Football Insider: Texas A&M Pre-game

Football insider Jack Whitver takes a look at the Iowa State - Texas A&M football game as the Cyclones look to beat the Aggies for the first time ever.


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 Texas A&M game, given last week's emotional lift against Oklahoma State?


They need the exact same mindset they had last week. Their backs are still against the wall. If they lose one more game, the conference race is over. With a couple more losses, the bowl hopes are dead. In the past two years, this team has played well when their backs were against the wall. Hopefully they take the same attitude into the game this week and get the same result as they got last week.



Was Saturday's game against Oklahoma State reminiscent to last year's win at Baylor, as if it will be looked upon as the win that turned the season around?


It is hard to say. Those were two totally different types of wins. The Baylor game was an emotional, comeback victory in the final seconds. The Oklahoma State game was not close in the fourth quarter. Sometimes the 4th quarter comebacks like the Baylor victory can catapult a team to success a little bit more and give the team more confidence than beating a bad team by 27 points.


Obviously if they go on to win the rest of their games, we will look back at that game and say it was the crucial game, but I think this game could be more important. A win in Kyle Field would bring a great deal of confidence to the players and coaches. I believe a victory this week would be more of a springboard than the Okie State win.



How intimidating is Kyle Field with the 12th Fan?


Kyle Field is definitely one of the best environments in all of college football. They have the midnight cheer practices, the 12th Man, one of the biggest stadiums in college football and a great tailgating atmosphere. That being said, I do not think that Kyle Field was all that intimidating. The crowd in College Station is set a long ways behind the benches, giving the players and coaches a lot of room to get comfortable. This is different than say Nebraska or Iowa. Both of those crowds are right on top of you, making you feel claustrophobic.  At Kyle Field, I think it is a lot easier to get comfortable. When we played down there in 2001, I think for the most part guys appreciated the atmosphere and the excitement, but it was not too intimidating.



Iowa State has never beaten Texas A&M, is this in the back of the coaching staff and players mind?


I don't think so. This team has done a lot of things that have not been done at Iowa State in a long time and they have broken a lot of streaks in the last couple of years. They went down to Kansas State last year and beat a team that Coach Mac has never beat. They also won a share of the Conference title. These guys have been accomplishing great things for two years now; I think they will look at this game as a chance to break another streak.



How do you think Iowa State will try to contain Reggie McNeal? Will we see the same game plan as the Cyclones used against Brad Smith?


Yes. Both of those QB's are outstanding players. If I am not mistaken, those two are number one and two in rushing in the conference, not just for QB's, but for everybody. Smith and McNeal are very similar players. I think McNeal might be a little faster, but very close.


I think you will probably see a very similar game plan to the one against Missouri and Iowa with Drew Tate. Smith and McNeal are better runners than Tate, but all three like to get outside the pocket where they can make things happen. I believe if you can get all three of those guys to sit in the pocket and make a read, they will not be as effective.


As a quarterback, it is a lot easier to roll out and wait for plays to develop than it is to sit in the pocket, read the defense and throw the ball. If ISU can make McNeal do this, he will not be as effective.


I am sure the ISU defense respects McNeal and the Aggies, but they should be very confident going into Kyle Field. They just shut down Brad Smith two weeks ago, held him to the worst game of his career. They should feel good about their plan and confident they can execute it.



Have you noticed any subtle differences in quarterback Bret Meyer's approach or play during the past few weeks? If so, what are those?


I think it is just a combination of several things. His receivers have been doing a better job of getting open and making catches, his protection could be getting a little better (besides the 3 or 4 sacks given up last week), or maybe he is just feeling more comfortable. Whatever the difference is, you expect your team to gel towards the end of the season and that is what we are seeing. The Cyclones have had very few injuries this season which means the guys should be getting used to playing together. Meyer has had several good games and he is a huge part of the offense. At A&M, ISU will need to throw the ball to win the game.



If Stevie Hicks does indeed play what kind of lift does this give the ISU offense? What do you think Stevie will be able to do in his first game back?


I think it is a lot more important just to have Stevie in the huddle. When the rest of the offense knows that they have that type of running back in the backfield, it will bring a lot of confidence to the team. I think it is a lot more important for him to be on the field than what he actually does. I believe that the Cyclones will probably have to throw the ball for the majority of their offense anyway, so don't expect Stevie to run for 200 yards (although it would be nice).


I have a feeling that Stevie is probably as healthy as he has been all season, so if he plays, I would expect to see his best performance of the season. A lot of people are worrying about whether Stevie will be in game shape or not. Trust me on this one, Coach McGettigan will have him in tip-top shape.  With Coach Getty, there is no such thing as standing around watching practice. He works all of the injured guys harder than the guys practicing (which leads to very few guys faking injuries). Stevie will be in shape and I expect to see him the healthiest he has been in a long time.



Wide receiver Todd Blythe seemed to break out of a slump against Oklahoma State. How much better is he now than at the beginning of the fall?


I haven't talked to Todd enough to know if his leg was still bothering him at the beginning of the season or not. I know he had a great game last weekend, the kind of game that Cyclone fans are used to seeing out of Todd Blythe. 


Todd had such an outstanding freshman season that he could have got a false reality about how difficult it is to play at this level. Everything came so easy for him last season. This season I think he is finally starting to realize that it isn't as easy as it seemed last year. He is a great player and if he stays humble, keeps working hard, and progresses throughout his career, he will be playing on Sundays in a few years.



Talk about the importance of special teams in this game on Saturday. Last time the Cyclones were at Kyle Field they had a good chance to win, but were hindered by four missed Tony Yelk field goals.


I have been The King of stressing special teams all year. They are so much more important than most people realize and it is not just the kickers. Take a look at some plays last week that decided the game:


-DeAndre Jackson's opening kickoff return to the Okie State 40, setting up the opening touchdown.


-Sumrall's punt return to the Okie State 12 yard line which set up another touchdown (if I am not mistaken).


-Yelk's kickoffs and the kickoff team consistently pinning the Cowboys deep in their own territory to start drives.


-Culbertson's field goals to give ISU extra breathing room in the game.


There are so many plays that can win or lose games in the special teams. The last time we played at Kyle Field, I think we only lost by 3 or 5 points. A couple of field goals would make that a whole different game. Special teams are absolutely critical to winning close games.



Finally, what are three keys to an ISU victory over Texas A&M?


Defensive turnovers. ISU has been at its best when it is forcing turnovers and giving the offense good field position. They are going to give up yards to Reggie McNeal and the Aggies, but they cannot give up a lot of points. The defense must force turnovers to give the team a chance to win, much like in the Iowa, Nebraska and Okie State games.


Offensive line play. The offensive line has got to continue to improve and give Meyer a chance to throw the ball. It would be nice to see 150 yards rushing, but I think ISU wins this game by throwing the ball. We have the quarterback and receivers to make plays, Meyer just needs some time to throw the ball. The o-line has been improving all year, so hopefully they can continue to get better this week.


Make it a 4 quarter game. This is very similar to the Nebraska game. I do not see ISU going to College Station and blowing out the Aggies, but if they can make this a 60 minute game and giving themselves chance to win it in the fourth quarter, anything can happen. They were able to do this in Lincoln and Columbia, but they just couldn't pull off the victory. If ISU gets into another close game, they are bound to win one.


Overall, it should be another great game for the Cyclones. It is nice to see the game on ABC again, giving a big part of the country a chance to see the Cyclones in action. Hopefully the Cyclones can pull out another victory and keep themselves in the hunt for the North title and/or a bowl game.

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