ISU Answers Bell; Big Game Awaits

A buddy of mine—a Cyclone fan—came into my office last week and declared, "Iowa State's not any good. When you only beat UNI by seven points, it's going to be a long season. I think we're looking at three wins…a 3-and-9 record."

He was at the 17-10 victory over UNI. And he was NOT pleased.

My guess is that his tune—and the feelings of plenty of ISU fans—has changed after the 48-20 victory over Ohio on Saturday. (Not to mention UNI's 62-0 trouncing of Northern Michigan.)

Granted, the Cyclones had some unanswered questions after the close game with the Panthers, but they definitely made some improvements against the Bobcats. If Iowa State can continue to progress like this, the 2003 season will be another memorable one for Cyclone fans everywhere…including the down-in-the-mouth, "3-and-9 record" fans like my buddy.

Despite giving up some big plays to Ohio, there were a lot of positives for Coach Dan McCarney's troops on Saturday. Here are several of them…

Iowa State wanted to PROVE that it could run the football with consistency. The Cyclones only gained 167 yards rushing in the opener and averaged less than four yards per carry. In Game 2, ISU gained 271 yards on the ground, with a 5.3-yard average. Just what the doctor ordered for the Cyclones' offense. And the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for that.

Austin Flynn is playing like a seasoned veteran. The redshirt freshman threw the ball 27 times on Saturday and didn't get picked off. How good is this kid? In his first two college games, Flynn is 23-of-45 for 406 yards with 3 touchdowns and only 1 interception. That's a 9.0-yard average per pass attempt to go with his 3:1 TD to interception ratio. Tremendous numbers for a freshman, that's for sure.

The Cyclones were 8-for-16 on third-down conversions against the Bobcats. Very good.

Iowa State won the turnover battle against Ohio. The Cyclones did not cough up the ball, while the Bobcats fumbled twice. This was another improvement over the opener when ISU failed to cause a single turnover…and Flynn's only interception led to an easy Panther TD.

Michael Wagner is a man on a mission, it appears. In two games, the senior tailback has 38 carries for 197 yards and a pair of TDs. Any time your starting running back is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, your offense is going to be pretty effective.

Flynn continues to be a threat with his feet. On Saturday, the Cyclone quarterback gained 78 yards on the ground, averaging 5.6 yards per rush. In two games, Flynn has 140 yards rushing on 28 attempts, for a 5.0-yard average, including a TD. That gives the QB a total of 546 yards of offense in two games, with only one turnover. Very impressive. (Was Cris Love REALLY ahead of Flynn on the depth chart a couple of months ago?)

Hiawatha Rutland ran well in his first action of the season, gaining 56 yards on 12 carries, including a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Iowa State has yet to allow a single point in the fourth quarter this season.

Lane Danielsen is now ISU's all-time receiving leader with 2,077 career receiving yards.

Danielsen and Jack Whitver—two former walk-ons—had big days. They each caught five passes. Whitver totaled 110 yards and Danielsen gained 102 yards, including a 59-yard TD in the second quarter. Memo to stud receivers at small Iowa high schools: Even if you aren't heavily recruited, you just might have what it takes to play—and play well—at the Division 1 level. Dream big and work hard.

Freshman Jason Berryman had a strong game in his first start at defensive end. He recorded five tackles, including a sack.

Jordan Carstens had seven tackles, two for losses and one QB sack.

Iowa State's defensive efficiency on third down was very good again, allowing Ohio to convert on only 3 of 14 tries.

Not that there aren't more improvements to be made as the season continues, but ISU appears to be a much better football team than some people thought a week ago. And that bodes well for the Cyclones heading into the "Big Game" next Saturday in Ames.

Could Iowa State capture its SIXTH consecutive victory over the Hawkeyes? It sure looks like a possibility as both teams have made some positive strides in the season's first two weeks.

Perhaps no Cyclone victory in the five-game winning streak against Iowa was as exciting as last year's 36-31 comeback. Iowa State trailed 24-7 at the half in Iowa City, but went on a 23-0 run in the first 11 minutes of the second half to take control of the game.

Seneca Wallace put on a great show that night, of course. He threw for 362 yards and ran for 30 more. But, you can't put a comeback like that one together without a LOT of key contributions from a variety of players. For example, there were several former Iowa preps making big plays for the Cyclones:

Whitver (Grinnell) finished with 8 catches for 133 yards, including two third-down receptions that seemed to break Iowa's back.

Danielsen (Dike) had 5 catches for 131 yards.

Joe Woodley (West Des Moines) scored a TD on his only carry.

Tim TeBrink (Alton) pulled off an extremely rare trifecta—a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery—on one play.

This Saturday in Ames, there will be several heroes again in what should be a great college football game.

Both teams are 2-0. Both teams have answered some questions in the first two games. Both teams are getting big contributions from young players. And both teams need to win this game pretty badly. It should be a terrific game with a few key plays telling the story.

As Coach McCarney said in his post-game comments, "The heart of the season begins this week." No doubt about it, Coach. This is when the fun REALLY begins.

(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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