"Luke Vander Sanden started practice yesterday and was running full speed last week, which is great," said Iowa State coach Dan McCarney in his weekly press conference. "He practiced last night in just our normal shorts practice for Monday. We will gradually work him into practice this week and if we feel like he's ready to play he will play some Saturday.
"He's definitely ahead of schedule from what we thought. Luke's done a phenomenal job from a rehab standpoint. If he's ready to go, we'll play him Saturday and then see if he has the chance to work back into the starting lineup in the near future."
The third-year sophomore, who had been the clear-cut starter at right guard coming out of spring practice, broke his ankle early in preseason practice on August 9th and went through surgery the same day.
ISU coaches plugged DeWayne Johnson into the lineup at left guard and moved veteran starter Bob Montgomery to the right side. Vander Sanden's return most likely would mean the end of Johnson's starting job, although McCarney said that he will make sure that the 6-foot-2, 295-pounder is ready before handing out anything.
"(Luke) and Bobby Montgomery were our two best guards coming out of spring ball and two-a-days until Luke got hurt," McCarney said. "But we don't know about his game conditioning. He won't be out there finessing and shielding guys. You'd better come ready to block them and play physical and relentless all out-blocking them. That's the way he has to play. We'll see and if he's not ready, is tentative, limps a little bit or is not effective, then we're not going to throw him out there knowing he can't have success."
Depth chart shake-ups
In just over one month, JaMaine Billups has gone from third-string tailback to a starter for the Cyclone defense. McCarney announced on Tuesday that the running back turned strong safety has surpassed Anthony Forrest and will start against Troy State.
The 5-foot-10, 202-pounder is coming off the best effort of his young career at strong safety, as he led ISU's defense with 11 tackles and made one key third-quarter fumble recovery against Iowa. Billups, the former Omaha (Neb.) Central prep who McCarney recruited as a running back three years ago has 27 total tackles in four games.
After watching Billups' performance against the Hawkeyes and Forrest's play decline (only nine tackles in four games), McCarney felt it was time for a change.
"JaMaine was just more productive," McCarney said. "He was more effective and has been more physical tackling. There is nothing around here that's permanent. Even in the joy, celebration and jubilation of the win over Iowa, you're going to get evaluated every play of your performance.
"There were some guys on the team that have to play better. We all won as a team just like we lose as a team, but we're still going to sit down and evaluate every play and give a plus or minus on every one. JaMaine has just been more effective. He's a better tackler right now than Anthony. They'll both play as they have in the first four games. It's amazing what he's done, because there are some pretty good teams out there that we've played."
What has moved Billups along so quickly is his ability to pick up the ISU defense in a short period of time and competing like a veteran starter each week.
"JaMaine is a real aggressive and fast player," said cornerback Harold Clewis. "I think the coaches made a good decision by changing him over to defense. He's really helping us out a lot. It seems like he's been playing defense for more than four games by the way he plays. He's just really aggressive, loves to hit and brings some fire to our defense."
On the offensive side of things, Lance Young will start on Saturday over Jamaul Montgomery. Young made a huge 32-yard catch against Iowa and had three total receptions for 47 yards. Through four games, the 6-foot, 178-pounder has successfully stretched opposing defenses and is averaging 21.1 yards per reception.
Although Montgomery is leading the team with four touchdown catches and is tied for the team lead in receptions (26), McCarney felt that the junior made some errors against the Hawkeyes.
"It's just very competitive," he said. "Jamaul had some mistakes and he has to be more consistent. We all know he has talent. He'll continue to have a major role in our offense. But Lance is really a good player. We feel like we've got two starters there, but Lance deserves this opportunity to start. Both of them will play a lot, but there's a guy that's the starter and one that's a backup. That's the way it will be this week."
ISU's sights set on Troy State
Putting last Saturday's come-from-behind victory over Iowa in the past, while not looking ahead to Nebraska on Sept. 28 would be a tough task for any team with Troy State sandwiched in the middle. But coaches and players insist that the Cyclones are only focusing on the Trojans.
"It better be emotional this Saturday, because if we come out there flat thinking we can go through the motions or put a hat out there, we're in for a long night and rude awakening of getting out tails beat," McCarney said. "They're a very physical football team. You can ask Nebraska on that one. They play hard and extremely physical football. We cannot afford to show up for a football game not ready to go without a great gameplan and focus."
Added Seneca Wallace, "We put that behind us. We went over there, played hard and it was a good game. But that's over with and we've got to look forward to next game."