FB Insider: N. Illinois

Iowa State is fresh off a bye week heading into DeKalb this weekend for a road matchup with Northern Illinois. Our football insider talks everything from punt coverage to a team, young in some spots, going on the road for the first time in '03.

Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and a 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 Cyclone Nation during the football season.

CN: Obviously, some major things cannot be overhauled during the course of a bye week. But what important things could be done and were done between the Iowa game and now?

Bruns: After a little more time to look back on it, I really believe this is a good football team that can accomplish a lot this year. Each week is an opportunity, and I think the biggest thing to accomplish this week is to get the fire back to succeed and prove people wrong the rest of the season. Mentality can always be overhauled, and I hope that is the case this week. I hope we see a caged animal let loose on Saturday.

CN: How much of a concern is the punt game to you, and what should be done if it is not corrected in the near future?

Bruns: This is another area that can definitely be improved over the off week. NIU has blocked a lot of kicks in the last few games and you know they will be coming after us. Protection has to be superb. We'll cross the ‘not' bridge if we come to it, but I trust that Mac will make sure this phase of the game is squared away by kickoff.

CN: Talk of Bob Montgomery's return on Saturday has started. But how long do you think it would take for him to be as effective as he was during the spring and before he sustained the injury during two-a-days?

Bruns: In being in a similar situation my junior season, I think I can relate to it pretty directly. I remember feeling like I wasn't as sharp or as good as I wanted to be, but that on Sunday, Coach Hoener told me he was sure glad I was back. I have no doubt Bob's return will be very similar. He may not be to the point he wants to be, but we will all notice his return.

CN: What about the chemistry of this group? How does the starting five recapture what it had before injuries stepped in the way?

Bruns: It does take a little time, but it can rejuvenate a unit that is struggling. Having someone different, especially someone you respect, back in the lineup helps everyone have a higher energy level.

CN: Talk about the Internet rumors of player dissention and guys quitting the team that Coach McCarney has refuted. Can you imagine anything like that actually happening to a Mac-coached team?

Bruns: Isn't the Internet great!! Honestly, there is a lot of good information out there. However, back in the day (and it wasn't that long ago), no one would have ever known if Ben Bruns was disgruntled because he wasn't getting a shot at the starting kicking job and thinking of hanging it up. No one would ever know that Joe Parmentier was homesick and needed some New York style deep dish so bad he wanted to quit. No one would ever guess that Todd Bandhauer thought about transferring to the University of Eastern Iowa to join the tiddlywinks team.

People hear a guy in the dorm complaining about his coach or his buddy and think it's the end of the world…OH! SCOOP, gotta run and put this on the message board. Things get blown out of proportion. Mac knows where his team is and they know where he is. They're all just looking forward to getting back out on the field again.

CN: Do you agree with the decision to take the redshirt off of Todd Blythe? Yes or no, why?

Bruns: If Todd can help us win, more power to him. This is about winning. Five years is a long time. Percentages say you're really lucky to play more than half the games in a five-year career because of injuries and player upgrades. Let's see what he's got!

CN: Moving to Northern Illinois, let's talk about Michael Turner. Are you encouraged enough by the rush defense in recent games to think ISU can contain him?

Bruns: From the sounds of it, Turner is on a level well above Fred Russell, but time will tell. I think this defense can shut down a rushing attack if they tackle well. Tackling talented backs like Turner and Russell is a challenge for anyone.

CN: If Jordan Carstens, Nick Leaders and company are able to corral him, that would make it two consecutive games that the Cyclone front has held up against top tailbacks. What else would have to fall into place for a victory against Northern Illinois?

Bruns: Well, you know how I feel about running the ball, but realistically, Austin Flynn can win a game like this if he plays well and takes pressure off the running game. I think ISU needs to work from pass to run and move the ball consistently. I don't have the stats, but I have a feeling we are struggling in first down efficiency, one of the top measures of offensive consistency and productivity. Get that yardage up, and we'll score points.

CN: What are some matchups the ISU offense could possibly exploit and have some success in?

Bruns: I haven't had a chance to watch NIU this season, so I think it would be premature for me to respond to this one.

CN: Does the fact that this is the first road game for a team extremely young in some spots worry you?

Bruns: I enjoyed playing on the road. This is also a good environment to play your first road game since the crowd shouldn't be overpowering and the stadium won't inspire the awe of a Texas A&M or Nebraska. A road game lets you concentrate on football and your teammates. It can be a wonderful experience.

CN: Finally, how about a prediction for this Saturday?

Bruns: The team that executes the best and that is the most physical on both sides of the line will win this one. A good deal of success early on will make a team that isn't really sure they are one of the top teams in the country get pretty nervous in front of a home crowd. We've got to start fast.

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