Skladany Midseason Q&A

During a bye week, Iowa State's defensive coordinator John Skladany hit on some various issues surrounding the defense. The Cyclones, 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 action, return to the field next weekend against Texas Tech.

CN: Let's start with some general defensive observations.

Skladany: We've had some moments when we played some good football. They've been pretty consistent. We've had a couple of times at Iowa in that first half, but overall it's been pretty consistent. We haven't been perfect by any means, but have a lot of room to improve on a lot of things. But they've been giving good effort each week and I can't fault that. The execution at times has been good, but a couple of times we haven't executed like we want to.

CN: You entered the bye week with the best possible scenario, shutting down a potent Nebraska rushing attack. What did you think of the Husker game?

Skladany: The hitting, intensity and level of play that we exhibited was really good. The kids executed the gameplan, they were really focused and came out determined. They were stout at the line of scrimmage and we weren't missing tackles. It was a well-played game on defense.

CN: How much momentum did the team take coming out of that game heading into the bye week and Texas Tech next Saturday?

Skladany: You hope that we take some from it. Each game that you win just puts you in a position to make the next game bigger. You get better or worse throughout the season. When you're successful and having some success in the season, it's easier to have a better work ethic and work habits and motivation to keep improving. That's what we keep shooting for.

CN: Let's break it down to pass defense and rush defense. How would you grade your unit in these two areas?

Skladany: It's halfway through the season and I like to see at the end of the year, because we still have some teams that are really capable of rushing the football well and we've got some teams that can really throw the ball well.

Right now we seem to be holding up well at each end. In the Iowa game they got a couple hundred yards rushing and Florida State did, too. We certainly don't want to make a habit of that. If we can keep our numbers close to where they are now with everything, I think we will be pretty successful.

CN: Looking at the next three games, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas, your pass defense will get a stiff test. What are your thoughts on this three-game stretch and how do you think the defense will match up?

Skladany: You'd hope we match up well. There are a lot of factors involved. Our pass rush has got to be good and we've got to keep contain. The other day against Troy State the kid popped out of there and gained almost 40 yards. This quarterback (Kliff) Kingsbury is very mobile. They can hurt you going back to pass, even if you've got good coverage, they can take off and run. That's a big concern for us, too.

Texas certainly has that Cedric Benson, who is a great runner. The guy from Oklahoma is a good runner, too. Each week these teams are top-notch teams from the Big 12. They can throw it, catch it and know how to run the ball. We have some flexibility with the nickel, dime and buff packages, and the number of defensive backs that we have. Hopefully that will give us a little bit of an advantage.

CN: Texas Tech sure presents a very unique challenge with their offensive approach.

Skladany: (Mike) Leach has brought his system to Texas Tech. He did a very good job at Kentucky when he was there and at Oklahoma. They're leading our conference in pass offense. They've got a good concept of what they're doing throwing the ball and we'll have our hands full.

CN: How do you think the defense has performed in areas such as short-yardage, third-down, goal-line and red-zone situations?

Skladany: I think our third-down conversion rate is not too bad. We're about 36 or 37 percent now for the season, which isn't too bad. One area that really jumps out at us is we want to have a little better production in the red zone. I think they have made three field goals maybe got eight touchdowns in there. We would like to get a turnover in that red zone or force a couple of negative-yardage plays so that we can get a long field goal and miss it.

CN: Would Nick Leaders not be the first name that comes to mind when I ask about a surprising defensive player thus far?

Skladany: He's just been lights out. He's had a great season so far. I've been tickled to death with his progress. After he was here for a few years, we thought there was a chance for him to be a good player. He's gone leaps and bounds every week. We knew coming in that he had some talent and he's emerged quicker than we had thought.

CN: What is it about Leaders' play that's made him so effective?

Skladany: He's good with his hands and very tenacious. His mental and physical toughness is just terrific. You put all those together, then you've got a defensive lineman.

CN: Leaders has given the defensive line a huge boost with his play at nose guard. What are your thoughts on the defensive line's play overall?

Skladany: I think they've performed very well this year. Tim TeBrink has done a good job. Beau Coleman and Tyson Smith have played a lot of snaps and have done very well. We're very pleased with the defensive front.

CN: Evaluate the play of your linebackers.

Skladany: Jeremy Loyd has been very productive and Brandon Brown has come onto the scene and given us a lot of good football. The last three games here, Matt Word has started to play like himself. He's showing up again and making a lot of plays. The first couple of games he wasn't as productive.

CN: JaMaine Billups has played a huge role on a defensive secondary that's been solid through six games.

Skladany: JaMaine has been a great addition to the secondary. He gives us a real physical safety and has made us much more effective against the run. Being able to bring a safety in there, he's just been physical and had a nice start for the defense. The secondary overall has also played good football.

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