"He is absolutely a dynamic football player and one of the best offensive players in our conference," said ISU head coach Dan McCarney. "You look at total offense and he's almost 300 yards a game. You look at pass efficiency, taking care of the football, not throwing interceptions and fumbling, he is really something. He's playing like a junior that's started a lot of games and played a lot. I'm sure he really has a great grasp of their offense.
"He is accurate, has a great arm, has a gun, and is throwing it on a rope. You watch what was almost the last play of (the Kansas State game) – the 60-some yard touchdown run – and he's as fast as anybody in this league. That's DBs, receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks. He ran away and left the Kansas State defenders in the dust."
McNeal's experience is what helps make him so dangerous. A part-time starter as a redshirt freshman in 2002, McNeal engineered an upset of top-ranked Oklahoma. He has since shaken off competition from Dustin Long, who decided to transfer to Sam Houston State during the offseason.
And much like Cyclone fans great accustomed to in the 2001 and 2002 campaigns, McNeal has taken the A&M offense to an entirely new level this fall.
"Their whole team has really improved since that first game," McCarney said. "He is electric and really something to watch. He has a great supporting cast with offensive line, receivers, running backs, playmakers, and a real good defense. He's special and reminds me a lot of what Seneca Wallace meant to us in his two-year career. He can elevate the play of everyone around him."
Just how much has McNeal improved in one season? He averaged 179.3 yards of total offense per game last season, and has surpassed that figure in each of his first four games this year. His best came in week two against Wyoming when he passed for 298 yards and added 44 more on the ground. One week later he accounted for 307 total yards (178 passing and 129 rushing) against Clemson.
McNeal certainly has the weapons around him to be successful. Quarterback Terrence Murphy is one of the best A&M receivers in school history, and has 13 catches for 257 yards and one score in four games this fall. He currently owns school records for career receptions (129), receiving yards (2,136), and 100-yard receiving games (7).
On the ground, the Aggies will balance out their attack with sophomore Courtney Lewis. The Houston native has rushed for 271 yards and five scores on 56 carries.
It's A&M's balance that has McCarney more worried this week.
"If you have a real good running back along with a quarterback that can do those things – that's the real problem," ISU's head coach said. "A&M has exactly that. They have a real good running back in Lewis, an outstanding athlete at quarterback, playmakers at wide receiver, and a mammoth offensive line and good tight ends. Oklahoma State is not one dimensional, but it was clear in that game and the ones prior to when we played them, that they were going to run the football and play-action some.
"Going into it this week, you can't just do that. They're not just going to run the football. They'll spread it out wide open and let Reggie throw it and run it. They're very diversified. I would much rather face a team that has just a running back who is really a good player, but don't have a guy like Reggie McNeal at quarterback. He really makes it tough."
Cotton steps forward
Following his offense's disappointing performance Saturday against Oklahoma State, first-year coordinator Barney Cotton made it a point to address the entire team during a meeting Sunday.
The former New Mexico and Nebraska offensive coordinator and line coach wanted to get a message across to a defense that, despite playing long minutes with their backs against the wall – performed well against Oklahoma State.
"Barney got up here in front of the football team and did a fabulous job," McCarney said. "He wanted the defensive guys to know how much he and the offense appreciated what they were doing. He said, ‘believe me and trust me that we're going to get this offense going. Have some faith, keep the hope alive, we're a growth in progress, but we're going to make you proud of us too.' It was really a good message and speaks well to the type of guy that he is."
Cotton apparently decided to approach the team on a whim. McCarney said it his speech sent a positive message to the team.
"Nothing prompted it," ISU's head coach said. "I really appreciate him doing it. It goes back to the professionalism he brings to this job, what a passion he has, and how important it is that everyone is proud of his offense. He wants it bad and will scratch, dig, and fight with the best of them to get it. I know we'll improve with our offense."
More carries for Scales?
Former West Des Moines Valley tailback Jason Scales continues to work his way back. The freshman has battled various ailments during his short career. But McCarney said that he is back to 100 percent and will challenge backup Tyease Thompson for that role this week.
"Jason has really improved," McCarney said. "He missed some time with injuries early, and a couple of things that weren't too serious, but it kept him out of practice. He's back full speed now and had a real good week of practice last week. We're definitely going to play him this week.
"He and Tyease Thompson have a good battle going for number two. They're both real quality freshmen backs. Steve is our starter, but I think you'll see all three of these backs. I'm really impressed with Jason. He looks like he's in another gear right now within the last 10 days."
Thompson is coming off a not-so-memorable performance against the Cowboys in which he lost a crucial fumble deep in Cyclone territory.
Ellis Hobbs meets with the media Tuesday.
Austin Flynn will once again back up Bret Meyer.
Erik Anderson is coming off a banner performance against OSU.