Football Insider: Iowa

In the third edition of CN's Football Insider, Ben Bruns offers some extended analysis of this Saturday's big instate matchup between the Cyclones and Hawkeyes, while briefly summing up Iowa State's performance against Ohio.

Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and key member of the 2000 senior class that led Iowa State to a 9-3 record and top 25 ranking in both the Coach's and AP polls. Bruns finished 5th in the voting for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top center in college football, and in high school was named the Class 1-A Player of the Year by the Des Moines Register. The native of Denver, Iowa, now provides analysis for the Cyclone Radio Network and CN during the football season.

CN: Let's start with your overall impressions of the 48-20 win over Ohio.

Bruns: I thought we improved a bunch. Ohio is a tough opponent, and we had a great day offensively. There were still some stretches in which we didn't move the ball consistently, but 23 first downs can win you games while 13 first downs leaves you home at Christmas.

CN: When was the last time you saw an ISU football team improve that much from Week 1 to Week 2?

Bruns: I don't know that I've ever seen that much improvement as a fan. In 1999 we had a major improvement from week one to week two. But week two was Iowa, so you would expect that.

CN: What was the reason for the drastic improvement in the running game?

Bruns: I think they had much better games as individuals and as a unit up front. In the first game the O-line, it seemed the players were taking turns making mistakes at times. They were all better in week two, and that adds up to a much-improved unit.

CN: Should ISU fans view this win as a turnaround for the much-maligned offensive line?

Bruns: There is a lot of season ahead of us, and a few defenses that are a little better than Ohio U's. I'd like to see continued improvement each week. They have a lot of talent and are good athletes, so if they can get close to their potential they can be a good unit by the end of the season.

CN: Unfortunately, not all of the news was good. The Cyclones gave up a few big plays on defense, and Harold Clewis struggled at cornerback. Are those correctable mistakes?

Bruns: I think our secondary was lights out the first week. Then against an option team, they struggled. That is to be expected a little because of a corner's responsibility to take the pitch man in the run game while a receiver is running him off, blocking him, or cutting him. We obviously had some breakdowns, but I know it will get shored up.

CN: Let's get to the game this Saturday against the University of Iowa. The oddsmakers have installed the Hawkeyes as a 4.5-point favorite (strictly for informational purposes only). Do you agree with their assessment?

Bruns: It makes me mad, deep down inside…

CN: I've got to believe Dan McCarney and his staff love being able to play the "underdog" card again despite five straight wins in the series.

Bruns: It does make you wonder what people are thinking, but if that is the way it is, Mac and the guys will have to prove everyone wrong again.

CN: This game is really beginning to remind me of the memorable 2001 clash in Ames. Conventional wisdom had the Hawkeyes winning that one as well after they had posted consecutive impressive victories. Do you see any similarities?

Bruns: I think now that the talent level is even, the games will continue to be close. I think big plays will be the key to this one, just like they were in 2001.

CN: How important is this game to the Cyclones?

Bruns: I think it is important not only because it is a rivalry, but also because our schedule is brutal. You need to win every one you can.

CN: I've often opined that ISU almost treats this game as a season unto itself. Was that the case when you were playing?

Bruns: This game is important to everyone on our team, and it has a different atmosphere than others because everyone in the state is talking about it for weeks before. Win or lose, you've got to get up and go back to work on Sunday, but it is a great feeling to be on top for another year. No one can take that from you.

CN: How much of a "helmet game" is this? It just seems that whenever the Cyclones see black-and-gold, it brings out the best in them.

Bruns: I think if you plant the seed of doubt early in your opponent's mind, you've got an advantage in any game. An advantage in winning five straight is that the seed is there already; you just have to make it grow as soon as you get in the game.

CN: Are you tired of hearing that you've just been lucky the last five years and the Hawkeyes only lose because of their own untimely mistakes or freak injuries?

Bruns: Ask me next week, because what I have to say here would end up right on a bulletin board in Iowa City.

CN: Is there a more satisfying feeling for a Cyclone football player than hoisting that Cy-Hawk trophy in victory?

Bruns: Absolutely. Life is about overcoming obstacles. We overcame at Iowa in '98. We overcame in 2000 at Oklahoma State and Colorado, and again versus Missouri and in Phoenix for the Insight.com Bowl. Nebraska fell in 2002. Kansas State is out there. Oklahoma and Texas are out there.

CN: Is there a second-most satisfying feeling for a Cyclone football player than silencing the overly arrogant wing of the Hawkeye Nation?

Bruns: That overly arrogant wing of fans is definitely a pompous bunch that constantly thinks the Hawkeyes are underrated on a national scale. Iowa may very well win the Big 10 this year if an overrated Michigan squad and an Illinois team that can't take Mizzou on a bad day are all they have to get past. We'll just keep trying to win our game and compete in the best conference in college football.

CN: Beyond the emotion and history of this rivalry, I think in terms of personnel this game comes down to a couple of questions. Let's take them one at a time. First, can ISU's offensive line handle what I think could be the best front seven on defense the Hawkeyes have had since the early 1980s?

Bruns: That will be interesting. I think we will need to mix it up to win, but the guys up front have not seen seven like Iowa has yet. If they don't do well, it could be a long year, because most of the Big 12 teams have a front seven as good or better than Iowa's.

CN: Second, each starting quarterback will need to make a few plays to win the game while avoiding game-changing mistakes. Who's more equipped to do that successfully, Austin Flynn or Nathan Chandler?

Bruns: I haven't had the opportunity to see Chandler much, but I know Flynn has a nice touch, makes decisions like he is a junior, and runs very well. Austin has a moxie that most freshmen don't, and it serves him well.

CN: How do you anticipate true freshman Jason Berryman will do up against All-American Robert Gallery all afternoon?

Bruns: Gallery is a good football player who can be dominant at the point of attack. I think it will be important for Jason to keep from getting widened when coming hard up field and try for a stalemate at the line of scrimmage when he is playing Gallery head up. Our Sam linebackers or strong safeties will have to have a nice game to help support Jason, if they flop the tight end over to the other side of the line with motion.

CN: What about ISU should the Hawkeyes be the most concerned about?

Bruns: I think special teams is going to make or break this game. ISU has been outstanding on special teams to this point.

CN: Give us your keys to victory.

Bruns: Nasty and physical play up front, going to the whistle, sure tackling, and big plays will keep the doctors at bay.


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