Publisher's Note: This is the first in a 12-part series, projecting the outcome of the upcoming Iowa State football season. These are works of fiction, obviously, and all the information and quotes printed are figments of the writer's fertile imagination. However, they are also meant as analysis and prognostication. The schedule for the rest of the Monday Musings throughout the offseason are as follows:
May 16—at Army
May 23—at Nebraska
June 6—at Missouri
June 13—Oklahoma State
June 20—at Texas A&M
June 27—Kansas State
July 11—at Kansas
July 25 (pending expected baby arrival)—2005 Preview
Jack Trice Stadium
Iowa State 38, Illinois State 3
Ames, Iowa – The word we're looking for here is workmanlike.
Forget all the hype. Dismiss the burden of expectations. Instead, add in your favorite cliché about staying focused on the task at hand and just taking it one game at a time. That's just what the Cyclones did during Saturday's 38-3 season-opening route of Division I-AA Illinois State at Jack Trice Stadium.
"We got in and got the job done," ISU Coach Dan McCarney said. "We looked like a Big 12 football team today, but it will get considerably tougher after this."
Indeed, the Cyclones (1-0) next face sixth-ranked Iowa in a highly-anticipated renewal of their classic rivalry to be aired on ABC-TV next weekend. There's a whole week to build up that matchup, so let's take our cue from the cardinal-and-gold and focus on the dismantling of the Redbirds for now.
The big questions heading into Saturday were which freshmen would play, how much of Jason Berryman would we see, and how much would we see of Todd Blythe, who has amazingly recovered from a torn ACL in just six months. Blythe, a freshman All-America in 2004, didn't start the game and didn't play, sparking speculation in the press box that contrary to what we were told throughout two-a-days he was being brought back slowly so as not to risk losing him for the entire season.
"That's nonsense," McCarney said. "We have a lot of big games left on our schedule, and great depth at wide receiver. Why risk losing a player of his magnitude if you don't have to? Besides, knowing Todd, I'm guessing he's going to be pretty honked off about not playing and he'll be even more fired up for next week."
Blythe said he was told by the coaches on Thursday that he would likely see limited action, if any action at all, and that if the game were out of reach they would allow Austin Flynn to take more snaps as the starter in his place. Flynn, by the way, did catch four passes for 46 yards, including ISU's first third-down conversion of the season.
Blythe, the rare sophomore team captain, said he was disappointed but understood the decision.
"I was ready to go and the knee feels fine," Blythe said. "I did only take limited contact on it through fall camp, but my speed is back and I don't feel anything bothering me on my cuts. I guess I'll just have something to prove to everybody next week."
Besides Blythe's availability, pregame emphasis was also placed on a secondary hoping to get some sorely needed depth courtesy of the incoming freshmen class. Two of the four cornerbacks signed in February played extensive second half minutes in a mop up role: James Smith from Council Bluffs and Chris Singleton from Fort Myers, Florida. Smith had two tackles, and Singleton one. Neither was credited with a pass breakup or an interception.
"It was good for those guys to get out there," McCarney said. "Considering how tremendous our defensive front was we really weren't tested back there at all until the fourth quarter. Hopefully that's the case next week, too."
ISU's starting front four – Nick Leaders, Brent Curvey, Cephus Johnson, and Shawn Moorehead – was the dominant story of the game. Moorehead and Johnson combined for four of ISU's six sacks. The brick wall of Leaders and Curvey helped hold the Redbirds to just 41 yards rushing in the game.
"With the way we were stopping the run out there, Cephus and I could just pretty much concentrate on getting to the quarterback," Moorehead said.
Still, the presence of Berryman looms large. The eyes of an entire state rest upon the young man, who spent more than eight months in the Story County Jail after pleading guilty to felony robbery. In a rare moment of leniency for a head coach known as a stickler for discipline, McCarney allowed Berryman back on the squad over the summer as a walk-on, once he was re-admitted to school.
Berryman, who did not appear on the pregame depth chart, did play in the fourth quarter and collected three tackles, including two-for-losses. By the time he was inserted into the game the crowd had begun to empty out, so there wasn't much fan reaction when his name was announced over the PA. What reaction there was, though, seemed to be slightly positive. He was not made available to the media for interviews afterwards.
One print reporter asked Moorehead how he felt about seeing Berryman back and competing for playing time at his rush end position.
"All I care about is beating Iowa and winning the Big 12 Championship," Moorehead said. "If he can help us do that, great. The team voted to allow Jason to come back as well so I'm not sure what there is to talk about."
For his part, McCarney seemed weary of answering more Berryman-related questions. When it came up again during his postgame press conference, Mac didn't say much.
"(Berryman) played well, as did a lot of our backups, and is doing what we told him he needed to do to remain a part of this team," McCarney said flatly.
Speaking of flatly, that probably described ISU's offense on its first two drives. Looking to establish the running game early, the Cyclones sputtered early. Their first drive started well with Stevie Hicks running behind huge holes up front, and then stalled in the red zone. A botched snap stopped Bret Culbertson's 33-yard field goal attempt. On the second drive, the Cyclones were stopped short on an option play when they went for it on a fourth-and-three from the Illinois State 39-yard line.
Still, the defense kept tilting the field in ISU's favor, and on the third drive Hicks broke through the line for a 34-yard touchdown run, the first points of 2005.
ISU made it 14-0 shortly before the end of the first quarter when Bret Meyer cashed in a Nik Moser interception with a 14-yard touchdown toss to Walter Nickel. From that point on, however, the ground game did the damage for the Cyclones.
Hicks finished with a game-high 134 yards, and Meyer chipped in 103, picking right up where the duo left off in the Independence Bowl. Jason Scales ran well in the red zone, squirting through twice for short touchdown runs. At halftime the Cyclones had a 28-0 lead.
Illinois State mounted its only legitimate drive of the game to start the second half, advancing to ISU's 15-yard line. However, it ended when tailback Pierre Rembert was stripped by Curvey, causing a fumble that was recovered by Tim Dobbins just as the ball was heading out of bounds.
"We were plus-3 on turnovers, and if we can keep that up like we did last year that would certainly help," McCarney said.
The Cyclones then took possession and marched 87 yards on 10 plays, all runs, to take a 35-0 lead on Scales second touchdown. After that, ISU began substituting liberally.
The only other points scored by the Cyclones came early in the fourth quarter on a 45-yard field goal by Tony Yelk, who also handled kickoffs. Yelk's three-pointer was set up by a 27-yard run from backup quarterback Terrance Highsmith. Yelk later missed a 51-yarder.
After ISU made it 38-0, the Redbirds got their biggest play of the game from a familiar name to Cyclone fans. Brian Thompson returned the rare Yelk kickoff not to make it to the back of the end zone 61 yards to the ISU 42-yard line. It was Yelk that eventually drove him out of bounds; otherwise Thompson might've gone all the way.
Illinois State's Luke Drone used a quarterback keeper to drive the ball down to the ISU 22-yard line. But Berryman's second tackle-for-loss on a third-and-three designed run by Drone ended the threat. Ryan Hoffman came on to convert a 42-yard field goal that ended the Cyclones' shutout bid.
Extra points…The Cyclones started the game with Johannes Egbers at right tackle, Scott Stephenson at right guard, Seth Zehr at center, Korey Pence at left guard, and Aaron Brant at left tackle. After the first quarter, Paul Fisher played the bulk of the minutes at right tackle. His brother, Scott played extensively in the second half at left tackle…Culbertson handled all of the extra points, while Troy Blankenship did all the punting…The Fisher Twins, Nickel, Smith, and Singleton weren't the only newcomers to see action. Thomas Patton and Alvin Bowen played quite a bit on defense in the second half…McCarney said afterward he'd like to redshirt A.J. Haase, one of the young stars of fall camp, if they can get away with it…ISU was 31st in the AP poll last week, so they'll likely need to beat Iowa to break into the top 25.
Iowa State 14-14-0-3=38
Illinois State 0-0-0-3=3
Rushing—Illinois State (41): Rembert 14-45, Thompson 12-31, Drone 9-18; Iowa State (326): Hicks 16-134, Meyer 13-103, Scales 11-48. Passing—Illinois State (88): Drone 6-17-2-88; Iowa State (116): Meyer 7-10-98. Receiving—Illinois State: Hill 4-44, Robinson 2-19; Iowa State: Flynn 4-46, Davis 3-28. Sacks—Iowa State 6, Illinois State 1. Attendance—40,067.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)