FB Insider: K-State Pre-Game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Cyclones' Big 12 battle with Kansas State Saturday afternoon in Manhattan. ISU will be gunning for four consecutive conference victories and to take one step closer to a North Division championship. Whitver believes the first 10 minutes could be crucial for a Cyclone victory.

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: In what certain areas of preparation will a bye week benefit the Cyclones against the Wildcats?

Whitver: The biggest thing this week off will do is to allow the Cyclones to get healthy. At this point in the season, everybody is banged up a little, some more than others. With not as much contact during the week, and no game on Saturday, the guys that are hurt bad should get a chance to heal up a little heading into the final two weeks.

The other benefit the Cyclones will get from the bye week is a chance to get three or four quality practices in. With a team this young, every practice counts. The young guys have a lot of room for improvement and every practice helps. They have done a great job of getting better every week, and hopefully this week is no different.

CN: In your opinion, why has Kansas State struggled reaching the lofty preseason goals set by many?

Whitver: I think the Wildcats lost a few guys that were the real leaders of the team, not only by the way they play, but also from a vocal standpoint. A guy like Ell Roberson is extremely important, and when you lose guys like that, it is tough to replace them. I think you can compare it to when we lost Seneca Wallace. He meant so much to our team, and he was impossible to replace.

CN: Do you think this has become even more of a one-dimensional offense with tailback Darren Sproles at the forefront, given the uncertainty at quarterback? How will the Cyclones prepare for this attack, and is that gameplan somewhat different from a year ago?

Whitver: There is no doubt about it. The Wildcats have been extremely inconsistent on offense, and especially at the QB position. As good as Sproles is, he cannot win games by himself. When teams load up the box to stop him, there is only so much he can do.

I think Coach Skladany will have a game plan similar to the Nebraska game plan from 2002. He will make sure that we stop Sproles and force Webb and Meier to beat us. They haven't done a great job this year of throwing the ball, so I think the Cyclones will make them throw the ball.

CN: K-State has employed somewhat of a two-quarterback system with Dylan Meier and Allen Webb. What will the Cyclones be focusing on with both signal callers?

Whitver: Meier is a much better passer then Webb, where Webb is a little better runner. When Webb is in the game, the defense will probably play to shut down the running game as I mentioned above. On the other hand, when Meier comes in, the D-backs might have to loosen up a little bit and protect against the pass a little more.

CN: Talk about the changes at WILL linebacker, where Jamarr Buchanan steps in for the injured Brandon Brown. What do the Cyclones lose in Brown, and what will they get from Buchanan? Does this effect anything ISU will do on defense?

Whitver: The loss of Brown is definitely huge. Brandon brings a lot of experience to the defense and has probably played in more games than any other player on the defense. He is a great tackler and a real hard-nosed kid. Brandon has been through the battles and knows what it takes to win. Obviously the defense will miss him greatly.

While Brandon is a little bit thicker than his replacement, Jamarr might have a little more quickness to him. This could help a little when K-State starts to run their option game. Hopefully he can stretch out the play a little bit and force them to run side to side. Although Brandon has a ton of experience, Jamarr has also played a lot of snaps for the Cyclones the last two seasons. He will be extremely excited and Coach Cross (the SAM backer coach) will definitely have him ready to play.

CN: Defensively, the Wildcats have taken a drastic fall in many defensive categories. How does this defense differ from the one you faced last fall?

Whitver: Kansas State lost a lot of key players from last year's defense. Losing guys like Bryan Hickman and Josh Buhl at linebacker really hurt this team. Also, former Cyclone coach Bobby Elliott has had his hands full trying to replace three out of his four defensive backs. While they have good athletes on their defense, it seems that they are still trying to get situated and still looking for leaders on defense.

CN: Like the previous game against Nebraska, how much of this K-State contest will be fought mentally, between the ears of the players?

Whitver: I think this game is even more of a mental game for the Cyclones. We haven't beat Kansas State since Jim Walden was the coach, and most years it hasn't been close. For whatever reason, they have gotten the better of us the last few years.

That being said, a lot of the key players on this year's team have never faced K-State. That is a situation where the inexperience might actually be a benefit. The young guys that are playing now came to Iowa State because we were going to bowl games every year. They are used to winning and don't care anything about the past troubles at Iowa State. Coach Mac has done a good job of recruiting winners the last few years, guys who know how to win. Hopefully they can continue to find ways to win games.

CN: What kind of feeling do you get about this team's preparation for Saturday's game in Manhattan? How can a young team stay so focused on the task at hand, and not on things further down the line?

Whitver: I don't think they will be looking ahead at all. I would be more worried about this if it wasn't against Kansas State. The team has a lot to play for this week, and I would be very surprised if Coach Mac didn't have the guys more focused then ever. Coach has always been extremely good at showing guys why the current game is so important and keeping the team from looking ahead. I think it is impossible to look past a team that you haven't beaten since 1993.

CN: On the other hand, what type of effort should we expect from the Wildcats, given their freefall in the Big 12 North and stunning loss in Boulder last weekend?

Whitver: That is a very tough question. They don't have much to play for, with the exception of senior day. They will not be going to a bowl game for the first time in over a decade, which is a huge disappointment for that program.

If the Cyclones can get out to a good start, the Wildcats might cash it in a little. On the other hand, if K State starts fast, it could turn into the same type of game that it always is when the Cyclones and Wildcats get together. I'm sure Coach Snyder will have his team motivated at the beginning of the game, the first quarter will determine how motivated they remain.

CN: Finally, what are some of your keys to a Cyclone victory?

Whitver: The most important thing is what I mentioned above, starting fast. The first 10 minutes of the game will be crucial for both teams. The Cyclones will need to keep their head in a tough atmosphere, probably the toughest we have played in all year. I think the team that gets off to a good start will take the momentum and run with it. I think Iowa State's confidence, especially against the Wildcats, is still very fragile, so we can't afford to start slow. However, a good start by the Cyclones could cause the Wildcats to start looking toward their Thanksgiving break.

The Cyclones will also have to keep finding ways to score with big plays, not only on offense but also on defense and special teams. This has been vital throughout the season, and has been one of my keys in almost every game. The blocked kicks and interceptions this season are a major reason we are in the position we are in. If we don't win the big plays in this game, it could spell trouble for the Cyclones. The offense is improving, but I still don't know if we have the horses to drive the ball up and down the field all game.

Lastly, the Cyclones must believe in themselves. For whatever reason, Kansas State has had our number the last 9-10 years. It seems that we always think we could beat them, but didn't handle adversity very well. In the game of football, much like life, there will always be adversity. It is how you react to, and handle that adversity that determines if you are a winner. Against the Wildcats in the past, we have not handled the adversity well at all.

I believe in this team and I know they believe in themselves. Coach Mac has gotten more out of these players and this team than any other coach in the country could have. It is never easy to go to Manhattan and pull off a victory. It will take a special effort by a special team. Come 2:30 on Saturday, we will know if this is a special team. Go Cyclones…I hope to see a lot of you in Manhattan.

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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