FB Insider: Bye Week

Football insider Jack Whitver gives his take on the Iowa State Cyclones during this off-week, and believes that the Cyclones' young offensive skill players have been a big surprise through three non-conference games.

CN: This week, let's focus mainly on the team and where the Cyclones are heading into the Big 12 season. What are some of the positives, as you view them, after three non-conference games?

Whitver: I see many positives after the first three weeks of the season. First, the young guys on offense have really grown up fast. I am very impressed with the new starters on offense, especially at the skill positions. I have said all along that there is more pure talent at the skill positions than anytime I was at Iowa State. I expected them to take a lot longer to adjust to the Division I level. They have come on strong and really stepped up so far this season.

Another positive is that the team is confident and heading into the Big 12 season at 2-1. Obviously you would want to be 3-0, but a winning record heading into the season is something to build on. Confidence is a big part of the game, so it is nice to head into the bye week with a win. There have been a lot of positives to build on, things that will stick with the team the rest of the season.

The last big positive I noticed was the improvement of the defense. The defense has a great attitude right now, which is half of the battle. They have a lot of room to improve, but through three games they have only played about one-and-a-half bad quarters.

CN: How about some areas of needed improvement?

Whitver: The running game has been downright awful. We haven't been able to run the ball against either Division I opponent. That has got to improve if the Cyclones are going to have a great year.

Obviously, the kicking game is not good right now. The PAT field goal situation has already cost the Cyclones one game, and it will cost them a few more if they do not get it fixed during the bye week. I have a tough time blaming Brian Jansen on the situation. It is very hard to join the team as a walk-on your freshman year, not to mention being thrown into duty, expected to win ball games. Most of the guys on the team probably didn't know his name until they told him he was the starter. He has been thrown into a terrible situation. That being said, somebody has still got to produce. This is the weakest part of the team, and it is very important to find a solution.

CN: After the win against Northern Illinois, how much of a difference is 2-and-1 versus 1-and-2 if you're a member of this Iowa State team?

Whitver: It is extremely important for many reasons. The two biggest reasons are confidence and bowl hopes. Losing the game last week would have been a huge blow to the confidence of the team. Even more important, they looked adversity in the eye, and experienced a comeback win.

The second thing is the bowl hopes. The Big 12 is an extremely tough league, and going into the Big 12 season with a losing record all but guarantees the team will be home for the holidays. However, going into the Big 12 with a winning record, it gives the team hope that they will get the required victories to go to a bowl game.

CN: As far as the offensive line goes, what kind of adjustments can be made in practice over two week's time?

Whitver: I think they can use the bye week to gel as a unit. The offensive line is one position that takes time to become a solid unit. They can use all the time they can get to work as a group.

Also, I would expect Coach Mac to do a lot of drills to make the line more physical. They have the size and the athletic ability; they just need to work on being more physical. The bye week is a great time to work on that.

CN: A former receiver yourself, give us your in-depth read on this position.

Whitver: I have been very impressed with the receivers in the first three games. I knew that there would not be a drop off in terms of athletic ability, but I knew it would take time for them to gain experience. They have stepped up and made plays when the offense desperately needed them. The group still needs to get more experience and work on doing the little things to win games, but overall, they have surpassed my expectations.

CN: Can you put into words the type of player Todd Blythe has become in a short amount of time in Ames?

Whitver: Coming in as a freshman, it was easy to see Todd's talent. He has the one quality that Iowa State has been missing at receiver for years, height. Even more, he is a very athletic 6-5. He can run, jump, and change directions. I thought it would take more time than it has for Todd to be playing at this level, but he is a competitor. He wants to win badly, and isn't afraid to play in big games. That is the best quality in Todd.

I have been telling people for months that Todd will break every single receiving record at Iowa State if he can stay healthy. He also has to stay humble and keep working hard. It is very hard to handle success at such a young age, so how Todd handles his success will play a huge role in how good he becomes. He has the potential to be an NFL receiver, but he will need to keep working hard. He needs to start comparing himself to the best receivers in the league, not the receivers on the team. If he starts comparing himself to the other guys in the league, he has unlimited potential.

CN: Would you like to see Terrance Highsmith start to get more playing time, or is he still behind the others after switching from quarterback in training camp?

Whitver: I think Terrance has a lot of potential also. The biggest thing he still needs to do is work on the little things. Playing receiver is a lot more than catching passes, and the little things are what young receivers need to get better in. I think he will see more time as the season goes on, but right now he is limited to catching passes, which is only half of the battle.

CN: You're also familiar with the secondary, having gone up against it the past five seasons. How much better is this group now than in 2003?

Whitver: The secondary is very athletic this year. However, the best pass coverage is a good pass rush. If you can put pressure on the quarterback, it is a lot easier to guard against the pass. The front four on defense have done an excellent job all season of putting pressure on the quarterback, which has helped the defensive backs a lot.

CN: I've noticed more press coverage and one-on-one defense out of the corners this season. Is there anything to that?

Whitver: They have the ability to do it this year. Playing press coverage might be the toughest thing to do in football. It takes a very good athlete to play man-to-man coverage, and Iowa State is finally getting the athletes to do it.

CN: What do the three JUCO defensive backs have to do in order to get on the field even more?

Whitver: A coach really has to trust a defensive back to put him in a game. Unlike other positions, if a defensive back screws up, it could cost you a game. If a receiver screws up and doesn't run the right route, you usually live to see another play. This is not the case in the secondary.

Therefore, I think they just have to learn the defense better. Coach Skladany runs a complicated defense, and it takes a while to learn. Once they have the defense down, they will see more and more playing time.

CN: Let's shift focus to the practices this week. What could the Cyclones expect from bye week workouts?

Whitver: It gives the team a chance to get back to competing in practice. For most of the season, you are working against the scout team, which can get very old. During the bye week, you get the chance to compete and really improve your fundamentals. They also get a chance to rest any injuries, which is a big part of the bye week. Hopefully the guys with injuries get healed up and come back 100 percent healthy.

CN: How about an early read on Oklahoma State? What are some things the coaches are preparing for as we speak?

Whitver: I think the game plan will be very similar to the Iowa game. Okie State has a great running game, but their quarterback is only a freshman. He is very talented, but doesn't have much game experience. I think they will try to put a lot of pressure on him and make the quarterback win the game.

CN: Given its position on the schedule, just how big is this game in the grand scheme of things?

Whitver: Obviously you want to get off to a good start in the Big 12. A win in Stillwater could set the Cyclones up for a very successful season. Playing at Okie State is not easy and it could be one of the Cyclones' most difficult games of the season. The season definitely isn't over if the Cyclones don't win the game, but it could be used as a springboard to a bowl game.

CycloneNation.com Insider Jack Whitver is currently a partner in Acceleration Iowa. Feel free to visit his website at Acceleration Iowa

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