Football Insider: Illinois State Post-Game

Iowa State started its season off with a 32-21 win over Illinois State on Saturday. With time to reflect on and review the Cyclone triumph, former offensive lineman Luke Vander Sanden evaluates the ISU effort.

Luke Vander Sanden was an offensive lineman on the ISU football team from 2000-2004. The Inwood native was a two-time academic all-Big 12 first team performer and won the ISU all-around Academic Achievement Award in 2003. On the grid iron, Vander Sanden was an honorable mention all-Big 12 selection his senior season and was one of Iowa State's four team captains on the 2004 Independence Bowl championship squad.

How about starting with some general comments on Iowa State's 32-21 win over Illinois State

The first game is always a tough game to get a feel for what the opponent is like.  Illinois State had some coaching changes/additions.  Preparation is always difficult any time that you are preparing against new coaches.  Cyclone fans can look at this game any way they want to, but a win is a win and we will take it!  Don't give up on the Clones of 2005 yet.  This is a new team from a year ago, and guys will settle into their positions.  We just need to be patient and know that this will be an exciting year!  I think still have some things that we have to work on.  I thought that Illinois State was a very hungry football team, and that was visible on the field Saturday night at Jack Trice.

Did this team gain anything from Saturday, or will it go down as just a win over an I-AA squad? 

I think that Iowa State gained a lot from this game.  Obviously a win is one more win closer to the much anticipated post season.  Like I said earlier; a win is a win, pretty or ugly.  I think a lot of people would like to look shaky winning than looking really good losing.  I also think that the Iowa State coaches and players alike can learn from this game.  There are obvious things that Coach Mac will be working on this coming week in practice.  These things include getting the running game established, as well as correcting mistakes that were evident on Saturday.  Two bombs given up on defense hurt any chance of Iowa State grabbing the momentum. 

The offensive line needs to come together and establish a running game so that the offense will not be one dimensional.  As a former offensive lineman, we Iowa State fans need to be patient with the offensive line.  Three starters return from a bowl championship team.  This means that there are two spots that are with new starters.  I think Scott Stephenson played a great game.  If Scott can stay healthy, he will be an all-league performer that will definitely propel the offensive line.  He is the most physical offensive lineman that was apparent on Saturday night. 

The team will also learn that they played a solid Illinois State team.  You can look at their record last year and say that Iowa State should have beaten them bad.  I thought that their interior offensive lineman did an outstanding job and well as their receiving corps.  81 for Illinois State is definitely a play maker.

The biggest thing the Iowa State football team will take from this game is correcting mental assignments, as well as penalties.

What things impressed you from Saturday? 

I thought the defense impressed me on Saturday night minus two long bombs that
Illinois State converted.  The talk is this might be one of the best defenses under Mac's tenure at Iowa State.  They will come through; I know they will.

I was also impressed with Bret Meyer and Austin Flynn.  Bret had a career game.  He started off a little slow, but he is definitely finding his zone in the passing game.  I also thought Austin Flynn did a terrific job.  He was the top receiver with 7 catches for 60 some yards.  We are talking about a player that could have packed his bags and went looking for another school to play for.  Austin is definitely a player that the whole team respects for his unselfishness, and his desire to win.

I also was impressed with Tony Yelk; he took more criticism from anyone last year.  Everyone thought he wasn't hurt and that he just didn't want to play.  Anytime a kicker injures his kicking leg it is going to take some time to heal.  It is like a quarterback tearing a rotator cuff.  Until it's healed, success will be dim.  Tony came off and put all the doubters on the fence and did a great job.  I have to give Tony a lot of credit. 

I also thought Nik Moser was a playmaker on Saturday.  Two years ago he was playing undersized at SAM linebacker.  They moved him back to his safety position and he hasn't lost a step since the Independence Bowl of 2004.  Look for an outstanding year from the senior!

Was there anything that concerned you? 

There were a couple of things that concerned me on Saturday.  One was the inability for our offense to come out and start fast.  I think the first series was a 3 and out.  The first series is for the offense to set the tempo and march it down the field and put some points on the board or set the team up for good field position. As a football team, we need to start the games fast and get up on our opponents to set the tempo early. 

I hit on another concern earlier.  That concern was our defense giving up two bombs.  Iowa State lost a quality football player in Ellis Hobbs, but there are too many good starters returning with a lot of playing time experience to give up those big plays.  Look for a solid performance by the secondary this week. 

What areas do you think the o-line needs to work on yet? 

I think establishing some consistency running the ball is the biggest thing the offensive line needs to work on.  Once the running game gets rolling, the passing game will be a huge threat to opposing teams.  We have great receivers in Blythe, Sumrall, Moses, Flynn, and Davis. 

The left tackle position is probably the only position that needs to be solidified.  Johannes Egbers has been in the program for five years and should be able to get the job done; it's a matter of making sure the job gets done.  I think he is a natural leader and a competitive guy.  He had troubles with pass rushers from Illinois State.  A left tackles responsibility is keeping the pocket wide.  Bret was definitely chased out of the pocket on Saturday night, and I think that will be a big focus going into this coming game.  The Big 12 will have a lot faster defensive ends than Illinois State. I think Johannes will step up to the plate and get his footwork corrected in practice this week. 

As a former offensive lineman, it takes a while for the offensive line unit to gel.  I think Coach Cotton will get after these guys and they will come through soon!  I still am looking for big things from Zehr; he has an outstanding year in 2004.  He was comfortable with his position at right guard.  He needs to flip the switch and expect big things out of himself. 

Give us your analysis of the Cyclone ground game. What was going right? Which offensive linemen played particularly well?  

I wasn't too impressed with the ground game.  Stevie had a long run for a touchdown in the game; there is no reason this group of offensive lineman can't do that all game long against anybody.  It's all about establishing some consistency.  I thought that Scott Stephenson was a bright spot at center on offensive line.  Scott is definitely a Big 12 center and a physical one.  Expect a great year out of him if he can stay healthy! 

I thought Aaron Brant did a nice job.  He definitely got bigger and stronger over the off-season.  He will improve each game as the season marches along.  I think the coaching staff expects more out of the left tackle spot and well as the right guard spot.  It looked as if the right guard (Zehr) was having trouble blocking against movement on Saturday.  I am not concerned about that because Cotton will work on that during practice this upcoming week.

Defensively, assess the play of John Skladany's unit. 

Overall, I thought John's unit did a great job on Saturday.  Guys were flying around to the ball and being playmakers.  This will probably be the fastest defensive unit that John has exploited out on the field in his tenure at Iowa State.  I talked earlier about the disappointing two bombs his unit gave up on Saturday.  Any time a team does that to you, it kills the momentum for your team.  The guys just need to stay composed and put it past them and make a play the next play.  DeAndre Jackson is a better player and he will get it corrected.  I look for a big year out of the defense once again.  I think the defense is full of a bunch of warriors that fly around to the ball.

What was your evaluation of the special teams unit?  

I thought the special teams turned out a solid performance.  Troy Blankenship, the punter, is definitely one of the top punters in the league.  He had a good average on Saturday night as well as pinning one at
Illinois State's one yard-line.  Ryan Baum continues to be a consistent player for Iowa State on special teams.  He takes pride in what he does and he is always making plays, especially on the kickoff team and the punt team. 

I also look for big plays on punt return if the punt return team executes.  I talked about Tony Yelk earlier.  He was definitely a bright spot on kickoff.  He booted it through the end zone a couple of times.  This gives a kickoff return unit with good returners no chance of taking one to the house or setting up their team for good field position.

Talk about the difference Tony Yelk makes on kick-offs and causing touchbacks. What kind of momentum does that give the Cyclones? 

He was definitely a bright spot on kickoff.  He booted it through the end zone a couple of times.  This gives a kickoff return unit with good returners no chance of taking one to the house or setting up their team for good field position.  Any time you kick it and cause the other team to take a touchback, it puts less pressure on your defense because the offense is working with an 80 yard field.  It's all about field position.

Talk about the performance quarterback Bret Meyer put together, passing for 314 yards.  

Bret continues to be a solid quarterback.  He is only a redshirt sophomore and he is definitely a play maker on offense; he was 30-41 with 314 passing yards.  He performed really well considering the running game for Iowa State did not really get established.  Bret will have a great year as long as the running game gets established and as long as the offensive line protects for him.  Bret is a natural leader that will carry the offense on his shoulder.

Talk about the return of Jason Berryman; is he where you expected him to be playing wise or did he surprise you at all?  

I thought that Jason Berryman played a solid game.  We are talking about a guy who missed the entire 2004 season.  I think he did a good job considering his situation.  I was surprised that he looked so good even though he missed last year. 

Jason will be a good player as long as the media and hype does not get to his head; I think that was his problem last year.  Hopefully he has grown up to be a man's man and he will only go forward the rest of his career and life.  Time will tell.  I think it will take a while to earn respect back from people, but slowly and surely, if he keeps his head screwed on right, he will earn it back. 

How do you think Todd Blythe looked in his first game back from ACL surgery? 

I thought Todd looked really well.  You never saw him limping around on the field.  He was always in position to make big plays.  A lot of us may say he didn't have a good game because he didn't have 3 touchdowns and over 100 yards receiving.  A receiver does not need to have all the glory of touchdowns and yards to have a great game.  A receiver is a blocker as well.  I also think
Illinois State was keying on him.  Do you blame them after a breakout year he turned in last year?

Look ahead to next week. What will Iowa State have to do to be successful against Iowa

The Clones will have to run the ball offensively.  The offense can't be a one-dimensional pass team this coming week or throughout the entire season.  If it is, it makes it much easier for defenses to prepare for you.  The offensive line needs to re-group and realize they can get the job done.  There are three starters returning from last years bowl championship squad that had success running the ball, and producing a 1,000 yard rusher out of Hicks.  Those three guys need to take the rest of the offensive line by the horns and pave the way.  There is no reason they shouldn't or they can't. 

Defensively, we need to be able to stuff the run.  Iowa is healthy at running back this year and look for them to try to establish the run.  Iowa always seems to produce salty offensive lines.  The defense also will need to be able to keep the scrambler Drew Tate in the pocket.  Last year they were able to, and this year I don't see anything different happening.  I think the main thing will be stopping the run and not giving up big plays from Tate to his receivers.

As a former player, what's the hype like going into the Iowa game? How much different is it than other weeks? 

The hype is definitely present.  As an Iowa State football player, you don't like your rival.  As an Iowa football player, you don't like your rival.  Players and coaches approach this game as if it were any other game on the schedule.  As a former Iowa State player, I think this week has some intensity built into it as well as some anxiousness out of everyone; players and coaches alike.  All in all, it is still the game of football.  Go out and play fast, play hard, play for each other, and have fun doing it!

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