FB Insider: A&M Pre-Game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Cyclones' Big 12 home battle with Texas A&M Saturday night, which will continue the conference season. He believes the defense will need to shadow Aggie quarterback Reggie McNeal for success.

Jack Whitver played football at Iowa State from 1999-2003. The former walk-on wide receiver from Grinnell was twice named an academic All-American, a three-time ISU scholar-athlete award winner, and earned his undergraduate degree from ISU in just three years. Whitver finished his career eighth on ISU's all-time receptions list and 10th all-time in receiving yardage. He now provides exclusive analysis each week here at CycloneNation.com.

CN: After sustaining a loss that looked a lot like some the Cyclones suffered last season, is there anything that could have been done this week to prevent a repeat against Texas A&M?

Whitver: The main thing is the team has to stay together. When people start to point fingers, a team can really fall apart. Other than staying together, the team simply needs to put the game behind them. As a player, if you dwell on something in the past, you aren't putting all of your energy into the present.

CN: Coach McCarney said he didn't sense any physical mismatches against Oklahoma State, so what do you think led to the 29-point defeat?

Whitver: If I had to pick one thing, it would be turnovers. I don't care how good your players are, how good your coaches are, or what name is on your helmet, if you turn the ball over in the situations Iowa State did last week, you will not beat a good team. It is hard enough to win on the road in major college football, but when you give a team the opportunities that Oklahoma State got last weekend, you will never win on the road.

I think Coach Mac was right about the physical mismatch. Giving up over 30 points doesn't sound very good, but the defense played very well most of the game. They were definitely not physically inferior.

CN: Let's spend some time addressing some of the offensive issues this week. Give us your response to Barney Cotton's speech to the team during a meeting on Sunday.

Whitver: I think it was a very important gesture. He stood up as the leader of the offense and took blame for their struggles. I think by standing up in front of the team, it avoids finger pointing and whispering behind backs.

To have a successful season, the team has to remain united and strong. There is obviously a balance problem, but this is a team game. Ohio State won a national title by having a great defense and below average offense. It can be done. The main thing is to remain united, not point fingers, and play as a team.

CN: If you were still a wide receiver at Iowa State, how would you have responded to those comments?

Whitver: This is an easy situation to imagine because we had the same problems last year. As a competitor, you don't want to be the weakest link, or even part of the weakest link. As important as the speech was, it is embarrassing to have your coach stand up and tell the team that your group is not pulling their weight. However, it is important that everybody is on the same page and you have to feel good that the defense is still behind you.

CN: In your opinion, what are some things that seem to be plaguing this side of the ball?

Whitver: Early in the year you could blame inexperience. However, the young players seem to be pulling more than their share. The biggest and possibly only problem is lack of running game. We have not had a running game since the first half of 2002, and not surprisingly, our record in that time is terrible. We do not have the offense to win without running the ball. We were lucky in 2002 to have a quarterback who could put the team on his shoulders and win games. But as good as Seneca was, he could only take us so far without having a running threat. Until we start running the ball, the offense will continue to struggle.

CN: What areas can still be addressed by the offense in a few week's time? On the other hand, what are some that will still need a lot more time?

Whitver: To go from not having a running game to having one in one week is almost impossible. It takes weeks or months to develop chemistry in the offensive line. I think the one thing that could be changed in a week is attitude. Coach Cotton has been preaching attitude since he got here, and I think it has improved. However, if you focus on attitude all week, preach it on every play all week, I think you can make a difference in a week.

There is nobody on the line that will be replaced this year, so if we are going to develop a running game, attitude is the one thing that can be changed. Those guys are not going to get any bigger, any faster, any stronger over the next few weeks. They can develop an attitude though.

CN: Now let's focus on Texas A&M. Given the Aggies' struggles on the road, does ISU gain any sort of edge by playing this one at Jack Trice Stadium?

Whitver: There is no doubt about it. Iowa State has played well at home over the last few years, and I would expect that to continue. The crowd gets better every year, and I think we are developing a good home atmosphere.

A&M has struggled on the road over the past few years (77-0 at Oklahoma). When you combine those two things, you have to be optimistic about this game.

Another point to note, the Texas teams do not like to play in the chilly weather. Being a night game in October, the temperatures could get fairly low, especially compared to Texas. Remember Texas Tech's high-powered offense in 2002? They came up to Ames and struggled in the cold weather.

CN: How about some particular areas of strength for A&M?

Whitver: Texas A&M has tremendous team speed. Even though they have had a couple of rough years, A&M has always had, and will always have great athletes. The athletic ability they have at every position is very impressive. The one-on-one match-ups are not very good for Iowa State. However, Iowa State plays better as team.

Another big strength for Texas A&M is coaching. Although Coach Franchione has struggled so far at A&M, he is a very good coach. He will win a lot of games in College Station, as he has been very successful every place he has been.

CN: The Aggies will bring a diversified, balance offensive attack led by Reggie McNeal. Give us your scouting report on McNeal. How must John Skladany's defense go about defending him?

Whitver: Reggie McNeal is one of the most difficult guys in the league to defend. He almost single handedly beat Oklahoma when he was a true freshman. McNeal passes the ball very well, but he brings another dimension with his legs. We have not faced a serious running threat all year, so this will be a big challenge for Coach Skladany.

I would expect Coach to assign somebody to shadow McNeal on every play. If you send everybody back into coverage, he will kill you with his feet. The other guys we have faced this year could pull it down and run, but not to the extent that McNeal can.

CN: Finally, what are some of your keys to victory Saturday night?

Whitver: The first thing Iowa State must do is win the turnover battle. Coach Mac stresses this every week as one of his seven keys to victory. The team that wins the turnover battle will win a large percentage of football games. If we turn the ball over last we did last week, we have no chance of winning the game.

The second key is to start fast. If we can get off to a fast start, that will get the crowd into the game early, but more importantly, will give the guys some confidence. I don't care what they say, they took a hit on their confidence after last week. Starting fast will start to build that confidence back.

While the kicking game has been a key every week, I am not going to be a broken record. That is becoming too obvious. Therefore, my last key to victory is to contain Reggie McNeal. He will be the best athlete that the defense has seen to this point. He is truly a guy that can take over a game. The defense must remain sound on their responsibilities and try to contain him. They will not shut him down completely, but they definitely have the potential to contain him.

I think the game will have a great atmosphere this weekend; there is nothing like playing a game under the lights. I hope we have a good crowd that is into the game. It should be a good one; I can't wait until Saturday.

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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