Robert McFarland Q&A

With fall practice winding down, and the season opener against Kent State just a week away, ISU's offensive coordinator talks to CN about what the starting lineup could look like on August 30th when the Gene Chizik era begins.

Q:  Talk a little…they're moving the kickoffs back to the 30…talk about the advantage that can be to the offense.


McFarland:  As an offensive football team, you're always looking for an explosive.  The great thing about a kickoff return is that it's an explosive…it's an offensive play.  For us, we're excited about it.  You know you'll get to return almost everything that comes.  If a guy can kick it that far, you'll still have enough room to bring the thing out.  I look for it to make the game a lot more exciting.  Obviously, offensively I enjoy it.  I think it will give us better field position.


Q:  How does it affect play selection and again, are you more likely to throw it, to try trick plays?


McFarland:  Obviously, if you get better field position, it gives you the opportunity to try more things.  I think it will hopefully prevent more backed up offenses like you get on kickoff returns due to penalties and stuff like that.  Everything will happen, hopefully, further on down the field.   For us, you might get more balls past the 50-yard line, which opens up more plays to you.  You're not that far from getting in your scoring zones.  So, it's just going to lead to more scoring.


Q:  Coach Bolt feel the same way?


McFarland:  They're the complete opposite and Coach Chizik probably has mixed feelings.  I'm sure defensively…everybody in the nation is working on their kickoff coverage team for sure. 


Q:  Coach, with little more than a week to the start of the season, do you have a solid rotation down on offense?  If so, what are we looking at in terms of the positions?  If not, when will we know that?


McFarland:  We've pretty much set who's going to start the game for us.  We have some positions where not just one guy just totally took a position or we had more that one guy prove that they could handle the position.  There will be a few positions that you'll see some rotation.  We feel pretty good about where we are with our starting 11.  We have our personnel down that we're putting in the game.  Like I said, there will be a few positions…mainly at running back that you'll see some rotation and maybe some at wide receiver.


Q:  What are we looking at as far as the starting 11?


McFarland:  I think you'll start with your front five up front…Johnson, Schmeling, Stephens have solidified themselves…Dedrick, Lamaak have established themselves as tackles.  At tight end, Barkema has established himself.      At receiver, Blythe, RJ, and those guys have done a good job.  I think we've got other receivers that will contribute.  I think Meyer has had a really good camp and his leadership has shown in the huddles.  I think tailback we got three guys out there really doing a lot of good things for us….Scales, Robinson, and Bass.


Q:  Who is the starter…full back…what do you call that position and who is in that?


McFarland:  It really goes to our personnel.  We could have Hamilton in there as a receiver…3 wide…we could have a fullback step in there and help us as well.  We got a couple of guys doing a good job for us in that position…Catlett is a guy that's been helping us a lot in our two tight-end personnel.  Also, that position is so versatile we can do different starters for different personnels.


Q:  Can you talk about…you were an assistant at Kent State about a million years ago...your time there?


McFarland:  It was my first full-time job.  I was with Coach Holtz at Notre Dame and Pete Cordelly got the head job and he invited me to go down with him there to assist as a recruiting coordinator and offensive line coach for a year.  It was a great experience.  Kent's a beautiful university and we had a great time there.  I remember they're very nice facilities and it's somewhere you can recruit there.  We had some talent there.  They've had some talent come out of there.  It was a great experience.  I've played them when I was at Central Florida and I've played them up at Kent.  It's a little neat that my first game here we're opening up against them.


Q:  Can you talk about driving through the blizzard to watch Iowa State and Colorado?


McFarland:  I was working at Kent State in 1991 and I was sent on a junior college hunt to find players.  I was coming down to Des Moines to fly out in late November.  I was trying to catch a flight to Wichita and got snowed in for 2-3 days.  Was sitting in the hotel and saw that the game was not cancelled.  I'd been driving through snow a little bit and thought I could handle it.  The roads weren't that bad.  Came up and came to the game.  When I pulled up and it wasn't hard to find a spot.  There was hardly anyone here and I got on the field.  I was recruiting for Kent so the only other stuff I had said Kent State on it.  I had some officials ask me if I was here scouting.  Just told them I was doing recruiting.  They invited me to sit up in the box. 


Q:  So, you got out of the snow?

McFarland, Yes, I did.


Q:  Coach, Cameron Bell, from what we were hearing he was a promising back, but he's been moved to defense.  Talk about that decision and what your thoughts on it are.


McFarland:  We've had some backs establish themselves.  We were so excited about Cameron at running back early and he's a very gifted athlete and can play in a lot of different positions for our team.  That says a lot about his athleticism with his size and speed.  We were just sitting there at tailback where all of a sudden, a position that we were concerned about in the spring, I think with the emergence of JJ coming in here and Scales being healthier and Harris being stronger and faster.  Robinson's been a surprise.  We felt that with those four guys and Bell and only one ball.  We thought with that much playing time and how much time we'd get him on the field was a concern.  We looked at all of our running backs to see who could help us the most and after the evaluation was over with we felt that Cameron was someone that could give us a little more versatility at other positions.  He's a talented young man and we're trying to find a way to get him on the field this year.  If we can't, he can red-shirt and the future's bright.


Q:  In terms of Robinson, here's a player that we didn't hear a lot about in the spring.  Talk about his emergence and was it a surprise?


McFarland:  Well, he didn't go through spring with us, so we didn't really know what he could do.  But, he's come in and picked up the offense and he's out there competing like those other guys with the job.  I think with Scales staying healthy like he's done…he's really come back in great shape and he's ready to go.  I think also JJ walking in there as well…you feel good about those two guys for good and Harris is getting better.  I think Alexander jumps in there as well and provides some depth for a position that you need some depth in as the year goes on for sure.


Q:  Coach, obviously with getting your rotation set are there any players that you have a pretty good idea barring injury, that are probably going to be red-shirted?


McFarland:  We haven't made a final decision on that yet.  There are still some guys that we'll be repped at positions and we're still waiting for some players to solidify their position or if some of those players show that they can handle it.  But, sometimes you don't make a decision until a couple weeks into the season.  Obviously, injuries play a part in that as well.  So far, we've been able to stay healthy and hopefully we'll be able to still do that.  Hopefully put the young men out there when they're ready to play. 


Q:  Alvarez…we know he has a lot of time left…Bates…and then Franklin…and Blaze also…what do you see as their role with the team…especially Bates, is he still going to be on the roster or is he going to be like Bret was and worked into the rotation?

McFarland:  It could be like that.  We'll have to see how the season progresses.  Those names you mentioned are all young men that are all very talented players that are trying to learn the college game at a fast pace.  For all of them, it hasn't happened yet, but now that things are slowing down, we don't know how they'll progress in the next two weeks.  I could see Blaze playing for us this year.  The other guys are kind-of on the bubble and we haven't had to force them into a position that we need them to play.  Physically, every one of them is capable, but there's a mental curve.  We have to see if they're ready for that.


Q:  Coach, we had a question about how much you'll use the tight ends and the running backs in the passing game…that seems to be an area of extreme interest to our folks.  Talk about that aspect of the offense.


McFarland:  I think if anybody is eligible they should have an opportunity to catch the football.  If not, we'll put them in the 50 60 or 70 number.   If they play a position that makes them an eligible receiver, I have to keep them eligible and make people honor them.  There's not a player that we'll shy away from.  Most of our pass game is a reprogression game anyway.  There are certain plays that are designed for certain guys, but there are plays that you have to read out and see who they're going to give you.  Those guys at running back and tight end definitely fit into all the schemes we have.  I see them all catching balls this year.


Q:  A lot of folks have gotten used to mediocrity from the program.  They'd get to a certain level and then fall back.  Going into this year, after saying how will this team perform?  Do they have the talent?  Talk to our subscribers about the character of these young men and the talent.  I think that's something they need to hear. 


McFarland:  I think the most impressive thing since I've been here is really been the class and character of the young men in this program.  I don't think there's any question that the guys are trying to do things right and they're great people to be around and they're fun to be around.  I've been impressed with how they've handled every situation we've put them in and the public situations they've been in.  Obviously, the Big 12 is a very competitive league and you play against great talent week in and week out.  A lot of times it's not all about talent, sometimes it's about effort and sometimes it's about putting yourself in a position to win.  We want to make sure that we put ourselves in a position to see who's the most talented.  Our main focus with us and our players is to do our best to put our players in a position to compete, play, and obviously, sometimes it comes down to talent and you have to deal with that when it happens.


Q:  Compared to the first practice in March, how much more physical are these guys and how much more mentally tough are these players?


McFarland:  Well, being here for 8 months, the expectations are different from different coaches and different staff.  Coach Chizik has brought an attitude in here of toughness and work ethic and he's demanded and push them with the coaching staff that he's hired.  Especially with Coach Shepherd and his staff and the demands that he's put on them.  Coach Shepherd has spent more time than anybody.  You can definitely tell who's more physically stronger than we thought when we got here 8 months ago and they're in great shape and they're competing like we're asking them to and what our expectations are.  I think they're doing everything in their power to get themselves in that position.  I think we've got a great start after 8 months.

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