CN: In your mind, what areas of the team need to be drastically improved, come Saturday afternoon in Boulder? Please go into detail on each.
Whitver: The running game needs to be improved. In my opinion, Iowa State will not win very many games until we start running the ball. When we stopped running the ball with success two years ago, we stopped having success. We do not have the offense to stand back and throw the ball all game and beat good teams.
We need to create turnovers. The defense needs to do a better job of forcing turnovers and putting the offense in scoring positions. While this is a lot to ask, they need to give the offense all the chances they can get. Without the turnovers and points the defense scored against Northern Illinois, we would have lost that game also.
Another thing we must do is score when we get the chance. We do not have a good enough offense to waste scoring chances. Whenever you get inside the red zone, you need to score points. Obviously you won't score a touchdown on every trip into the red zone, but you at least need a field goal. While our kicking game needs a lot of help, I will leave it at the above statement.
CN: Given all the negative pub locally after last weekend's Homecoming loss to Texas A&M, could it be beneficial for the Cyclones to go on the road for back-to-back weeks?
Whitver: I don't think it is ever good to go on the road, especially in a tough conference like the Big 12. That being said, a road trip can bring a team closer together. When you spend two whole days together, you start to build more camaraderie. Also, on the road, it is you against the world. This has a way of bringing guys closer together.
I think Iowa State fans are the best in the country, as far as forgetting about the past and staying optimistic for the next game. Even after such a disappointing game last week, in general, Iowa State fans stay behind the team. That is greatly appreciated by players that are doing everything they can to make the fans proud.
CN: What can be done to solve ISU's woes in the red zone and its opponent's side of the field? Is this a mental block. Are the Cyclones just not doing the job physically? Or has the play-calling limited their ability to execute?
Whitver: I have thought a lot about this problem, and the best thing I can come up with goes back to the running game. When an offense is condensed in the red zone and the field is shorter, the defense gains an advantage. They do not have to cover near as much ground, therefore it becomes harder to pass the ball. This is especially true when a defense does not respect your running game. When the defense has less ground to cover and can send more guys into coverage, obviously it will be easier for them. I do not think it is play calling; I think it goes back to running the football.
Whitver: This will greatly affect the defensive game plan. Joel Klatt was a very good quarterback. He threw the ball well and ran the offense effectively. While Cox might be just as good, I think it is the defense's job to make him prove it. I think they will use the same type of game plan as the Iowa and NIU games, where they tried to shut down the running game and make an inexperienced quarterback beat them.
CN: Give us a scouting report on CU running back Bobby Purify, who has had field days against ISU's defense in past seasons.
Whitver: Bobby Purify is an excellent Big 12 running back. However, I give much of the credit to the offensive line at Colorado, as well as their offensive scheme. In the past few years, it hasn't mattered who was playing running back. They still produced (i.e. Chris Brown, Purify, Marcus Houston, Brian Calhoun, etc.). I think Purify is a great back however, and the type of guy that a defense has to game plan for. He is a good sized back, not huge, but good sized at 6'0" 215 lbs. He is also fast for his size, so he is a guy that can run by you or over you, presenting two problems for a defender.
CN: After seeing Colorado on defense, what ways can ISU's offense attack?
Whitver: Iowa State has an offense that matches up well against the Buffaloes. Colorado has always been a little softer against the pass, especially short to intermediate range passes. In the past few years, we have had receivers that would go across the middle and chip away at the defense. I think this year is no different. Todd Miller and Jon Davis both have shown the ability to catch the ball in traffic, just as Todd Blythe has. Colorado plays a lot of cover 3 defense, which means they have three defensive backs deep. This takes away the deep passes somewhat, but leaves some holes underneath, particularly on the sidelines. I look for us to use short passes to control the ball and move down the field.
CN: On the other hand, which areas are the Buffs particularly strong in?
Whitver: While their defense has not shut down the run completely this year, they have had a pretty solid run defense. I think that Iowa State will have trouble running the ball and will have to rely on the passing game to pull it out, again. It is going to be another game where a quarterback is going to have to step up and lead the offense. If not, we will really struggle to move the ball.
CN: Take us back to the Cyclones' victory in Colorado during the 2000 season. Tell us what it meant to be a part of the game? How did it give the team momentum for a breakthrough season under Coach McCarney? What did the team do to emerge victorious against the Buffs?
Whitver: That was definitely a fun game to be a part of, even with the weather (blizzard and the coldest game in the history of CU). I don't think it would have been nearly as fun if we would have lost, but winning cures all pain. That was the game that pretty much sealed up a bowl game for the 2000 team. While it didn't guarantee a winning record, it gave the team confidence to go on to have a great season. Winning a game on the road in tough conditions and a tough environment has a way of giving a team momentum.
In my opinion, you can credit that victory, and many that season, to one thing: guys making plays when they are there to be made. I remember Sage Rosenfels rushing for over 100 yards. I remember J.J. Moses catching a 10-yard curl and turning it into a 50-yard touchdown. I remember our punter, Carl Gomez, making huge field goals in the snow. The game of football is simple. The team that makes the plays when their team needs them will be successful. In that game, and most games that season, the players took advantage of their opportunities.
CN: The Cyclones have been very competitive in games at Boulder in recent years. How have they been able to hang tough in this difficult environment?
Whitver: While they do have good crowds and a nice stadium, I found it to be a very comfortable place to play. Some stadiums are more intimidating then others, and I don't know what makes it more or less intimidating. It is not the size of the crowd. Texas A&M was the biggest crowd we ever played in front of, but it was comfortable. It's the same with Iowa, as I always enjoyed playing in Iowa City. Colorado is just a fun place to play.
In recent years, even when we have had bad teams and Colorado has had good teams, it seems like we always play pretty well against them. I think it has to do with individual match-ups, as well as simply confidence. Whatever it is, most of the games have been pretty competitive.
CN: This may seem like a dumb question, but it was posed to Coach McCarney at his Monday press conference. Does the altitude have an effect on players not used to it?
Whitver: Personally, I don't think it is a big deal. They try to make it a big deal and try to get into your head by posting signs and stuff, but the only time it ever bothered me was when we ran no huddle for three straight drives and we didn't substitute receivers. But I think I would have felt the same in any stadium. Coach McGettigan will definitely have the guys in shape as always. I don't think you will ever see a team outwork and out-condition the Cyclones as long as Coach McGettigan is the strength coach.
CN: Finally, what are some keys to an ISU victory Saturday in Boulder?
Whitver: The first key to beating the Buffs is stopping the run. If we can limit their yards on the ground, we will have a chance. I like our chances if we put the game in the hands of Cox. With our run defense being pretty effective this year (38th in the country), I think we should have a good chance to contain Purify.
The second key is to make big plays. As I mentioned above, the teams that have won at Iowa State were the ones that made big plays when they needed to. This could be anyone on the team, whether it is the quarterback, a receiver, a linebacker or a punter. The bottom line is somebody has to step up and make plays when the are needed.
The last way is to find a way to stay in the game. The longer we stay in the game, the better chance we will have to win. If we start slow and get down early, it could be a long day in Boulder. However, by staying close, this team could build their confidence and find a way to pull it out. The main thing is to start fast and hang around until the fourth quarter.
There are many other keys to victory obviously. I could mention kicking game, turnovers, and running game every week. Until I see improvement in those areas, other guys are going to have to step up and make plays. I truly believe that this team is not far off. They are young and inexperienced, but if they get things rolling early, they have the talent to win in Boulder. I fully expect the guys to be pumped up and ready to prove the doubters wrong this week out in the mountains.
CycloneNation.com Insider Jack Whitver is currently a partner in Acceleration Iowa. Feel free to visit his website at Acceleration Iowa