Football Insider: Breaking down the Buffaloes

It's the final home game of the season, as well as the biggest game of the year. A lot is riding on the Colorado-Iowa State showdown on Saturday night, and we asked former Cyclone Jack Whitver to give us take on the matchup.

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


Considering Iowa State hasn't beaten Colorado at home since 1983, how big of a game is this for the program?  Is this the biggest game of the season?


I think you will hear all of the coaches and players say it is the biggest game of the season because it is the next game of the season.  It is certainly a big game for the Cyclones. Colorado has won the North 4 out of the last 5 seasons. If ISU is going to make a claim to the North, they have to beat the best. I think it is definitely a huge game for the Cyclone football program, but maybe for reasons people have not thought of.


The athletic department is doing a tremendous job of getting fans excited for this game, doing everything they can to fill the stadium. It seems as though the fans are going to do their part by filling it up. It is important for the future of the program that the guys come out and play well.  This is an opportunity that ISU hasn't had in awhile to go out and reach new fans and continue to build their fan base.  There are a lot of people who are dying to be Cyclone fans, they have just been fooled too many times. They are ready to cheer on the Cyclones to the next level. For these reasons, it is not only important for the North race, it is important for the entire program and the future of Cyclone athletics.


The Buffaloes have lost two games, but they were to #2 Texas and #3 Miami.  How good are they?


I think Colorado is a tremendous football team. When your only two losses have come to the #2 and #3 teams in the country, both on the road, I think that they are doing o.k. Those are not bad losses. They have been the team to beat in the North for at least 5 years now. If ISU is ever going to dethrone the Buffaloes and move to the front of the North, this is the time to do it. I just can't imagine a better scenario: a packed stadium, national television, and a chance to make a statement in the Big 12 Conference. It seems like the stars are aligning for this team, hopefully they can take advantage of it.


Defensively they rank in the top 20 in the nation and they might have the second best quarterback in the Big 12 in Joel Klatt.  Which of these two strengths for Colorado should ISU be the most concerned about?


I think ISU should be more worried about Joel Klatt. I think the pass defense has really come on the last couple of weeks, but ISU has not faced a good drop back passer in awhile. The last true passing QB they faced was Zac Taylor of Nebraska and he put up about 400 yards. This will be a very good test for Coach Skladany and the defense.


I know Colorado has a great defense as well, but I really like ISU's offense right now. They have their workhorse back in Stevie Hicks. He presents a real problem for defenses because they have to really respect Stevie. Stevie is not going to make a lot of 80 yard runs, but he will keep pounding you until you bring up an extra defender to stop the run. If the defense does this, ISU has the receivers to make them pay. That is part of the reason Todd has had an excellent couple of weeks is because teams need to respect the run. That is nice to say, because we haven't been able to run the ball consistently since Ennis Haywood was the running back. I truly believe that this offense presents problems for a defense.


What do you think about the effort to lower ticket prices to "pack the Jack?"


I think it is tremendous. I think Pollard is doing a great job so far as athletic director and is making all of the right moves. I have a feeling that Coach Mac came up with this idea, but part of the credit has to go to Pollard. He is taking a risk of alienating fans who paid the full price, but I think this is a good move. Of the season ticket holders I have talked to (okay, it was my dad), they don't have a problem with it at all. He told me that he considers his tickets part of his contribution to ISU. He wants to see the stadium full, no matter what price the guy next to him pays.


There is nothing better as a player than to run onto that field in front of a packed house. ISU has traditionally not had great attendance in November. These players deserve a full house and the seniors deserve a full house. Who cares how much the fans are paying. The bottom line is if the Cyclones go out and perform and beat a good Colorado team, they could win over a whole bunch of fans that don't normally go to the games. This could result in a lot of new fans and they could pick up a lot of season tickets for next year. It is an investment in the program and I like the decision.



In the past we've seen the Cyclones not deliver in statement games like this.  Are you concerned about that happening again on Saturday night?


It is true that ISU has laid an egg in certain big games in the past. I am not real concerned about that in this game. This team is different. They have been breaking streaks for two years now. I know they dropped the ball against Missouri last year, but hopefully they learned from it. I just have a feeling that this team is ready to take the next step, and push ISU to the top of the North.


Can Bret Culbertson -- who wasn't the full-time kicker yet when the Cyclones played Colorado last year -- match Mason Crosby in the kicking game if he has to?


That is a tall order for any kicker, and one that maybe isn't fair. That is similar to asking Bret Meyer to match Michael Vick. I think Crosby is an outstanding kicker, probably the Lou Groza award winner.  While I don't think Bret is going to match Crosby is distance on his kicks, he can match Crosby in effectiveness. Bret just has to keep doing what they ask of him. They will not line him up for a 50 yard field goal (which Crosby will), but when they do call his number, he has to perform. 


What would you like to say about your former teammate, Nick Leaders, who is playing his final home game. Is he having a first team All-Big 12 season? 


Nick is one of the all-time great Cyclones. Not only is he a great player, but he signifies ISU football program. In the last 30 years, ISU has not been a program that has a lot of flashy players. We have had our Troy Davis', and Seneca Wallace's, but overall, ISU has blue collar, hard working, lightly recruited, classy, modest, over achieving players. This describes Nick to a T. He shows up every single day and plays his heart out.


It is hard to believe that Nick Leaders stepped on campus in 2001 as a 17 year-old freshman and before he had ever went to a single class, he was starting defensive tackle against a top 5 Florida State football team. It is even harder to believe that he has started every game since. That is an unbelievable feat.


The one thing I will always remember about Nick is the ISU-Nebraska football game in 2002. Again, Nick was a 17 year-old freshman playing defensive tackle. He went out that day and dominated the Nebraska o-line as he helped lead us to a huge 25 point victory against Nebraska. We hadn't beaten Nebraska in about 10 years and to see him go out and play against his home state team the way he did was unbelievable. He is just a real class act and a tremendous football player.


Coach McCarney says he's not talking about ISU's lack of success against Colorado at home to the players this week.  Then what is he saying about this game behind closed doors?


I believe him. As I mentioned a few weeks back in my preview of the rest of the schedule, ISU has always played well against Colorado. Going back to Jim Walden's last game, ISU has always been in this game. While we have only won once (the blizzard bowl in 2000), we have always matched up well against the Buffs.


I think traditionally we have had a bigger mental block against K-State and Nebraska than against Colorado. This team has smashed those mental blocks, so I don't see a lack of confidence against Colorado. They are a team who is similar to ISU in terms of talent level and the same type of attitude. It should be a great game, but any lack of success is not due to the past.



Finally, what are your keys to victory for the Cyclones on Saturday night?



Use the home field advantage. ISU has to come out and keep the fans into the game, and the fans have to stay in the game no matter what. It is going to be an electric atmosphere in Jack Trice on Saturday. Not only is the place going to be packed, but it is also a night game on national television. The team must use the energy in Jack Trice to their advantage. The fans are starting to give ISU a true home field advantage that hasn't always been there. We have seen it in Hilton for years now, hopefully we can turn Jack Trice into the same thing.


Pass defense. ISU must slow down the Colorado passing attack. We haven't faced a great passing attack in a few weeks, so the defensive backs are going to get challenged. I like the way they have progressed throughout the year and Coach Ash has done a great job of making sure they get better as the year goes on. The defense has got to slow down Klatt for the Cyclones to win this game.


Run the football.  ISU needs to continue to run the football and the o-line will have a huge impact on this game. I truly believe that if ISU is running the football, the offense cannot be stopped. We have the receivers to make plays down the field. Between Blythe, Flynn, Davis, and the rest of the guys, I know we can pass the ball. If teams have to respect the run also, it presents a huge problem for the defenses.


This is a huge game for the Cyclones for many reasons, not only for the bowl possibilities, North championship possibilities, and everything else, but for the chance to move the program a huge step forward. There will be a lot of fans taking ISU for a test drive this weekend. Hopefully we can show up a put on a great show. It should be electric, it should be exciting, and hopefully it will also be that "signature win" everybody is waiting for.




AllCyclones Top Stories