Vander Sanden's Top 5 Improvements

My weekly top 5 is here once again. This week I am going to focus on the top five things that need to improve for the Cyclones to have success this year. Sure, the offense isn't living up to fans expectations, but what we all have to do is find a way to stay positive. Sit back, relax, and hear me out on my top five this week.

1.     Special Teams


-For the Cyclones to be successful, and have a memorable year, the special teams as a whole must improve immensely.  I know that the coaches stress the importance of the special teams, more than fans give them credit for.  Some fans may have seen some players walking around with "special forces" t-shirts.  Well, that might tell you how important the special teams are at Iowa State.  Our kick cover team needs to get better, and trust me, they will.  It is the goal of a lot of players to be on the kick cover squad.  This unit is so, so important in the field position battle.  The percentages of an offense scoring from their own 20 yard-line and in, is smaller than you think.  This group needs to re-group and take pride in pinning their opponents within boundary inside the 20 yard-line.  The punt team has a lot of new faces.  A new punter in Mike Brandtner, to a new deep snapper in Matt Purvis, this unit has a lot of importance in the field position battle as well.  Brandtner is a freshman this season, and will have a tremendous career.  We all got spoiled with the excellence of Troy Blankenship getting hang time and pinning a lot of punts deep inside the opponent's territory.  One thing that is always a constant on the punt team is the play of Ryan Baum.  You know he will make a play every time he takes the field with this unit.  The field goal unit will improve, and if I am a player, I am confident in Shaggy.  He needs to work on pressure situation kicks so that we won't always be wondering, "What if?"  The kick return unit showed a spark last week in Iowa City with Jackson's long kick return that set up ISU's first touchdown score.  I am looking for this unit to develop an attitude and establish consistency.  Lastly, the punt return unit is a unit that is led by Ryan Baum, once again!  Baum is a weapon as a return man, and it is always exciting for fans to see him make a no-play into a big-play.  Keep it up Baum!


2.     Utilizing Offensive Weapons


-There have been a lot of criticism lately on Coach Cotton and the use of his "lethal weapons."  The coach can only draw x's and o's, and prepare his players for plays that suit them best.  Sure, we all would like to see Todd Blythe go up for balls all the time.  It sounds so easy, and I find myself saying, "Throw it to Blythe!"  In reality, it is not that simple.  The coaches put together a game-plan each week that is going to put their players in the best position to win.  Plays and schemes are going to be designed that suit the team and players the best.  Bret Meyer has many reads in the passing game to make, and I am sure he is frustrated just like all of us that he can't get the ball into the hands of Todd Blythe more.  That being said, if opposing teams are double-covering Blythe, other players need to step up and be playmakers.  Austin Flynn is always a constant playmaker and competitor.  He always will bring his A-game to the table.  The coaches said that they need more production out of their passing game.  They are just as curious as us to why it isn't producing, but I know they will get it corrected.  They have a job 365 days out of the year, just like all of us.  My job consists of molding my fourth graders into the best possible fourth graders I can.  If a kid isn't improving, or isn't living up to my expectations in the classroom, be sure that I will find a way to get it corrected.  You sure will get my best effort that will re-direct that student in the right direction.  The same goes for coaching.  The coaches will find a solution to improve the passing game through practices, learning from mistakes, and watching countless hours of film. 


3.     Defensive Pressure


-Number three on the list is defensive pressure.  I hear a lot of fans saying, "It's the same story as last year with our secondary.  Short dink and donk passes."  Well the solution to stop this is getting more pressure up front with the defensive lineman.  Sure, there have been a couple players that let the team down, and we all know who I am talking about.  The fact is that there are a lot of young faces, 18-19 year olds rushing the quarterback.  Let's face the facts…Brent Curvey will draw double teams.  Who wouldn't double team the standout behemoth?  Are we asking a lot of out of guys that haven't physically developed into Big XII defensive lineman?  Sure we are, but guys need to step up, and this experience they have will only make them better.  Think back to Nick Leaders when he started as a true freshman.  He was undersized, and had pressure on the quarterback every now and then.  There was a huge difference from when he started his freshman season in terms to when he started his senior campaign.  It was the physical stature that he brought to the field.  The point I am trying to make is that there are a lot of new faces on the defensive line that are taking snaps.  It is not a good thing if a team has to blitz every time to bring pressure.  That will open up so many holes in the defense for opposing teams to key on.  Sure, we need to bring blitzes every now and then to keep the opposing offense on their toes, but we shouldn't have to utilize a blitz to bring pressure every time.   A lot of these guys have not been through the great strength and conditioning program that is led by Coach McGettigan and Chris Ruf.  These two guys help make players physically ready for game day.  One of the biggest things they instill in the young men is mental toughness.  Being mentally tough can take an average player a long ways. 



4.     Making Big Plays When They Count


-Number four on the list is being a playmaker, whether you are a quarterback, a receiver, an offensive lineman, a punter, etc.  I look at the Cyclone Football team of 2006, and see that guys need to step up in critical situations in football games.  It might be a big third down that the defense needs to make a big time stop.  I think this tests the true toughness and true character of young men.  Can they step up in a big time situation in a game and make a play?  It might be the offense needing to answer an opposing teams' score.  Maybe it is a huge turnover the defense creates, and the offense is put in great field position.  In a situation like this, the offense needs to come together as tough guys and put points on the board.  Whatever the situation, the players need to capitalize in crucial situations during the game.  There are so many ups and downs in the game of football.  If you get caught up in the moment, or let adversity take over, it could be too late to change the outcome of that game.



5.     Confidence


-Last on this list is confidence.  This might be the most important top five of them all. In order for a team to be successful, they need to play with a confidence.  Confident players make plays.  Each player needs to go out and do JUST their job and the rest of the game take care of itself.  If players try to go out and try to do more than they are capable of, it is going to get ugly.  I think the players need to play with more confidence.  There are so many players that have had a lot of snaps with the Cyclones over the past three years.  They have smelled success and defeat.  They know what it takes to put together a four-quarter game, and overtime if necessary.  We know how to win in overtime.  Players need to expect good things to happen.  If I am a receiver, I need to have confidence in my receiver to execute his assignment and make the big catch.  If I am a linebacker, I need to have confidence in my defensive lineman to go to the right gap in a blitz.  I am sure every player plays with a high level of confidence.  If you are going to make a mistake, you better make it going 100%.  Players need to expect good things to happen in a game.  They need to play with a high level of confidence, and have confidence in their coaches and teammates.




That concludes my weekly top five.  These will be my keys to success for the entire season.  We have a tough test this week at Texas, the defending National Champions.  Iowa State has nothing to lose.  I hear all this talk about Texas, and how they are going to blow Iowa State out.  Well that is a bunch of garbage.  It is a new season with new faces.  Sure they won the National Championship last year but  last season is in the bag.  I look for Iowa State to come out with a swagger and give Texas a run for their money.  We all know what happened the last time Iowa State took the field in Texas country.  It was an assault by Iowa State on Texas A&M!  Look for a hungry coaching staff, and a team loaded with hungry players.


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