Football Insider: Baylor Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at Iowa State's first home game in 28 days, when the Cyclones host an improved Baylor squad 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 CycloneNation.com.

 

What do you think the mindset of this team is, given the heartbreaking loss to Nebraska on Saturday?

 

I am sure they were extremely disappointed with the loss last weekend. I know that Coach Mac will not let the guys accept a close loss and treat it as a moral victory. They went to win the game, not keep it close. There should not be anyone on that team who feels good about a loss.

 

Hopefully the guys have moved on and put that game behind them. There were a lot of good lessons learned from the game and I know they watched the film and made a lot of corrections.

 

I think the team will be very happy to get back to Jack Trice Stadium for the first time in a month, and I expect them to come out swinging.

 

 

On the other hand, what would a victory against Baylor do for this team's morale and goals for the end of the season, especially since Baylor is a much improved team from a year ago.

 

In a conference with such parity, every conference game will be huge. I think Baylor will be looking to beat a Big 12 North opponent, which they haven't done in awhile. This game is important to get back on the winning track and get one game closer to the ultimate goal, winning the Big 12 North. The conference is wide open, and after the loss last week, ISU cannot afford a 0-2 start. Baylor is off to a pretty good start; they have talented players, and definitely have the capability of beating ISU. They beat Texas A&M last season (a team that beat ISU soundly) and took them to overtime at College Station. They are a team that we cannot take lightly.

 

 

Take us back to the Cyclones' victory in Waco last season. How did it give the team momentum for a mid-season turnaround? What did the team do to emerge victorious against the Bears?

 

In my opinion, that game was the biggest game of the season last year. If ISU had not had that 4th quarter drive for the winning touchdown, there is no way that team went to a bowl game, let alone won the North (along with Colorado). If ISU would have lost that game, they would have been 2-5, with one more loss keeping them home for the holidays.

 

The 4th quarter drive not only kept the bowl hopes alive, but it gave the team confidence to take into the second half of the season. I am sure they had the Baylor game on their minds in the 4th quarter of the great K-State comeback.  That Baylor game taught these guys how to win and gave them much needed confidence.

 

 

Iowa State hasn't played a home game in four weeks, how big of lift will it be having the Bears at home be for this team?

 

It will be extremely nice to be back in Jack Trice for these players after playing in two tough environments. Jack Trice is finally becoming a true home field advantage for the Cyclones, and ISU will need it in every home game this season. It is great to see the stadium packed and a strong following. Hopefully the fans will continue to come to the games and give ISU the much needed support.

 

 

Give us your scouting report of Baylor's offense. What do you look for from this unit?

 

The Bear offense has taken advantage of the turnovers the defense has given them. So far this season, they have scored 28 points off of turnovers, so they are very opportunistic. The Bears have had a fairly balanced attack so far, but overall, the offense is not particularly explosive. But after two consecutive weeks of giving up a lot of yards to "unexplosive" offenses, ISU cannot take the Bear offense lightly.

 

How about a scouting report on the Bear defense, and what you would expect from it?

 

The Baylor defense has definitely been the strong point for the Bears this season. They have already forced as many turnovers this season as they did in all of 2004. The Bears have a tremendous secondary, led by Maurice Lane. The Bears rank in the top 20 in the nation in total defense.

 

This should be a classic match-up of strength against strength as the Baylor secondary goes up against the strong ISU passing game. It is going to be important for Meyer to make good decisions and not let the Bears get any interceptions. This team has thrived all year on defense, even against a very talented Texas A&M team.

 

Obviously the ISU rushing game is a concern for every ISU fan.  Discuss your feelings on the situation. How would you rate Greg Coleman's play against Nebraska?

 

The rushing game has been a disappointment so far. It would definitely help take some pressure off of Meyer and the receivers if we could run the ball, but I don't think it is essential for ISU to have an outstanding season.  I think it would help if Stevie was healthy, but it doesn't look like he is going to be playing any time soon.

 

Greg stepped in the Nebraska game and played very hard. He is kind of a mix between a fullback and a running back. Greg is not a guy that is going to break you down and make you miss, but he does protect the ball and get the yards he is supposed to get.

 

 

Who would you say is the back-up if Coleman gets hurt?

 

I have no idea who would play running back if Greg went down. I am sure that the coaches have been giving some of the younger guys reps in anticipation that they might have to play. Hopefully Scales can get healthy and give the team 6-7 good games. The lack of running back depth has never been a problem at ISU, so this is something they haven't had to deal with.

 

 

After Todd Blythe's breakout freshman year, some are wondering if he's in a bit a of a sophomore slump, what's your take on his play four games in?

 

I think people are blowing his "sophomore slump" out of proportion. If you look at his stats this year compared to last, they are very similar. Last year he averaged 3.25 catches per game, this year, 4.25. Last year he averaged 69 yards/game, this year, 60. The big difference is in the number of touchdown catches. The number of TD's he had last year was ridiculous. Nine receiving TD's in a year is only 6 off of the Iowa State CAREER record. I think Todd got an extreme amount of attention because he was catching so many TD's.

 

Todd is also facing tougher defenses this season. He is probably starting to realize that it isn't easy as it seemed last year. He is seeing a lot more double coverage and man-to-man on him.

 

I don't think he is having a sophomore slump at all. In fact, I would not be surprised to see him put up bigger numbers this year (with the exception of TD's). I think Todd is becoming a better player. He is learning to go over the middle and make the tough catch.

 

Also, remember that Todd has only played in 16 games in his college career. He is continuing to improve all areas of his game and is a more complete player. ISU fans should look forward to seeing Todd play for 2 and a half more seasons.

 

What are causing the gaps in our defense? Wrong coverage? Are they playing it safe?

 

It looked like we were just playing off of the receivers too much the last two games. Especially against Nebraska, they caught a lot of underneath crossing routes in front of our coverage. It looked like we had a bend but don't break defense. Nebraska was able to throw short passes all the way down the field, but when the field got tighter in the red zone, they had a tougher time moving the ball.

 

It looked like we were not putting enough pressure on Taylor, which allowed him to sit back and find his receivers. Hindsight is 20/20, but maybe we should have played tighter to the receivers and put more pressure on Taylor. Up until last week, he really hadn't shown a whole lot, so it might have been better to put pressure on him and make him make quick decisions to beat us.

 

 

Finally, what are some of your keys to victory against the Bears?

 

Get over last week. It is going to be important to get over the loss last week and be mentally ready for this week's game. Both teams are coming off of tough overtime losses last week. The team that can put it behind them quicker and move on to this game will have an advantage.

 

Get our defense back. The defense needs to play up to its capabilities and expectations. It was great to see the defense shut down Iowa in week 2, giving everybody hope that this is the year that we have a dominant defense. The two weeks that followed left a lot to be desired. I have said all along that this defense could be the best Coach Mac has had at Iowa State.  So far, they have not lived up to that hype.

 

Win the turnover battle. Both teams thrive off of turnovers. Iowa State has been at its best when the defense has forced turnovers and set the offense up in scoring position.  It is going to be important that Iowa State win the turnover battle, because I believe the team that wins the turnover battle will win this game.

 

Hopefully the Cyclones can get back on the winning track this week against a much improved Baylor team. ISU needs come get out of the gate fast and put last weeks disappointing loss behind them. This is a crucial game with a tough road game on the horizon.  A loss this week would all but eliminate ISU from the Big 12 North title hunt.


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