Football Insider: Army Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at Iowa State's first road game of the year, when the Cyclones travel to Army on Friday night.

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 kind of mindset does Iowa State need to take into the Army game after the bye week?


I am sure the guys are very excited to get back on the field. It was good to get the bye week after the big win over Iowa. Hopefully that gives the guys time to enjoy the victory, but also put it behind them. It is a long season with a lot of football to be played. It is essential for the Cyclones to put the Iowa game behind them and continue their three game winning streak.



Iowa State got a chance to watch Army play conference foe Baylor on Saturday, how much of an advantage will that give the Cyclones combined with the long preparation time period they had compared to Army's very short turnaround from the Baylor game?


I don't think seeing them on TV last week will be much of an advantage for the Cyclones. Even if some of the guys watched the game last week, it is not the same as watching game tape. It is totally different watching the game on TV and watching the exchange tape. You can't always see the receivers and d-backs on TV and you can't rewind the tape 3-4 times to study it. All you can really do is get a feel for the opposition.


I think the long preparation will be a very big factor however. No matter what the players and coaches say, it takes a couple of days to get over such a big win last week. The bye week should give them time to enjoy it.


Iowa State gets 13 days to prepare for this game, while Army only has 5. That is a huge advantage for the Cyclones. Iowa State should have the game plan perfected and should be extremely fresh heading into the game.




We in the media like to call last week an off week for the Cyclones, in all reality it's not for the team. What kinds of things go on during an ‘open week'?


I can assure you that last week was not an "off week" for the players. Coach Mac is very good about taking care of his players and after the win against Iowa, I would guess that he rewarded them with an extra day off. However, once they got back to practice, they are usually physical practices.


During the typical bye week, several coaches go out on the road recruiting. This leaves only about half as many coaches at practice as usual. The first week of practice is usually a lot like pre-season camp, with shorter practice, but with the first string against first string. It is an important week to continue to improve, so there is not a lot of scout team work. The coaches will start to implement a little bit of the game plan for Army, but most of that comes in week two. The first week also is a good time for the 3rd and 4th string guys to get reps and possibly play a Cyclone Bowl (scrimmage with the guys who don't play on Saturday).


Week two is usually very close to a normal game week. With this game being played on Friday night, they obviously move every practice up one day. Usually by game time, the guys are just excited to get back on the field against another team. I expect a fresh team ready to play Friday.



Did you get a chance to see any of the Baylor-Army game? What did you see?  If not, what have you heard about Army's team?


I did not see the game, but I know they have a very disciplined, tough team. Bobby Ross is a very organized, very experienced head coach. He has coached one team to an overall number 2 national ranking and another to the Super Bowl. He will have a team that is ready to play.


I think it is always fun to watch the military academy teams play football. They are very hard nosed and usually do not kill themselves with penalties and turnovers. These guys are very impressive people to be able to balance the military and Division I football. Some of these guys have been to Iraq and fought for our country. One of them even has a purple heart from his time overseas. Anybody who has been in that situation, who has seen and done the things they have, is a very outstanding person. They definitely will not be scared to face the Cyclones. I have a ton of respect for these guys.



Heading out to West Point, what kind of atmosphere will that be like for the Cyclones, it will be something like they've never witnessed before.


From what I hear, they have a very good football environment in West Point. Army has a rich tradition and has had a lot of great players. That being said, I do not think this environment should be overly intimidating. Most of these guys have played in front of huge crowds in fantastic environments. I don't think it should be much of a liability.


As a player, one of my favorite parts of playing on the road was seeing the other teams' stadium, atmosphere, and game day traditions. It is cool to see the traditions like Ralphie the Buffalo, Bevo the Longhorn, the 12th man at Texas A&M, etc. Every team we play on the road has their own environment and traditions. While it will be a very neat experience, I don't think this setting will be any more difficult.



Besides the Army atmosphere the game will be on a Friday night and the featured game on ESPN 2, will that add any additional pressure to the Cyclones?


I don't think it will bring any additional pressure. While it might cross their minds before the game, I think the guys will be more focused and ready to play. Most of the starters have played several games on national TV, including the bowl game last year. In general, I don't think it makes the players any more nervous, just excited.



Do you think Iowa State will open up the playbook a little more this weekend? Will we see some longer bombs thrown by Meyer?


I really hope so. I went back and looked at some games from last year, and there were several times when Blythe had the defense beat and the ball was overthrown. I know of at least two occasions in the Nebraska game alone that Todd was behind the defense and didn't get a completion. Jon Davis is also a legitimate deep threat. He is a 6-foot-4 WR who was a 200 meter dash sprint champion in Nebraska. We definitely have the receivers to take some shots deep.


For the ISU fans who don't yet realize it, Todd Blythe is a very special player. He will probably end up as the career leader in every receiving category (barring injury or leaving early for the draft). He is a very valuable weapon, and if Bret throws the ball deep to him three times a game, he will come down with at least one touchdown. I would love to see a few more shots deep to give him a chance to make a play.


However, I think part of the appeal of Meyer is that he doesn't make many mistakes. He throws conservative passes and is very good about throwing the ball away if nobody is open. He has been successful so far in his career and I think it will continue to be like this.


Rate the ISU defense thus far this season; will they be better than last year's stellar Iron Curtain?


I am extremely impressed with Coach Skladany and his defense. He has always had a good defensive mind and good schemes, but now he has the athletes to play his defense. This is the best defense ISU has seen in two decades and will be a key to the success of the season. The Cyclones have had as many defensive TD's in the last 13 games as they had the whole time I was playing.


If the d-backs can keep improving, this defense will definitely be better than last years. The loss of Ellis Hobbs will hurt, but LaMarcus Hicks has come up with some huge plays in his short time in Ames. I am looking for the defense to be the cornerstone of the team this year.



Who do you expect to step up and have a big game this weekend?


As I talked about above, I would love to see the Cyclones take a few more shots deep and give Blythe and Davis a shot. If the Cyclones can get the running game going like they did last game, I think the play action pass could be very effective.


I would also expect Stevie to have a good game. It seemed like the line was starting to gel in the second half of the Iowa game, so I would expect Coach Cotton to try to establish the run early.


Running the ball is always critical and I think this is a great week to get the run game going before we head into the Big 12. Look for Stevie to get 25-30 carries out in New York.



Do you think it will be hard to keep the Cyclones focused on a task at hand, instead of looking ahead to Nebraska?


I really don't think so. In my time playing for Coach McCarney, he was very good at keeping the team focused on the current game and not looking ahead to the next week. The guys have been off so long, I think they are just excited to get back on the field and in front of a nationwide audience. This should be a fun trip for everybody involved, so I would be very disappointed if they looked past the Black Knights. Looking past Army and coming home with a loss would totally erase the great game against Iowa.



Finally, what are a few keys to victory against the Black Knights?


Swarming defense. The Cyclone defense will be a key every game this season. They must continue to improve and dominate the game. Bobby Ross is a very bright and organized coach. He will have a good game plane ready for the Cyclones. It is important the defense start fast and shut the Black Knights down early.


Establish the run. The Cyclones started to get the running game going late last game and I expect them to continue to get better. I truly believe that if the Cyclones can establish the run in every game this season, we can beat any team on the schedule. With an outstanding defense, talented receivers, and smart and efficient QB, we have the rest of the puzzle. Add a running game to the mix, and this team should be very good. It has been awhile since we had the consistent running game week in and week out. If we can get that going, this will be the team to beat in the North.


Eliminate the mistakes. When you are playing a game in which you are a 20 point favorite, you can not make stupid mistakes to keep them in the game. The Cyclones must minimize the penalties and turnovers to win the game. If we start hurting ourselves, the Black Knights will stay in this game. I don't think this team is good enough YET, to go on the road and make a lot of mistakes and expect to win. If you doubt that, remember week one when we had a touchdown called back and they returned a fumble for a touchdown. These things will get you beat on the road.

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