Cyclone Nation's newest staff members Jack Whitver and Luke Vander Sanden had the opportunity to sit down before the Houston Bowl in a Q & A. Both are former captains of the ISU football team. Here are there thoughts on the game tomorrow:
Jack Whitver: What were the preparations like for a bowl game throughout your career?
Luke Vander Sanden: Bowl preparations were a very exciting time for players. The week usually kicked off with workouts and running up to Wednesdays during the week, due to coaches hitting the road for recruiting. The rest of the week was good, physical, practices for the whole team. Once that phase of practice was over, there would be an extra practice for the young guys to aid in their development for the upcoming year. It was sort of a "mini-spring ball" for the coaches and players. The recruits would come in on the weekends. It was usually an exciting time because there was a lot to talk about with the recruits such as the season, the Ames atmosphere, bowl games, as well as why they should choose Iowa State for their next 4-5 years in their life. Overall, every player loved the feeling of bowl preparation. It is a feeling of an accomplishment of what position you have put yourself in from the progress throughout the season.
Jack Whitver: How hard is it to stay focused on the game with all of the other traditional bowl activities going on?
Luke Vander Sanden: The ability to focus is something that coaches always harp on and stress. The hospitality that bowl representatives provide is unbelievable. They have so many events and functions that make the trip great! The players realize that the main point of going on a bowl trip is to win the game. The coaches always tell you it is a business trip; they are 100% right. The team didn't go down there for a vacation or to lose a football game. The team is representing the Big XII Conference. The coaches make sure that the players know when it is time to have fun and when it is time to work and focus. It is all about accountability and what kind of players you have on your team. Are they men of high character or are they men of weak character? I know that Coach Mac has a squad of men with high character, and they will be one focused team down in Houston, Texas.
Jack Whitver: Just how important is this game in the grand scheme of things? How long do the memories of the bowl game last for the players and coaches?
Luke Vander Sanden: I think any bowl game is important. I don't care if it is a bowl game where your team is 6-5 or if your team is 11-0 and playing for the National Championship. Any bowl game is a stepping stone for the returning football players on a team. They want to go into the off-season on a good note, and with a good taste in their mouth. On the other hand, the seniors want to win their final game in Cardinal and Gold. I have been on both ends, and I promise you as a young guy, it is much easier and much better to go into the off-season on a win versus a loss in a bowl game. Everyone is edgy, players are bitter, coaches are bitter, etc. I talk to a lot of my friends that I played with and they never forget the last game as a Cyclone. You talk to any past players, as well as coaches and they will tell you the same thing.
Jack Whitver: How good is this TCU team? Was their victory over Oklahoma a fluke, or is this team for real?
Luke Vander Sanden: I don't think you can compare teams at the beginning of the season to where teams are at towards the end of the season. TCU deserves credit for the win over Oklahoma. They outplayed, out-hit, and out-coached Oklahoma. Now look at Oklahoma at the end of the season. They figured out things within their program and they turned a disappointing season into a solid finish. It is hard to tell how good TCU is in the grand scheme of things. I know that they deserve credit for the things they have accomplished this year. Any team that goes 10-1 in the regular season deserves credit. It isn't an easy thing to do. TCU has many dangerous weapons on their football team. They have a stingy defense like that of Iowa State's. You also look at the weapon they have in Cory Rogers as a kick returner and punt returner. Iowa State must keep this weapon of TCU's in check if they want to be in position to win the game on Saturday, the 31st.
Jack Whitver: Have the ISU players and coaches put the Kansas game behind them? Will the outcome of that game have any negative effects on the bowl game?
Luke Vander Sanden: The Iowa State Football Coaching Staff will have the Kansas game behind them, I promise you that. Any time a team dwells on a single loss, it will come back to haunt them in the next game. As much as a disappointment the game in Lawrence, Kansas, was, it is a learning curve that the Cyclone players must learn from. I know you may say it seems to happen every year, and I am not going to argue that point. What I do believe is that the game in Lawrence made the Cyclones better players and coaches. There will never be a point in life where you aren't faced with really tough adversity and lows. The Kansas game was a tough one to swallow, because the Cyclones controlled their own destiny. Don't look for any negative effects of the Kansas game on the Cyclones/TCU game. Look for two competitive teams looking for a championship win in the Houston Bowl.
Jack Whitver: What Cyclone players do you expect to step up and have a great game this weekend?
Luke Vander Sanden: Stingers on punt cover and kick off team to keep Cory Rogers in check. Offensive Line-needs to get the running game established by opening holes for Stevie Hicks. They also need to keep the pocket clean for Bret Meyer to make big throws to his big-time receivers.
Austin Flynn---Natural Competitor Cyclone Defense-Needs to be a bunch of men swarming to the football. They also need to get after and get hits on TCU's quarterback.
Jack Whitver: ISU had very high expectations going into the season. With a schedule set up to win the Big 12 North, many people expected a great season. If Iowa State does not win this game, would a 7-5 season be considered a failure?
Luke Vander Sanden: I always hate to say "if" this "if" that. "If" Iowa State should lose against TCU, I don't think it would be considered a failure to the season. Disappointing….sure it would be! I know that players and coaches alike would have liked the season and the marbles to fall differently, but there is not one thing one single person can do about it. All they can do about it is be thankful that they get another chance to extend their season. It would be fair to say that the Cyclones will have high expectations for the season next year. The only people that know the ability of the team and how they match-up against different teams is the coaching staff and the players. It is important that the players don't get caught up in those expectations.
Jack Whitver: Finally, what are some keys to a victory over TCU on Saturday?
Luke Vander Sanden:
1.) The line of scrimmage. Whoever wins the battle in the trenches has a great opportunity to win the game. I believe that if the ISU o-line can open hole and protect Meyer, the Cyclones will be victorious.
2.) Special teams. This game could come down to the battle of field position. If it comes down to a field goal, players need to step up and embrace Culbertson, and he needs to have to confidence to win the big one.
3.) Turnovers. In a close, important game, the team who has the fewest turnovers usually comes out on top. It will be crucial for the Cyclones to hold onto the ball and not throw interceptions. You cannot give a good team extra chances and expect to win. On the other hand, the ISU defense must force turnovers and give the offense good field position.
4.) Keep Cory Rogers in check. He is a speedster and dangerous with the football. The Cyclones will have their hands full with him and they will be tested. The Cyclones will need to play him smart and be physical to the ball with him.