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: What were some of your thoughts coming out of the Kansas State game?
Bruns: It is a little tough to compare teams if you're not out there playing, but I don't know that KSU is where they were 2 or 3 years ago and, for that matter, obviously Nebraska and Texas aren't what they were. So this could have been a season of opportunity. Again, it is tough to tell if you're just better overall with more athletes and more speed and you just aren't making plays or if your competition isn't as good overall as you thought they would be. These are some of the better teams in the country, but I think there is a lot of mediocrity out there this year.
CN: Although the Wildcats ran to another blowout victory in this series, the defense helped hold them to 14 first-half points and even got a few turnovers on the day. Where has this unit steadily improved this season?
Bruns: I think their depth is better than it has been since Mac has been here. Imagine the depth we would have if there weren't freshmen starting all over the place if Anthony Forrest and Tyson Smith were playing, and Jordan and Nick didn't get hurt…there is a lot of hope for the future on the defensive side of the ball.
CN: You went into the lack of execution on the offensive line during the radio broadcast. Were these problems you hadn't seen before, or the same things that had been plaguing the offensive line all season? If you could, go into detail.
Bruns: I was frustrated with the lack of execution of some relatively simple blitz pickups. We have had difficulty picking up the blitz all year, and that can be the case if you don't have a lot of continuity with the guys starting each week, and if you are young. I remember watching Iowa play Nebraska's defense in 2000 and being amazed at their lack of ability to pick up a blitz. Then, they get older and more experienced and become a very good unit by last year.
The thing that is frustrating is that you see the most simple blitz of all (on more than one occasion)--a middle linebacker through the center/guard ‘A' gap or through the guard/tackle ‘B' gap and no one picks it up. As a staff, you must to have pass protection rules that are:
Followed on a game-by-game basis as part of your game preparation – or --
Always followed exactly the same way and are fundamentally ingrained into your physical response due to repetition and relentless mental drilling, so that the offensive line and the backs know exactly what to do in each situation.
The latter gives you an advantage in that everyone knows what to do because you've always done it that way. The former gives you an advantage because it allows you to play to the defense's tendencies. Either way, you've got to understand it and execute it, which we didn't do a good job with. Follow that up with QBs that don't yet know how to feel that pressure and get the ball to the right spot because of inexperience and it makes for a tough day.
CN: I thought the wide receiving corps had a lot to do with the offensive struggles against Kansas State, as certain players dropped passes or gave up on pass routes altogether. Is it fair to place some of the blame here?
Bruns: When you win, you all feel good…when you lose you should all feel bad. It is the same with taking responsibility. Steve Largent, one of the best to ever play the game, said that if you can touch the ball, you can catch the ball. There were a bunch of tough grabs to make out there, but there were a lot of balls touched and not caught, too.
CN: What needs to be done to improve the effort of some of the players on this team?
Bruns: That is a very tough question for someone outside the program to ask and it has a lot of implications. I think if a member of the football family has to ask that question, you have problems as a football team. Effort is an individual thing that, like it or not, no one can change for anyone else. Either you have pride to do things the right way, or you don't. I'd like to think Coach Mac has guys in the program that have pride in doing things the right way. If they don't, they won't be around long if your players and coaches have a commitment to doing things the right way.
CN: What does this offense need to do to score some points?
Bruns: 1st down efficiency has to increase. We can't get one or none on first down and be successful. You have to get around four yards to put yourself in the standard down and distance playbook on second. The second and ten call sheet is a lot shorter than the second and six; and the defense knows that, too.
CN: Is there any area of the team where you've seen marked improvement from when the season started?
Bruns: I don't think there is a single tangible unit that you can point at and say it is much better than when we started. On a lighter note, there are a bunch of very talented young players playing and redshirting who will have a tremendous impact in the next two or three years. It is obvious our recruits can stand on their own in this conference with some more experience and development with Coach McGettigan.
CN: Emotionally, how tough is it to get certain players up to play every week?
Bruns: This weekend was tough, I think. From the start of the season, the KSU game was one we all wanted. There was a chance for postseason play as well. Now the ‘play for pride' really starts. It is easy to get up again if you have a lot of pride in yourself and your teammates. I always did when we were going through the tough times, and so did the guys I admired; Cortez, Parmentier, Bandhauer, Harklau, Beaudet and dozens more that hung it out on the line every single time we stepped on the field with nothing but our own self-worth on the line. I think back at how hard Preston Rhamy, Kevin Wilson, and Paul Skardvedt played every single game when we were at the lowest of the low--guys who went to the wire for you. You can't get anybody else up for a game, but you can show him you care about him and you care about winning…that is what leaders do.
CN: This will be two straight seasons the Cyclones have not had a 1,000-yard rusher after their streak of seven consecutive with one. However, with the exception of Oliver Ross, no ISU lineman is playing in the NFL from the seasons where ISU had a 1,000-yard rusher. In your opinion, is the talent up front better now than it was then, and what made those O-lines successful that's not happening now?
Bruns: It is kind of ironic, but Big O (Oliver) was an exception to the rule. We all had time getting up through the system. Big O moved from defense in the spring before his senior year and had just started playing O-line before his last campaign as a starter. Oliver gave up over 20 sacks by himself that year. Oliver made it into a camp because of his athleticism and hardnosed play and learned technique on the go. He's now making a bunch of money playing left tackle at Pittsburgh and has some very good technique.
The rest of us had time to grow up in the system (to a certain extent) and had an excellent zone blocking coach in Steve Loney, who several of the Vikings' O-linemen think is the best OL coach in the NFL, much less the college game. I think any team would miss someone of that caliber from a technique standpoint, especially with a bunch of young guys that has moved over from defense or that hasn't yet had time in the program to get the coaching.
We have talent, and a bunch of young talent that hasn't been seen yet. They just need some time and some good coaching to make an impact.
CN: For a change, Colorado is known more for its passing prowess this season under first-year quarterback Joel Klatt than rushing game. What is the recipe for defensive success against this team?
Bruns: I think Colorado will try to stay pretty even against us. You have to make plays on both sides of the ball to contain any team; but more than that you have to get the defense off the field. Our offense needs to be productive, too.
CN: Given Colorado's overall ranking on defense – 111th out of 117 Division I teams – do you see an offensive breakout by Steve Brickey's unit?
Bruns: We struggled somewhat against a Texas Tech defense that was rated poorly as well, and our defense is giving up a bunch of yards in league play. However, I think we'd all agree that our defense is much better than the yardage we're seeing put up against it because the ISU defense has been put in some bad positions. My point is that, while their defense may well be better than the stats show, we have to be consistent in moving the ball and establish field position for ourselves through 1st down productivity and no turnovers.
CN: What's your prediction for Saturday afternoon?
Bruns: This will be an even matchup and a very winnable game if we can move the ball consistently. Our playmakers have to make plays on both sides of the ball.