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 did you think of some of the offensive decisions against Kansas, like playing three quarterbacks, and the going away from a running game early in favor of more passing?
Bruns: I didn't think there was any problem with the quarterback moves they made. The bottom line is that Waye struggled after the first couple possessions. Austin came in, and I was looking forward to seeing how he would respond after the adversity of the season--but he performed poorly. Cris didn't look good, either. Kansas had a good adjustment after the first couple of series and went to a two-man; in our standard two-receiver set, they played man on our wide-outs and had two safeties playing up in the box, effectively giving them a five-man defensive front and four linebackers/safeties in the box. It shut our run game off and challanged our passing offense. Our QBs and receivers didn't connect, and our offense was out in the cold yet again.
CN: Would you like to see Mac stick with one quarterback, and if so, who would that be?
Bruns: I don't really want to pick one. None have the complete package you need to win. All three have attributes you'd like in a quarterback, but you can only play one guy at a time. I think things would be different for Austin Flynn right now if he'd have started the season in a backup role. At this point, I think he has a lack of confidence and can't be as productive as you need him to be. I think he is the guy I'd want to see at the controls, but he needed time to develop and he has had exactly the opposite.
CN: A few players came out in the papers after the game, questioning strategy and the decisions on how quarterbacks were rotated. What's your take?
Bruns: Players need to play and coaches need to coach. One of the problems we're seeing is that so many people have talked about coaches going out the door--that they're the problem that now some of the players feel validated in shoving the blame publicly to the coaches. Are we one of the best-coached teams in the country? Definitely, not. I am not sure who all you're talking about. I do know that committed players, who are committed to more than themselves, would never point fingers at teammates, much less coaches in front of the media. That sort of crap is cancer, and the guys doing it point the finger directly at themselves when they do it in my mind.
CN: ISU has now lost to back-to-back teams (Kansas and Colorado) that had losing records when it played them. What has happened to this team?
Bruns: If you don't have an experienced offensive line, you have to have an experienced quarterback. We have neither and I don't think either position has improved over the course of the season. That is not completely unexpected, because it is extremely hard to get bigger and stronger and more fundamentally sound when the bullets are flying from week to week. I held out hope that good things would happen at both positions at the start of the season, but it was probably unrealistic.
These kids came out and played hard from the start of the KU game, but didn't have the tools for various reasons--to blow up an extra guy in the box and run the ball or make plays in the passing game one-on-one.
CN: Fans certainly want a pound of flesh in the form of coaching staff changes. Is that the answer to the Cyclones' woes, or does the blame lie in other areas?
Bruns: There are obviously a number of things wrong. Guys need time to mature and improve. I do think coaches set the standard for unity on a team, and I don't think the staff ever really enjoyed working together. Really, I think it comes down to treating everyone the same. People can accept the fact that something didn't go their way if they see the guys beside them get held to the same standard. I think that hasn't happened to an extent.
Utimately, it comes down to unselfishness.
CN: Changing to a more positive tone, we have seen great play from rush end Jason Berryman, who has been the team's defensive MVP five weeks running. Talk about his play and what makes him so special.
Bruns: Jason's motor is running all the time on the field. No matter what, I think he is having fun playing football and it shows. He has good hands, great hips, solid strength level and linebacker speed. Jason is a gifted young man and can be a terror before his time is over. The kind of things that make him go hard every game are the kinds of attributes you look for in a future leader. I think Jason's play has been unselfish and a tribute to his charactor at a very difficult time in a young man's life. The freshman year of college football is brutal, and he has taken it on with gusto.
CN: Much of the talk on our boards has changed to next season, and the offensive line ISU could field. Although this group will be younger, can it show marked improvement over this year's group? What do you envision the starting unit being?
Bruns: I think it could be much improved. If Luke can make it through a season without injury and come on like he did in the spring of 2002, he could be a very solid starting center or guard. Seth Zehr has a spot in there as well at the center/guard positions. Aaron Brant will come lightyears after a year with Getty and will start to emerge as the type of player he'll be as a veteran - look for him to move to his natural position of tackle after the season ends. Cale Stubbe has quitely put in a solid year and will only get better has he continues to develop over the off season. Bastian Schober may step in as the other guard with some heavy competition from some of the other redshirts.
If there is a coaching change like many people have speculated, it will be a growing situation for every single player. The new guy doesn't have any preconceived notions of you or your ability, and even the vets have to prove they can play. That instantly motivates everyone, and I think it will help this unit as it heads into the 2004 season.
CN: What can the Cyclones hope to achieve in their final game of the season against Missouri?
Bruns: I think we need to play determined for four quarters. That is about players; it is something we as players can control. It is the measure of your toughness and pride. What happens in between is details; maybe you win, maybe not. Do your part.
CN: Discuss some of the areas and issues you feel Mac and his staff need to address immediately after the season?
Bruns: All of these guys need to get away from the program for a few weeks. A lot can change with a little time away, and these players will see something different when they come back. Mac will be making some changes, and the players get a new chance to renew their convictions and learn what some other guys are all about. It will be a scary and exciting time all rolled into one.
CN: Finally, what are some keys to victory over Missouri?
Bruns: Teamwork and unselfishness; these guys need to take pride in their work and what it means to their families and to each other.