Football Insider: Oklahoma State Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Iowa State - Oklahoma State 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



In your mind, what areas did the team improved the most against Missouri? In which aspects are the Cyclones still struggling in?


I think the defense improved dramatically from the last couple of weeks. Brad Smith is one of the top players in the Big 12 and the Cyclones made him ineffective. Of the points Missouri did score, 14 were due to the offensive turnovers. Overall, for about 50 minutes of the game, the Cyclone D played outstanding football. It was disappointing to melt late in the game and let a true freshman drive the field to win the game. All the defense had to do was come up with one stop, and we would be talking about ISU's chances in the Big 12 North. They didn't make the play and now we sit at 0-3 in the conference.


The ISU kicking game is still a big liability. How many games are we going to lose because of missed kicks? I know there are a hundred other things the Cyclones did wrong last weekend, but it is getting pretty old watching the Cyclone kickers miss crucial kicks. In a division where the talent level is pretty even across the board, those things always come back to haunt you.


Obviously the turnovers are still a huge difference. Another fumble on the goal line and two turnovers for 14 Missouri points. It is easy to see why ISU is not winning games. We have not been outmatched in any game this year. We simply have not done the little things that it takes to win games.



We talk about it almost every week, is this the game we see a break-out performance by the ISU passing attack?


I have no clue on this issue. The passing game has been good at times (Nebraska) and average at others. I think we have the players and the quarterback to throw the ball. I don't think the passing game has hurt us in many games, but people just expected (maybe hoped) that the passing game would compensate for the running game. I know the coaches are continually looking at the game plan and trying to put more points on the board. Hopefully the receivers can have a big day this weekend and lead the offense to a great performance. The bottom line is that we have the guys to get it done, and it could happen at any time.



Turnovers are killing the Cyclones, is there anything special done in practice (i.e. drills) to practice ball security or is that something just enforced on every play/drill?


I know one thing that Coach Alford, the running backs coach, will not tolerate, is fumbling the ball. That is why ISU running backs have one of the best track records in the country when it comes to their running backs holding onto the ball. He is probably drilling it into their minds on every carry all week.


Like I said last week, some of it is inexperience. Harris probably has not been hit like he has the last couple of weeks. It is a big step for a true freshman to come in a take a pounding at running back.


I know there will be an extra emphasis on ball security all week in practice and during the game. Turnovers in the red zone have cost this team a chance at the North title and probably kept them from being ranked in the top 15. This has to be corrected or this team will continue to struggle.




The injury to Ryan Baum is a huge loss on special teams, how do you think his replacements did on Saturday?


I thought overall they did a decent job as replacements on Saturday. In the two obvious positions, punt returner and gunner on punt team; I thought they held up well. The main thing you want out of a punt returner is a guy who handles the ball and doesn't turn it over, and then hopefully he can break a long one every now and then. Sumrall did a good job of handling the ball and he had the one return for 12 yards. He did let one hit the ground and lose 15 yards of field position, but not too bad overall.


Also the punt coverage was very good, giving up only one return for four yards. Missouri only averaged one return yard per punt. That is pretty good coverage. I know there are other special team positions that Ryan plays that aren't so obvious. I know Ryan did an outstanding job in on all four special teams and he is a tough guy to replace. Hopefully the replacements will continue to play well.



How does Coach Mac get this team to refocus on what they know they can do?


I am sure there is a lot of talk about last season and how it is possible to turn the season back around. I know he is all over the assistants, encouraging them to do everything possible to get the win.


I would guess that he is reminding the team that they are extremely close to being 6-0. They are about 10-12 plays away from leading the North and being ranked in the top 15. It is not a matter of personnel, or coaching, or motivation. We just haven't made the 2-3 crucial plays that decide the outcome of the game. We just need guys who refuse to lose, decide they are going to make a play, and find a way to win games. The games we are losing are not blowouts. Every week they go down to the fourth quarter and we just don't get the job done.



If you had to make a prediction right now what would you say Iowa State's record would be at the end of the year? Which remaining teams on the schedule do you think we'll beat?


This is an extremely tough question. With the parity in the Big 12 (with the exception of Texas and possibly Texas Tech), every game is decided by a couple of plays.  The good news is that there is not a game on the schedule that isn't winnable, but the bad news is any team is capable of beating us. I will go out on a limb and predict the rest of the season.


Oklahoma State        Win

@ Texas A&M           Lose

Kansas State            Win

Colorado                 Win

@ Kansas                Win


I can see ISU finishing 7-4 and still making a bowl game. However, as last year taught us, they could get hot and finish 8-3. The biggest thing they have to do is take it one game at a time, week by week.


I know the Colorado game will be extremely tough, but for some reason I can see us winning that game. It seems like ISU plays Colorado tough almost every year, even the only year we beat them was 2000. We only lost by a couple last year out in Boulder. ISU will have a lot to play for at that time of the year and I think we will get the win.



What would a win this weekend do for not only this team right now, but for the coaching staff and ISU fan base as a whole?


I think this is an extremely huge game for the program. After such high expectations, everybody would be extremely disappointed in a 3-4 start. Another loss would kill the confidence of the players and it would be hard for the coaching staff to bring them back. The guys have been in the position they are in now, and finished the season strong. They have not, however, been at 0-4 in the conference. It is hard to hold any bowl hopes at 0-4.


If the Cyclones lose this week, it doesn't get any easier traveling to A&M. This is a crucial game for the Cyclones to get back on track. Also, with a loss this week, I would be surprised if more than 38,000 people show up in 2 weeks. For as long as I have been a Cyclone fan, I know the fans don't show up in November, especially if you have a losing record.



This week the Cyclones backs are up against the wall, what makes a team so dangerous when they're put in this position?


The thing that makes a team dangerous is they will try anything to get back on track. You could see fake punts, 4th down tries, anything to give the team an extra edge. The players will be playing with an extra chip on their shoulder, hopefully the same chip they had against Iowa. It seems we lost that edge after beating the Hawks, and I think 0-3 in the conference should give the guys something to prove. With the season on the line, it is easy to give that extra 10% to find a way to get it done. Hopefully that is what we will see this weekend.



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


Turnovers. We saw the impact of turnovers again on Saturday, both for and against ISU. The two early TD's got us into a hole early. On the other hand, the ISU defense did a good job forcing turnovers, gave the offense good field position, which allowed us to get back into the game. I say it every week, but the team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game. We have seen it in almost every game this year.


Defense. I was very impressed with ISU's defense for 50 minutes of the game last week. It seems like they are getting back on track to playing the kind of defense they were supposed to have this year. They way they shut down Smith was unbelievable. They held him to his worst game of his career. But the freshman coming in and looking like John Elway was inexcusable. ISU needs the defense that played Saturday, and they need it for 60 minutes (and maybe more).


Win the Big Plays.  In any given game, there are 4-7 plays that I would consider big plays. The team that wins those plays generally wins the game. Examples:


Missed kicks

Fumbles (Multiple in the red zone)

Defensive touchdowns

Crucial 3/4th downs (True freshman from Mizzou converted several)

Goal line stands (Mizzou needed a TD at the end of the game)

Interceptions for touchdowns

Crucial penalties (Army's facemask call in the 4th)



Iowa State has made some of these plays this year, and have been extremely close on others (Steve Paris fumble return called back). Overall, they just haven't made enough to win the games. Last year during the win streak, they made the plays. They were the ones driving for a late TD; they were the ones scoring defensive TDs. It needs to get back that way.

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