Iowa State vs. Texas A&M Quotebook

<b>AMES, IA --</b> Iowa State opens the Big 12 Conference home portion of their season Saturday evening against Texas A&M. Head coach Dan McCarney previewed the game with the local media during his weekly press conference Tuesday morning. Here is a transcription.

Opening comments:

"Congratulations on Cael Sanderson's appointment to the wrestling staff. That's great news. I know that without Bobby Douglas, Chris Bono, and Brue Van De Velde working together on that, it wasn't going to happen. We don't have a better ambassador for this whole University, and especially the athletic department. Can you imagine being a wrestler out there any where in the country, then go and be in the same wrestling room everyday with Cael Sanderson? It's a pretty good recruiting coup."

"Our MVP for the Oklahoma State game on defense was Erik Anderson. It was without question his best game since he's been at Iowa State. He had 13 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, and a sack. He really played well and I'm proud of him. A lot of the effort of the defense was lost in the shuffle of that score and the outcome of the game. There were some tremendous things accomplished by our defense, and we'll build on those things."

"The special teams MVP was Troy Blankenship, who had a little over a 40-yard average punting and three pin ‘ems inside the 20-yard line. He also made a touchdown-saving tackle on one of their returns when we were backed up. He has done a tremendous job for all the time that Tony Yelk has missed in the games."

"Offensively, we didn't have any MVPs. It wasn't that we had 11 guys that were horrible. We put a lot of credence and credibility into the MVP awards, and it has to be earned. We didn't have one on offense."

"Our special teams captain for this week is Landon Schrage. He has done an outstanding job as our short snapper and deep snapper. It's one of the toughest jobs in all of football and he has done a magnificent job for us."

"I think our health is real good overall, unlike last year at this time when we couldn't get through a game without losing a couple starters. Luke Vander Sanden played the whole game and got through it fine. He played well in the game and knocked some rust off. He made a few mistakes, but overall really played well. He'll be ready to go this week."

"We're hoping to get Cephus Johnson back. He got hurt in the Northern Iowa game. He's our starting defensive end that has missed a lot of time. He'll practice tonight and then we'll just see how he feels. He practiced Sunday night, but we were just in shorts so it's hard to tell. We've got to get out there and get some contact today to see how he feels. He would really help our defense and defensive end position."

"We'll again take a look at Tony Yelk tonight. It sounded like, as of Sunday night, he felt like he could do some punting tonight. We'll break into that slowly and hope that he can get back and start helping us. We're waiting on him all the way on this to see how he feels. Hip flexors are very painful and aggravating. It seems like it takes a long time to heal."

"Texas A&M is an outstanding football team that's on a roll. They lost that opener to Utah, which is 11th in the country right now and undefeated. A&M lost on the road to an excellent team, but they really have played outstanding football since then. I don't know anybody in our league the last three weeks that's played as well as them. When you shut out Wyoming, dominate Clemson, and beat the defending Big 12 champions – they're on a roll. They're an outstanding football team and we'll have a great challenge here."

"Homecoming is special here at Iowa State. I love it. It's a big celebration on this campus, and more than that to me. It's another opportunity for us to line up and face an outstanding program, team, and staff. It's very important to our program."

"TCU, Alabama, and now A&M – this is the third place I've coached against Dennis Franchione in my tenure here at Iowa State. Everywhere he's gone he's won. He's stepped into a program that has some of the best talent in all of college football every year. You'll see some of the fastest, most athletic, and biggest players in our conference when you see this game on Saturday night."

"I really believe we'll continue to improve. I think we'll draw some things out of that game Saturday. All four of those turnovers were by freshmen. It's not an excuse, but those freshmen need to learn in those situations to hold on to the ball. We had been doing a great job through the first three games, but it caught up with us Saturday. It's hard to overcome four turnovers and win a football game."

On reserve running backs:

"Jason (Scales) has really improved. 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."

On starter Stevie Hicks:

"He did some good things down there Saturday. He got some hard tough yards, and when you break it down, grade it, and evaluate it, there were a number of times when he made the first guy miss. He hasn't had any real long runs, with the exception of the Northern Iowa game, but he's gotten some tough yards.

We went from having 35 yards as an offense in the first half to nearly 190 in the second half. We've got to pull out of that second half some of the things we did, because we're going to see a real good defense here Saturday. They're one of the top rush defenses in the country and have a lot of good players out there."

On importance of team learning from Oklahoma State:

"With every game and every situation you get in to, hopefully they learn and retain. With the good things they do, hopefully they understand how and why so we can do. With the mistakes, let's get them corrected and not beat ourselves. We're still the fourth-least penalized team in this league and don't beat ourselves with a lot of penalties, the but the few we had the other day just killed us.

"It's good judgement, discipline, and concentration. Two of those on kick returns put us in a deep hole. It sure wasn't because kids weren't trying hard, but it comes down to good judgement, discipline, concentration, and doing it right to learn from those things."

On Texas A&M's ranking third nationally in turnover margin:

"They're plus-10 and have gained 11 turnovers and only given up one. They're doing a great job. One of the many major reasons they're improved over a year ago at this time is they're taking care of the football and going after it. When they watch Saturday's game and see eight sacks and some disruptions back there in our pocket, we know there is going to be a lot of heat coming at Bret and Austin. We've got to have an answer and be able to improve on our protection. They're not going to go untouched all day long. This is Big 12 football, but eight sacks in one game is a poor job."

On difference in Aggies from 2003 to 2004:

"They're playing with lots of confidence and there are more good players on the field. There is a good combination of veterans and guys that have played a lot of football, then some brand new guys. I see some of the best redshirt freshmen I've seen in this league in a while watching some of their guys playing. They've done a real good job of recruiting, and there is a consistency of recruiting and talent that's gone on for a long time.

"They're playing good and with a passion. There is no doubt they were playing for an awful lot Saturday night. They had the defending Big 12 champions in there. It was a great football game, but in the end A&M was better and deserved to win. We're hoping to be the team that deserves to win this one Saturday night."

On Franchione's teams being better in year two than year two:

"I'm sure his system, discipline, leadership, and coaches' leadership play big roles in that. This is almost the exact same staff intact that we played and coached against Alabama in the Independence Bowl. We knew that night that Alabama was loaded with talent, but we made it a four-quarter game, had our chances, and the field goal was still good at the end of the game. This is a real challenge again this year. A&M is a real challenge this year, and is talented and playing with a lot of confidence."

On 10-minute lull in games where it gets out of hand:

"The only way I know how to prevent it is to keep coaching as hard as we can, correcting mistakes, and trying to put our guys in the best position to be successful. There is no magic to something like that. It happens sometimes. But I don't sense anything similar about this team to last year's, even though there are some faces that are the same. It just feels different. When we came back and got the touchdown pass to Todd Blythe the other day it was 23-7.

"It felt different to me. I feel different going to practice and on gameday with this team. I know that this team is in a maturation and growth process. Let's move on and move forward and try to get our share."

On A&M quarterback Reggie McNeal:

"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 game, the 60-some yard touchdown run, 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.

"He is absolutely a dynamic football player and one of the best offensive players in our conference. 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.

"Their whole team has really improved since that first game. 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."

On Aggies' balance presenting problems, as opposed to OSU:

"If you have a real good running back along with a quarterback that can do those things – that's the real problem. A&M has exactly that. They have a real good running back in Courtney 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."

On returning home to play at Jack Trice Stadium:

"We need to get off to a good start. We are trying to establish our dominance at home again. We had that going for a number of years here, and got away from it last year with only two wins in 2003 at home. We're 2-0 at home this year. It's so hard to win on the road in this league, and you've got to take care of business in your home, house, and stadium. These kids react and respond to our fans. They're human beings and do respond to that. I know we're going to have a great environment Saturday night."

On Luke Vander Sanden's return to offensive line:

"It's great to have his presence, ability, and strength that he gives us. He supports this team morally and has a great spirit and heart. I was really relieved, happy, and pleased that he got through a game without any problems the other day. We all know he's missed a lot more games than he's played in his career here. We know he'll continue to get better this week, since he's got a game back under his belt. He inspires everybody in this program every day."

On playing night games:

"No, I don't like them. I don't like sitting around waiting all day to play. If it gives us an advantage and we can get more fans and win a game, then I'll play them every week at night. But I still like kicking off early. I like early games, early kickoffs, and playing in the day. My preference is to get up early and playing and coaching. I know our fans are going to love it, and I hope it will add with the walk-up crowds. We're going to do everything we can to win this one."

On work of ISU's defense:

"We know we've got a chance to be good. I read and hear the same things that other coaches say about our defense. I think we have some credibility and respect that we do have a good, tough, tenacious defense. Are we where we want to be yet? I don't think so. Are we two-deep with All-Big 12 guys? Absolutely not. But I think everybody in this program appreciates how hard they're playing.

"(Offensive coordinator) Barney Cotton got up here in our Sunday meeting in front of the football team and did a fabulous job. 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.

"Nothing prompted it. 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."

"I don't think our defense has anything to hang their heads about. When you hold them to field goals in a couple of situations when they had real short fields, it's positive. We did get the one interception and started fast early in the game. We made some real good plays when we needed to. They averaged 333 yards rushing and got 189. Their total offense was well below their average. There were some things we could really pull out of there."

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