Football Insider: Kansas Pre-Game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Cyclones' Big 12 battle with Kansas Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium. ISU will be gunning for consecutive conference victories. Whitver believes turnover margin will play a big role in who emerges victorious.

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: What kind of mindset does Iowa State need to take into the Kansas game, given last week's emotional lift in Waco?

Whitver: The team has got to be feeling good, especially after the fourth quarter comeback. A drive like that to win a game can really give a team a lot of confidence. It is always easier to practice after a win, so I am sure that the team has had a productive week of practice.

While it might be early for fans to think about a bowl game, I know Coach Mac has dangled that carrot in front of the team. Playing three of the last four at home has got to be a good feeling, especially when the games are against teams that have been .500 teams. There is not a game on the schedule that is not winnable. That being said, there are no gimmees either. The main thing to remember for this young team is to take it one week at a time. If you start looking ahead too far, you are going to get beat in the Big 12.

CN: How much does last season's fourth quarter thumping in Lawrence come into play...as motivation for this team?

Whitver: For some players, the feeling after that loss last year will be very fresh in their minds. Guys like Luke Vander Sanden, Nick Leaders, Ellis Hobbs, and Todd Miller will not forget what that felt like. That will definitely serve as motivation for the veterans.

The young guys, on the other hand, didn't even play in the game. Todd Blythe, Bret Meyer, Jason Scales might not have even gone to the game, let alone play in it. I am sure that they are using different motivational factors for this game.

CN: Kansas' defense has improved significantly over last season. What are some of the differences you notice?

Whitver: I think the biggest difference is simply in the quality of athlete they are putting on the field. Coach Mangino is in his third season at Kansas, which means that the guys that he recruited are starting to hit the field. His recruits are now sophomores and juniors and have had time to develop in the weight room and his system. I think Kansas has had a good defensive scheme the last few seasons, but now they are getting the athletes to fit that system.

CN: How have the linebackers, particularly Nick Reid and Gabe Toomey, been able to have so much success in that defensive unit?

Whitver: The reason that they have been so successful is simply because they have played a lot of snaps for the Jayhawks. There is nothing that can take the place of experience, and those two definitely have experience. Between the two of them, they have over 400 career tackles. They have been through the battles and learned from their mistakes. They have become two very talented, athletic, experienced, Big 12 linebackers.

CN: In what ways should the Cyclone offense attack this defense?

Whitver: I think the way to attack the Kansas defense is definitely through the air. The Jawhawks have given up 250 yards a game passing, compared to only 108 rushing. The Cyclone receivers will have a big height advantage on the Jayhawk corners, and I would expect the Cyclone game plan to call for a lot of passes. Especially when the running game isn't working, as it was at times against Baylor last week, the Cyclones will need to throw the ball to win. With the quarterbacks and receivers gaining experience every week, the passing game has really come along this year. Meyer's confidence should be at an all time high after the come from behind victory last week, and hopefully he can build on that.

CN: KU lost quarterback Bill Whittemore to graduation after last season, but returned a pair of dominant running backs in John Randle and Clark Green. What have the Jayhawks done well on the offensive side of the ball?

Whitver: The Jayhawk offense has not put up tremendous numbers as far as yards go, but they have played pretty well. My former receiver coach (from 1999-2001) Nick Quartaro is the offensive coordinator. He has always been a very detail-oriented coach. He will not accept anything less than perfectction, so his offense seems to execute very well. The best thing they have done on offense is hold onto the ball. They do not have very many turnovers, which is huge when they are not putting up a lot of yards.

The Jayhawks have a lot of talent at the skill positions. Even though they lost Whittemore last year, Adam Barmann is a solid quarterback. If you remember, he replaced Whittemore last year against Texas A&M and almost pulled off the victory in College Station. That is impressive for a true freshman in his first career start.

The big advantage for the Cyclone defense is that they have seen the Jayhawk offense everyday in practice for the previous four years (not counting this year). Guys like Ellis Hobbs, Nik Moser, Brandon Brown, Erik Anderson, and Nick Leaders all know this offense.

The offense that Coach Quartaro runs is pretty much the same offense that Coach Loney ran and Coach Brickey continued to run until last year. I think this could be an advantage to the veterans on the Iowa State defense, as well as to the coaching staff. Coach Skladany has prepared against that offense during spring ball and fall camp for years. He should be able to put together a pretty good game plan.

CN: What are some of your thoughts on Dan McCarney's decision to make Stevie Hicks and Jason Scales 1A and 1B in the tailback rotation?

Whitver: I don't think it means a whole lot. I think it is probably just rewarding Jason a little bit, as opposed to sending a message to Stevie. They are two different backs and I think they complement each other very well. I think we might see Jason get a few more carries in the game plan, but when it comes down to it, whoever is producing will get the ball. Sometimes it depends on the defense and how the line is playing. If there are no holes being formed by the o-line, I would expect Stevie to get more carries simply because he is more likely to put his head down and move a pile. Either way, I think we have two good Big 12 backs who deserve to be playing.

CN: Have you noticed any subtle differences in quarterback Bret Meyer's approach or play during the past few weeks. If so, what are those?

Whitver: The biggest difference I have noticed is confidence. The confidence that he showed at Baylor last week was not there at the beginning of the season. If you remember back to the Northern Illinois game, when things started to go downhill, Bret wasn't really able to turn things around. If Austin didn't come into the game against the Huskies, I don't think we would have won the game. Even at Iowa, Flynn was the one who came in and provided a spark. I think over the course of the season, Meyer has gained a lot of confidence and it showed last week. If the Baylor game was played in week 2-4, I don't think Bret would have led an 80-yard drive to win the game. He really matured as a football player last week.

CN: Wide receiver Todd Blythe just continues to get better in his first season of competition. How much better is he now than at the beginning of the fall?

Whitver: Obviously Todd has had a tremendous freshman season. He has had the natural ability since he stepped on campus last year. I think he has done a great job of getting better every week this season. While his numbers might not be as good the last couple of weeks as they were during the first three games, it is due to the fact that he is getting a lot more attention from defenses. He was a little unknown at the beginning of the season, but he will be recognized by defenses the rest of his career.

I think the biggest thing that Todd has learned this year is how to beat the extra attention. He has, and must continue, to get better at beating the double coverage. If he can improve this, it will not only make his numbers better, but also give the Cyclone offense a huge advantage. If Todd is producing against the double coverage, that will open up the other receivers. Overall, Todd has been very impressive this season. I knew when our receiving corps graduated last season that we weren't going to miss a beat in the talent department. However, we were obviously lacking in experience. The young receivers, and especially Todd, have greatly surpassed my expectations this season.

CN: Finally, what are three keys to an ISU victory over Kansas?

Whitver: The first key is to start fast. Both of these teams have confidence, but very fragile confidence. If one of the teams gets out to a good start, the other could lose their confidence very quickly. I also think the Cyclone fans need a fast start to get into the game. If the Cyclones start fast, they will build the confidence to be successful as well as get the crowd into the game.

Secondly, the Cyclones will need to win the turnover battle. In the games that Iowa State has been successful this year, they have won the turnover battle. It is important that the Cyclone defense creates turnovers and the offense hangs onto the ball. Kansas has been very good this season at holding onto the ball, so it will be a good challenge for the Cyclone defense to force some turnovers. If we can create some opportunities like we did last week against Baylor, it should be a good day for the Cyclones.

The last key to victory for the Cyclones is special teams. This has been the Achilles heal for the Cyclones all year. From the obvious kicking problems to our punter putting his knee down on a punt, the Cyclones have made many mistakes on special teams all year. In a game that is evenly matched, special teams could be the difference in a win or a loss. Hopefully Iowa State will put together a solid special teams performance and make some big plays in this area. One special team that has done a great job this year is the kickoff return team. We have struggled on this the last 4 years, but Coach Alford has done a good job of coaching this team all year. Maybe this team can break a big one and get our first kickoff return for a touchdown since Troy Davis in 1994 against Colorado (Walden's last game).

I expect Iowa State's momentum to carry over this week, and combined with a good home field advantage, I think the Cyclones will pull off the victory in Ames on 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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