Throughout his team's run of three consecutive bowl seasons, head coach Dan McCarney has stressed the importance of forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball on offense. And up until the midway point of last season, Iowa State was one of the Big 12's best at turnover margin. But lost turnovers proved costly down the stretch of 2002, and the Cyclone defense was unable to force one against a Division I-AA foe last weekend.
Although turnover margin might not be the determining factor in a win over Ohio Saturday, it could mean the difference between a well-played game by ISU and a repeat of last week's narrow victory over Northern Iowa. Expect speedy defenders Jason Berryman and Nik Moser to play key roles in this game.
This sets up as a game where the Cyclones can win turnover margin, too. Always prone to turnovers because of the triple option style they employ, the Bobcats turned the ball over three consecutive times on offense in the second quarter against hapless Southeast Missouri State. Four lost fumbles throughout cost the Bobcats much consistency on the offensive end in a 17-3 triumph.
Give QB time in the pocket
Starting his first game at quarterback, Austin Flynn seemed to scramble more than Cyclone coaches probably would have hoped. UNI got most of its pressure up the middle against the likes of inexperienced starters Matt Bockes and Aaron Brant. If Flynn is given time to set up and throw, he'll choose from a veteran group of four receivers. Expect Lance Young and Lane Danielsen to become viable targets against a Bobcat secondary lacking a senior.
Of course, the way Ohio's defense plays ISU could decide how much time Flynn gets. UNI was relentless in its pressure of the redshirt freshman quarterback, giving him several different looks from blitzes. The Cyclones need to establish a run game and have Flynn making quick decisions in the passing game to produce better offensive results than a week ago.
Be aggressive while staying at home
Opponents can be lured into a trap while selling out to stop Ohio's triple option offense. Take for example ISU's last game against Ohio. The Cyclones were in control with a 31-14 lead heading into the final 15 minutes, but fell victim to a pair of big pass plays from Dontrell Jackson and Chad Brinker on a halfback pass.
Tight end Joe Mohler became the beneficiary of two touchdown passes in a span of 6:31, the second of which caught the Cyclone defense by complete surprise. Mohler slipped through the secondary and had a buffer of nearly 20 yards when he hauled in the 53-yard pass that cut the lead to three points with 5:25 to play.
Bobcat quarterback Freddie Ray is not perceived as a passing threat, netting just 49 yards through the air on 9-of-16 completions last weekend. But that could make him even more dangerous if ISU overpursues.