Football Insider - Illinois State Preview

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at Iowa State's season-opening tilt against Illinois State, and believes that controling the line of scrimmage will be a key for victory.

Jack Whitver played football at 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


What are the main things you're looking for out of this team against Illinois State?


I look for the Cyclones to come out ready to play. There has been so much talk about this team, now it is time to put behind all of the talk and show it on the field. I look for the defense to step up and dominate the line of scrimmage. Hopefully we will also see a healthy Todd Blythe out making plays like he did all last season.


It is definitely a great time to be a Cyclone fan and everybody should be extremely excited to get the season under way.


Iowa State usually starts out the season with a I-AA team, do you think it's a good way to start out the season or would playing a tougher opponent be better for the Cyclones in the long run?


It is definitely not the match-up that football fans across the country are waiting to see, but I think it is good to open with a winnable game. It is good to get a game under your belt and get some of the kinks worked out before you face a very good Iowa team in week 2. The important thing is to get a win, it doesn't matter who you are playing.


What do you think of this match-up against Illinois State?


This should be a contest that the Cyclones can dominate physically. Typically when you match up a D-I team with a D-IAA team, you can see a difference in the size of the lineman and the depth of the entire team. Look for the Cyclones to physically wear out the Redbirds Saturday night.


With another year under his belt what kind of things can we expect from Bret Meyer this season?


I expect Bret to be much improved from last year. It is very tough to play quarterback as a freshman in the Big 12. A year of experience is extremely valuable at that position and Bret should be a lot more comfortable in the pocket this year.


As good as Bret was last year at times, he still has room to improve and take his game to the next level. He is surrounded with weapons, so he just has to come out and do what he is capable of. I don't think the coaches are expecting him to do anything special, just make good decisions and get the ball to his weapons.


What kinds of things should we watch for from Todd Blythe?


I think we will be able to tell early how Todd has come back from his injury. Knowing Todd and his personality, I have no doubts that he will be ready to go.


Even though he claims he is fine, it is different to be on the field and be live in a game. As someone who has come back from this type of injury, it is important to forget about it when you hit the field. A player cannot worry about re-injuring the knee if he expects to be back full speed. Most of the recovery is mental. Like I said before, I don't think that will be a problem for Todd.


As a fan, there are a couple of thing to look for to see how he is doing. Look to see if he is beating defensive backs deep like he did last year, see if he is getting behind them. Also look to see if he is getting in and out of his cuts at full speed, see if he is comfortable cutting at full speed on his bad knee. Obviously watch to see if he is limping around, or babying the knee between plays.


Austin Flynn has moved to a role your familiar with and it sounds like he's doing well there. What does this say about his athletic ability/versatility? Did the move shock you? Do you see any areas he might have problems with?


I think the transition Austin has made in a short time has been very impressive. It is not easy to move from quarterback to receiver. While there is some overlap in skills required to play the positions, there is a big difference between throwing the ball and catching the ball.


For Austin to move to receiver and keep the starting job, that says a lot about his ability. Only 12 months ago, he was playing quarterback. I am very excited to see how he performs on Saturday. He is a very scrappy player and I think he will be fun to watch.


What would be the best-case scenario for the running game this weekend, as far as what we'd see out of Stevie Hicks and the backups who figure to see playing time?


I think the running game is going to be a very interesting thing to watch this game. Obviously we know what we are getting from Stevie, but it will be important for the o-line to gel very quickly. With two new starters up front, hopefully the Cyclones can gel and get the running game going early.


It will also be interesting to see who steps up as a legitimate backup to Stevie. That is a big question mark right now with Scales hurt. We only have one proven running back that is healthy, which is very scary at such a physical position.


How do you see ISU's offensive front matching up against Illinois State's, and could this be a big key to the ballgame? How do you think Egbers and Stephenson do in place of Vander Sanden and Stubbe?


I think this is going to be a key to this ballgame. Illinois State does not have a huge d-line, so hopefully the Cyclone front five can dominate the line of scrimmage. As I mentioned above, it might take a few possessions before they gel together, but hopefully they can control the line early in the game.


Both Vander Sanden and Stubbe were very good players the last three years. The loss of Luke and Cale definitely leave a gap in the line, but Coach Cotton is a very good o-line coach. He will have his starters ready to play winning football from the first snap.


Defensively, talk about the return of Brian Thompson. With him being a former Cyclone does that give Iowa State an edge in stopping him? (knowing his tendencies, etc.)


It will definitely be exciting for Brian to get back to Ames and play in Jack Trice Stadium again. He has a lot of friends that are still on the team, so I am sure he will be ready to play Saturday night.


Brian is a very talented back. He was deep on the depth chart in his first couple of years at Iowa State, but he definitely has a lot of talent. He would definitely be seeing time if he had stayed in Ames.


I don't think the Cyclone defense has any sort of special edge in stopping him. While he does have a lot of friends still on the team, a lot of the starting defenders were not even around when Brian left. To me, that won't provide the defense with advantage.


What are some match up or position concerns you have going in?


I think there are three positions to watch that could have a huge impact on the Cyclones season. The two new o-linemen, Egbers at tackle and Stevenson at guard, along with SAM linebacker Adam Carper. Carper is not a very big linebacker at only 215 lbs, and he has never played in a college football game. That will be a very important part of the defense because there is not a lot of experience coming back at the LB position. If we can get good linebacker play from the newcomers, the defense should be very good this year.


Finally, what are your keys to victory?


1) Win the turnover battle. Part of the reason for last years success was that the Cyclone defense did an outstanding job of forcing turnovers. A school record 6 defensive touchdowns helped seal many games. The same thing needs to happen this year if the Cyclones are to be successful. The offense must hold onto the ball and the defense must force turnovers.


2) Control the line of scrimmage. In a game against a D-IAA opponent, the Cyclones should be able to control the LOS. With a size advantage and a depth advantage over the Redbirds, look for the Cyclones to dominate the LOS and get the running game going.


3) Improve over the course of the game. The Cyclones will not be perfect in their first outing of the year. There will be stupid penalties and mental errors. Let's just hope that those mistakes happen early in the game and the Cyclones are getting better as the game goes on. Hopefully the young guys will get good experience and the old guys shake the rust off before the Big Game next weekend.

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