Iowa State vs. Troy State: Keys to Victory

The heavily-favored Cyclones kick off against Troy State Saturday night in Ames. The Trojans face a tough slate that includes three Big 12 teams and two from the SEC in 2002, and head to Ames on a high after whipping Southern Utah 40-15. They present a number of challenges for Iowa State. Here are three keys to a Cyclone victory.

Forcing fumbles

Even against hapless Southern Utah, a game in which Troy State won 40-15, the Trojans fumbled the ball eight times and lost four of them. Option teams are usually more prone to fumbles, but the amount that TSU has lost so far this season is astounding. Through just three games, it has fumbled 17 times and lost eight of those. The Trojans lost only nine fumbles throughout the entire 2001 season. This season's mishaps have helped rank TSU 109th nationally in turnover margin.

Thanks to a great defensive half against Iowa last Saturday, the Cyclones sit sixth in the Big 12 and 28th nationally in turnover margin at plus-five overall. They have 10 total turnovers gained this season and five have come by way of fumble.

Look for ISU's defense to make a concerted effort to force and recover fumbles Saturday and that starts with beating Trojan quarterback Hansell Bearden and his corps of backs to spots on the outside and forcing some ill-advised pitches in the option game.

Great linebacker play

Linebackers have always been played a huge role in defending the option successfully, and ISU must get solid performances from Jeremy Loyd, Matt Word and Brandon Brown who must all play smart and react well. The positive is that all three of these players run very well and are above average tacklers.

Any little breakdown could lead to a gain of 20 or more yards. TSU had three different players rush for more than 100 yards against Southern Utah, which is almost unprecedented in Division I football. Tailbacks LeBarron Black, DeWhitt Betterson and Marrio Fraser each surpassed the 100-yard mark. Bearden is also a threat as an option quarterback and has rushed for 191 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries.

Take an early lead

This has become repetitive during the Cyclones' early-season run, but it will be a key once again this Saturday. After facing a 24-7 deficit at halftime against the Hawkeyes last weekend and getting a memorable tongue-lashing from Coach Dan McCarney at halftime, ISU can't help but be focused to start Saturday's contest.

There are two reasons that a fast start against the Trojans is so vital. For one, it would starve the visiting 17-point underdogs from gaining any confidence. TSU seemed to hang around for much of its season-opener against Nebraska last month, as the Huskers never really slammed the door.

Taking a double-digit lead in the first half could also force the Trojans out of their game plan and into more pass plays. Bearden has struggled mightily in this category, completing just 35-of-76 passes for 409 yards and four interceptions. He has yet to throw a passing touchdown this season.

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