Football Insider: Missouri Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Iowa State - Missouri football game as the Cyclones look to get back on track.

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 do you think the mindset of this team is, given the heartbreaking losses the past two weekends?


I am sure they are very disappointed with the last two losses, but they have been in this position before. Last year they started 0-3 in the conference and ended up going 4-1. They know that the season is not over and they still have a chance to accomplish great things. I think the team is going to have a great week of practice and come out strong next week.



Last season Iowa State's win over Baylor gave the team momentum for a mid-season turnaround. How does the team stop this weekends loss from spiraling this season out of control for the Cyclones?


Like we talked about last week, they have to put it behind them. That is not the easiest thing in the world to do, but this is a different type game this week. This is a game they are being picked to lose. Their back is against the wall, which always makes for a dangerous team. I think that is why they were so good at the end of 2004; their back was against the wall for five straight weeks. The fans and media have begun to bad mouth the team, and I know they will be motivated to prove everybody wrong. A wounded animal is a dangerous animal, and I think that is the approach they will take to Columbia.



Do you think it's too early in the season to hit the panic button?


I never like to use the "panic" button, but I think there should be a huge sense of urgency with this team. It is never good when a team starts to panic, but to go into a must game win with a sense of urgency is the way it should be. There is a lot of football to be played, but we have already lost to two teams that we beat last year, Nebraska and Baylor. We already made one of those up in the non-conference games with the victory over Iowa, but in order to win the North again, we will have to beat two teams that we lost to last year.



In your mind, what areas of the team need to be drastically improved, come Saturday afternoon in Colombia? Please go into detail on each.


Special teams- The special teams have to get better. Last week the punt team really hurt the Cyclones. Not only were we getting short kicks, but we were giving up long returns. Also, the only thing worse than settling for a field goal in the red zone is if we miss the field goals down there. I think Culbertson can get the job done, but somebody has to set up and take the bull by the horns.


Red zone offense- ISU's red zone offense has been terrible this season. We cannot continue to trade field goals for touchdowns and we cannot continue to turn the ball over in the red zone. Much has been said about the two turnovers last week, so I will not go on a tangent about that. But those are things that winning teams do not do, and those are things that championship teams do not do.


Forcing turnovers on defense- Iowa State has been at its best the last year and a half when the defense is forcing turnovers. We are not talented enough to lose the turnover battle and expect to win. The talent level in the North has so much parity, that the teams who do the little things will win. If you look back at the big victories from the last year and a half, the defense forced turnovers, put the offense in good field position, and even scored touchdowns themselves. In order for ISU to have a season like they had last year, the defense has got to get back to that.



What needs to happen for Iowa State to keep from turning the ball over? Iowa State has six turnovers in the redzone in the five few games.


I think that is just shows some of the inexperience in certain positions. The coaches always stress ball security and I know they are stressing it more than ever this week. Both of the crucial turnovers were from guys who have not touched the ball a lot for the Cyclones. That is one thing you will get from inexperienced players.



On the same note, once again we've seen the ISU offense stall in the

redzone. What certain approach would you like to see the offense take, schematically?


I would like to see the offense take more shots to the end zone. In the red zone, the offense has a shrunken field; there is not as much room to let the route packages develop. However, most defenses will play more man to man coverage, which means we can get our 6-4 receivers on their 5-10 DB's. I think this is a tremendous opportunity and one we should take advantage of. I know there has been some criticism of Blythe this season, but I would take him against any DB in the conference man-to-man.  We need to give him a chance to make the plays he is capable of making. Throw the ball to the corner of the end zone and let's see what he can do.



Give us a scouting report on Missouri quarterback Brad Smith. Do you think the ISU defense will have a tough time containing Smith?


Brad Smith is one of the top three players in the Big 12 conference. He is one of the few guys who can truly beat you with his arm or his legs. I remember watching him as a redshirt freshman against Oklahoma. He almost single handedly beat OU and almost cost them a shot at their national title. He is a special player and a guy that definitely needs a special game plan.


I would assume that ISU will try to keep Smith in the pocket. He is best when he is rolling out and making plays. I know he has grown as a pocket passer, but I still compare him to Drew Tate. Both are guys who like to move around and give their receivers time to get open. I think the game plan should be very similar to the Iowa game.



In what ways should the Cyclone offense attack this Missouri defense?


Missouri's weakness on defense is definitely their secondary. This is a good sign considering we have excellent WR's. I believe that ISU needs to take more shots at the end zone. We have the WR's to make big plays. Not only could we get some quick TD's, but if the safeties are worried about the long pass, and the play action pass, they will not be so quick to come up on the run game. Every d-coordinator in the conference knows Todd Blythe and they know that he is capable of catching the long ball, so we need to take advantage to that. As long as we don't let them intercept the deep ball, the worst that can happen is we have second and 10, which is about what it has been if we run the ball. I say we leave it on the field, play with nothing to lose, and try to hit the home run every once in awhile.



Who do you think will step up and have a big game for Iowa State this weekend?


There are many guys who are not playing up to their potentials so far this year. The seniors have to step up and lead the way to a victory. I would expect the defense to be ready to play against one of the top players in the conference. Expect Leaders, Moser, Paris and Dobbins to take it personally. Hopefully those guys will step up and force the turnovers they were the last year and a half. With the offense struggling, the defense has to help put them in a position to score.



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


O-line play. It is crucial for the o-line to step up and open some holes in the run game. I would like to see the running backs gaining a lot of yards on first and second down to put the offense in a 3rd and medium or 3rd and short position.


Can the defense slow down Brad Smith? Smith is always going to get his yards. He is the type of player that you just hope to contain. If the defense can limit his big plays and force the players around him to make plays, they have a great shot to win the game.


Big plays in the passing game. Missouri has a weakness at defensive back, so the ISU receivers need to step up and dominate in the passing game. The running game is not getting it done at under 100 yards per game, so the receivers have got to continue to make plays. I am waiting for those guys to make the huge play and dominate the game the way they are capable of. If the o-line can give Meyer time to throw the ball, expect this to be the week that the big plays happen.


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