On Campus with Brent Blum

It's a question I get on a daily basis. It's as consistent as a Mark Cuban fine. Everybody wants to know. What lies ahead for the Iowa State football team in 2006? And truthfully, nobody has a concrete clue of what is in store. But, there is one key that will unlock the mystery to the season: Rush defense. It is Iowa State's biggest question mark entering the season.

It's a question I get on a daily basis. It's as consistent as a Mark Cuban fine. Everybody wants to know. What lies ahead for the Iowa State football team in 2006? And truthfully, nobody has a concrete clue of what is in store. But, there is one key that will unlock the mystery to the season: Rush defense. It is Iowa State's biggest question mark entering the season. It is the make or break portion of what the Cyclones will bring to the table.

         

For a team that has been historically abysmal against the run, the Cyclones have turned the corner in recent years. Thanks to stars on the interior line such as James Reed, Ryan Harklau, Jordan Carstens, and Nick Leaders, the Clones have made a remarkable turnaround in their rush defense. Check out this progression:

 

1999- 203.0 yards per game (99th in the nation)

2000- 196.3 (95th)

2001- 194.8 (88th)

2002- 174.6 (88th)

2003- 216.8 (108th)

2004- 139.2 (46th)

2005- 102.7 (12th)

  

John Skladany's group cut in half their rush defense in only two years. Nobody else in the country did that in that same time frame. So what was the difference? Well it's pretty simple. Nick Leaders, Brent Curvey, Tim Dobbins, Steve Paris, and Nik Moser became experienced run-stop specialists. And not coincidentally, four of the five were seniors.

 

I'm not sure we fully realized how special of defense this was. They gave up a miniscule 2.98 yards per carry. Here are the teams that had better yards per carry against averages:

 

Ohio State (BCS), Penn State (BCS), Oklahoma, LSU , West Virginia (BCS), Florida State (BCS), Louisville, Boston College, Tennessee, TCU, NC State, Kansas. Notice a trend? The only teams who finished with fewer than eight wins in that group were Tennessee, Kansas and NC State. (Mainly because their offenses couldn't score on Paris Hilton, unless their quarterback was named Brian Luke and 50 seconds were on the clock. Not that I'm bitter.)

 

To showcase the Iowa State D even further, take a look at the turnover numbers. Iowa State forced an astounding 35 turnovers last year. Good for fourth in the entire country. So in retrospect, with the nation's 12th best rush defense, and 4th best in turnovers forced, it is unfortunate Iowa State caught so many tough breaks and only accumulated seven wins. The turnover-rush defense combo is very difficult to achieve. The only other team to place in the top 12 of both along with ISU was Florida.

 

But now those senior stalwarts are out of the program. And unproven newbies like Bryce Braaksma, Stephon Dale and Matt Berg have to replace them. They will get some help upfront from Collins Eboh, and more than likely Rahshawn Parker and Bailey Johnson. But it will be a tall order to approach the dominance of their predecessors.

 

"So what" you say. The offense will make up the difference. That is true to an extent. The boys on the other side of the ball will no doubt improve on their numbers from last year, but the connection between success and rush defense is too prevalent to ignore. Consider this:

 

In 2005, 37 of the 40 top run defenses had a winning record. 34 of the bottom 40 had losing records. That seems like a pretty strong indicator.

 

That pattern has held strong in the last 5 years.

 

2004: 31 of top 40 had winning records 

2003: 36 of top 40

2002: 35 of top 40

2001: 37 of top 40

2000: 31 of top 40     

 

Pass defense is nowhere near as important to success statistically. Last year, only 20 of the top 40 pass defenses had winning records. This makes sense because if you can't stop the run, teams won't even bother throwing the pigskin. The pass defense stat is sort of like exercising after eating a Crispy Chicken sandwich, French fries, and a frosty from Wendy's. It may sound like you're doing something right, but in reality it's a mask for a greater problem.

 

If you can't stop the run, it lessens your chance for success. Pure and simple.

 

And considering the running backs Iowa State will have to deal with, those kids on the interior better grow up quick. Albert Young, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson could give a rip about inexperience or growing pains. 

 

The Cyclones don't have to be in the top 10 of rush defense. Not even the top 30. But in order to have the type of nationally recognized season we all dream of, it has to remain above average.

 

But you can rest assured Mr. "Big Play" Brent Curvey is ready to rumble. He can the plug the gaps with the best of them. And a few more TD's from big ‘ole #52 wouldn't hurt either.


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