"It's very frustrating," said McCarney during his weekly Tuesday press conference. "If Barney Cotton has to play tackle and I have to play guard, we're going to do it. I don't care, whatever it takes. We need to knock it in the end zone, start scoring, and stop the non-sense.
"We look like a Big 12 offense between the 20s the last two weeks. You look at the first downs, yards, and productivity between the 20s. But then you've got to get down there and start making plays. It's getting old. We're just not scoring points."
While they still have a lot of work to do on offense, the Cyclones actually could be a lot worse in production. The red-zone problems have been well chronicled, but the team is putting itself in position. Missouri and Nebraska have each had the same amount of red zone opportunities through six games, while Colorado and Kansas each have made 22 stops in the red-zone. Texas A&M, Kansas State, and Texas are equal at 24 red-zone trips.
So it appears much of the Cyclones' problems lie with execution, and not talent.
"We have had 23 and 25 first downs, 80 and 85 snaps from the line of scrimmage, more than 400 yards last week and three hundred and some against Texas A&M," McCarney said. "It doesn't equal the kind of points we need to be putting up. It's time, let's go, and start scoring when we get down in the red zone."
Hoping to give a stagnant offense a spark last offseason, ISU's head man hired a new offensive coordinator and line coach in Barney Cotton, and quarterbacks coach in Todd Fitch during the offseason.
McCarney declined to say the problems lied in play calling or for schematic reasons, saying it's a matter of players making the difference. He also believes Cotton is trying a number of different approaches to get the offense jump started.
"We have tried just about everything, except maybe for throwing it back to the quarterback and running some reverses in the red zone," McCarney said. "Believe me, it's not the calls. We need to go execute. There have been a lot of different things that we've tried down there. You can put up 25 different calls, but they're not going to make a difference. You've got to go down there and execute.
"When the heels of the offensive linemen get knocked back, and the heels of the defensive linemen don't, that's usually bad news for an offense in the red zone. We've got to do a better job."
But it's not just ISU's 11 offensive players that are to blame for the team's woes. Cyclone kickers have made just 3-of-11 field goals on the season, and missed attempts from 22 and 23 yards against the Buffaloes.
"We need to do a better job of (converting in the red zone), because it cost us the game in Colorado," McCarney said. "You talk about two dropped punts, which were obvious, and two missed field goals, which were almost like extra points. But if we had done a better job in the red zone, we wouldn't have had to worry about missing short field goals. We need to go down there and score."
A role for Flynn?
McCarney spoke on benched quarterback Austin Flynn during his Monday radio call-in show, saying that he still wanted to get the third-year sophomore on the field in situations. He refused to elaborate further on what that role would be, and at what position.
During his Tuesday press conference, McCarney said that Flynn would remain at quarterback and not change positions.
"We're not going to move him to wide receiver or defensive back," ISU's head coach said. "We'd like to try to get him on the field, because it's the same thing I said back in August – he's one of our top 13, 14, or 15 offensive players. You'd hate to have a guy like that standing on the sidelines the whole game."
But for now, last year's starting signal caller will be relegated to a full-time backup role.
"We need to keep his chin up and keep coaching the heck out of him," McCarney said. "We need to make sure that he understands there is nothing in concrete. He needs to keep fighting for that number one job and be ready to go. Bret got knocked out of the A&M game and Austin had better be ready. He'd better keep trying to be number one."
Change on special teams
After being responsible for one of the Cyclones' two muffed punts in Boulder, veteran senior Todd Miller is headed to the sidelines in favor of JUCO transfer Terrance Highsmith. After a solid start to the season, Miller's all-around play at the position has declined. His 7.3-yard return average ranks 10th in the Big 12, and he has yet to reach the end zone after scoring twice during the 2002 season.
Highsmith, meanwhile, has shown sparks of being the game-breaker the Cyclones need on special teams. He returned one punt for 25 yards against Colorado, and now has five for 57 this season.
McCarney said he made the decision for a number of reasons.
"(Terrance) is number one going into practice today, no doubt about it," ISU's head coach said. "Todd has struggled the last couple of weeks, and it wasn't just Saturday. He struggled the week before. He's struggled from a judgement standpoint, letting the ball bounce, and fumbled another one we were able to get back. He's just in a little bit of a slump.
"Terrance deserves a chance to be number one with his performance Saturday. The reason Terrance had been our backup is that he needed to be more consistent catching the ball in practices, scrimmages, and mock games since we started back in August. Lately he has been doing a real good job and was outstanding on Saturday."