After a 36-7 loss at Oklahoma State that saw the Cyclones make mistake after mistake, it will be important for the offense to find success early. That is particularly true at the quarterback position, where Bret Meyer will be making another start for Iowa State.
However, the redshirt freshman must change his ways and sustain success throughout the opening few series. Against Big 12 teams, Meyer can't put the team in early holes and expect to get away with it. If the first scoring drive he leads against Texas A&M is in the third quarter – as it was last week against OSU – ISU is in trouble.
Holding own in the trenches
Head coach Dan McCarney declared his team's game against the Cowboys to not be a physical mismatch, after several mental lapses and mistakes cost ISU any kind of momentum. But it is safe to say that the Cyclones' offensive line vs. OSU's defensive front WAS a mismatch.
The Cyclones must do a better job of protecting Meyer and Austin Flynn against an A&M team that has 15 sacks and 32 tackles-for-loss in just four games. That will mean containing Aggie cornerback Byron Jones, who has a team-high 4.5 sacks to go along with 4.5 stops-for-loss; and Keelan Jackson, who leads the team with six tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Any keys to victory piece concerning Texas A&M must include quarterback Reggie McNeal. The junior quarterback has absolutely shredded opposing defenses this season, passing for 815 yards and a pair of scores on 52-of-97 completions, while rushing for a team-high 341 yards. But even more importantly, McNeal has yet to throw an interception and sports a pass efficiency rating of 130.99.
Although he and the Aggies are coming off a lackluster 2003 season, McNeal has big-game experience from his freshman year when he led the team to an upset of top-ranked Oklahoma. Now, after a season-opening loss to Utah, he has led A&M to three consecutive victories. In non-conference victories over Wyoming and Clemson, McNeal accounted for 649 combined yards.
The Cyclone defense must remain disciplined against a dual threat quarterback in McNeal, and coordinator John Skladany will most likely send a player to shadow him throughout the evening. The speed of inside linebacker Tim Dobbins, experience of end Tyson Smith, and playmaking ability of Nik Moser could all come as big weapons for ISU.