football. Walters and Eric Heft worked very well together, in my opinion. Iowa State fans will enjoy listening to these two guys for many football and basketball seasons to come.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Tuesday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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