Football Insider: Nebraska Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at Iowa State's second road game of the year, when the Cyclones travel to a hostile Nebraska environment on Saturday afternoon.

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


Start out with your thoughts on Iowa State's 28-21 victory over Army. Which areas of Iowa State's game concerned you and what were some bright spots in the Cyclones hard-fought win?


It was obviously a hard fought victory and anytime you come home from a road trip victorious, you have to be happy. Army was a very physical, disciplined team. They deserved a tremendous amount of credit for their effort in the game. I think Bobby Ross is doing an outstanding job at West Point and hopefully they will win a few games this year.


As an ISU fan, I was getting nervous in the fourth quarter. After such an impressive performance against Iowa, is was a little disappointing to see such a close game. I would love to see the Cyclones dominate a game the way they are supposed to on the road. Great teams do not let inferior teams hang around with them.


I was a little concerned about the rushing game. We could not sustain drives with our running attack. Obviously the loss of Stevie had something to do with it, but our #2 back should be able to step in and run the ball.


I was also a little concerned about the defense. For the first time this year, the defense didn't force many turnovers (after the two interceptions on the first two drives). As the game progressed, Army was able to move the ball on well executed plays. The Cyclones will not be able to force five turnovers every game. They need to be able to stop a team and force them to punt. I would have liked to see more three and outs, especially against an offensive line that averaged 270 lbs.


In conclusion, it was great to go on the road and pick up an important victory. The Cyclones must continue to get better as they head into the Big 12 games. They have a tough schedule ahead of them and will need to continue to improve if they are going to accomplish everything we hope they can.



Which Iowa State team do you think we'll see in Lincoln on Saturday afternoon? The team that beat Iowa 23-3 or the team that had troubles with Illinois State and Army.


The trend this year has been to play to the level of competition. I would expect to see the team that dominated Iowa, and that team will need to show up to win in Lincoln. It is extremely difficult to win at Nebraska, and the Cyclones will need to bring everything to the table this weekend.



Nebraska's strength has to be its defense, which is giving up 5.3 points per game. How should ISU go about attacking the Blackshirts?


I don't put a whole lot of stock in statistics until the middle of the conference season. Nebraska has not played a good offense yet, which could be a big reason for their great defensive statistics. I watched a game last night with one of the best scoring offenses in the country - Toledo. I think they were averaging around 50 points a game to this point. Last night they struggled to score 14. I just think that until a team has played 2-3 conference games, it is impossible to tell about a team based on stats.


I think the Cyclones will throw the ball a lot this weekend. With the inconsistency in the running game to this point, I would expect a game plan that has the passing game setting up the run game. I believe that ISU has a personnel advantage with their receivers over Nebraska's defensive backs. Much like last year, when Meyer threw for over 300 yards, I would expect the Cyclones to put the ball in Meyer's hands a lot. I think they will try to get Bret out of the pocket to avoid the blitz and let him find the open receivers when he is rolling out.


Hopefully the Cyclones can get the passing game going, which will lead to a successful running game. I believe that if the Cyclones are to win the game, they will need to throw for over 250 yards. With Stevie at less than 100%, this will determine the outcome of the game.


If Stevie Hicks is unable to play on Saturday, do you think we'll see more of a passing attack from the Cyclones? What is the best way to beat this Nebraska team? Iowa State's rushing offense is last in the league, averaging 110.7 yards a game; while the Nebraska defense is No. 2 in the Big 12, allowing only 79.3 yards per contest.


I think that even if Stevie is healthy, ISU will need to throw the ball to win. Nebraska has always had a real good front seven, but I think their back four is where the Cyclones have an advantage. If the o-line can protect Meyer in the pocket and when he rolls out, I believe that the receivers can get open. I am sure that the Cyclones are confident that they can throw the ball, given the success last season.



Nebraska's offense has struggled early this season. What kind of approach do you think the Huskers will take, offensively, in this game? Do they go to their ground game or will it be an aerial attack?


I think Nebraska will continue to get the passing game going.  They haven't shown much wavering in what they want to do offensively. I think they probably feel pretty confident throwing the ball after watching the first three ISU games. ISU has been beat deep a couple of times and Army completed several passes against the Cyclones. With the way ISU likes to blitz, expect a few screen plays from the Huskers. Army executed several screen plays for 15-25 yard gains. I would expect to see much of the same offense that Callahan has used in his first 14 games as head coach for the Huskers.



How do you think Iowa State's defense stacks up against the Blackshirts?


I think both teams have good defenses; however both teams still have a few questions to answer on the defensive side of the ball.  The Cyclones have shown that they can have a dominating defense at times. They simply need to be consistent game in and game out. Great defenses do not play to their level of competition and I would love to see the Cyclones put on a great defensive display week in and week out.


The Blackshirts, in my opinion, have yet to be game tested by a great offense.  Whether Iowa State is that great offense is yet to be determined, but Nebraska simply hasn't played an offense with a pulse. 


I think the strength of both teams lies with their defense. The defense that can force turnovers and put their offense in good field position will go a long way towards determining the winner of this contest.



Which player do you expect to have a big game for Iowa State?


If ISU is going to win, it is going to have to be Bret Meyer. He will probably be asked to do a lot for the offense. For all of the reasons I talked about above, Meyer will have to be able to move the chains for the offense. He has got to be confident after last year's game, so hopefully he will have another great game against Nebraska.



What is the atmosphere like in Memorial Stadium? The sea of red has to be very intimidating for the opposition.  What other atmospheres does it rival?


This is where Nebraska has a considerable advantage. Memorial Stadium is one of the two toughest places to play in the Big 12 (along with Oklahoma). There are some fantastic stadiums in the Big 12, but Memorial is the loudest and most intimidating.


As a player, the hardest thing about playing at Nebraska is that the fans are right on top of you. There is a big difference when they are right on top of you and can reach out and touch you. Memorial Stadium is similar to Kinnick Stadium in that there is not much room between the field and the crowd.


There are other stadiums in the Big 12 with huge crowds and great traditions, but the crowd is back away from the players.  Two good examples are Texas A&M and Texas. Both of these schools have a great environment and huge crowds, but there is a 10-15 yard gap from the fans to the bench (as opposed to 2 feet at Kinnick). With a lot of room between the players and the crowd, it allows the players to get comfortable.



Iowa State hasn't had success in Lincoln since 1977. A win this Saturday would have to do wonders for the Cyclones confidence with the majority of ISU's Big 12 games on the road. Just how big of victory would this be early in the Big 12 season for Iowa State?


In Coach Mac's time at Iowa State, he has tried to accomplish things that haven't been accomplished at Iowa State in a long time. It seems every year the Cyclones are doing things that haven't been done in a long, long time.  This is just another one of those streaks that the Cyclones will be trying to break.


A win at Nebraska this weekend would be extremely important for the confidence of the players. Getting a win in the toughest environment in the conference would go a long ways the rest of the season.


I think bigger than the confidence issue, a win this weekend would give ISU huge conferences win. This is one of the two toughest road games of the season (with Texas A&M). The Big 12 North title has traditionally had to go through Lincoln, and if we can come home with a victory, that would give us the early advantage in the Big 12 North.


Reflect on Iowa State's win over the Huskers last season and during 2002, a game you were a part of. What did those victories mean to the program? How did it rate in all of the victories you were a part of? What was the post-game locker room like?


Both were very big wins for the Cyclone program. The win in 2002 was big because we hadn't beaten Nebraska in 10 years. It was the first time that we showed the Big 12 Conference that we were a team to be reckoned with.  Although it was an extremely gratifying win, the game was not really in doubt in the second half. It wasn't nearly as good as the come from behind victory against Iowa or some of the close wins we had in my career.


The biggest thing I remember from the post-game celebration in 2002 is that it was bittersweet. It was great to win the game, but we lost Luke Vander Sanden, one of our best linemen, to a broken leg. He had just come back to the line-up after a broken ankle, and then he got hurt again. It was bittersweet because I knew he was a huge reason we one that game. With the lack of depth on the line, I knew it could be a tough road ahead.


The win last year was also important in that it let the Cyclones control their own destiny in the Big 12 North. It gave the guys a lot of confidence and they obviously used that confidence to become co-champs of the North.



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


Make it 4 quarters. We have not made this a four quarter game in Lincoln in a long time. Nebraska has historically jumped all over us and road the early success to a big win. The Cyclones must come out strong, start fast, and stay in the game during the first half. This will be the first time in at least 6 years that we will be taking an experienced quarterback into Lincoln. In the past three trips to Lincoln, ISU has started a QB that had never started in that type of environment (Sage in 1999, Seneca in 2001, and Austin in 2003). Hopefully as somebody who has played in that type of environment before, Bret will start the game comfortable.


Special teams. Nebraska has traditionally had very good special teams. They have used big special teams plays to jump all over the Cyclones in the past. With Nebraska having such an ineffective offense to this point, it is important that the Huskers do not score with their special teams.


Turnovers. The Blackshirts have been one of the best teams in the country at not only forcing turnovers, but scoring on defense. The Cyclones have to feel good about shutting down the non-existent Husker offense, but it is important that the ISU offense does not turn the ball over and give the Huskers good field position, or worse, points with their defense.


I think if the Cyclones can do the three things listed above, they will have an outstanding chance to win the game. With a big part of the country watching, let's hope the Cyclones can come out, get a win, and establish themselves as the team to beat in the Big 12 North.

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