Notebook: Defense Focuses on Griffin

Iowa State's defense has come up huge in a few statement games the past three weeks, containing Texas Tech's prolific passing attack and putting a stranglehold on Nebraska's vaunted ground game, but the ultimate test could come on Saturday with Oklahoma's balanced attack.

The Sooners have been well known for their aerial attack in Bob Stoops' short tenure in Norman and that's no different this season, with Nate Hybl throwing to what is perhaps the Big 12's deepest receiving corps south of Ames.

But what made Oklahoma go last weekend was a steady dose of veteran tailback Quentin Griffin, who rushed for 248 yards on 32 carries in a 35-24 victory over Texas in the Red River Shootout. The Sporting News responded by naming him the national player of the week, and ISU is spending just as much time sending praise his way.

"The teams that have a chance to play with Oklahoma have to slow down the running game, especially coming off of their game with Texas and Griffin rushing for almost 250 yards," said ISU head coach Dan McCarney, whose ninth-ranked team is ranked the highest in school history. "They're going to feel good about (running it against us). We gave up some runs the other day, more than we would like to. To have a chance you've got to slow this running game down.

"(Griffin's) durable, quick and explosive. I don't know what his 40 time is, but his game speed is really fast. He's making more guys miss him than anybody in this league that I've seen so far. Texas had some people in great position to tackle him and he's making a lot of them miss. We're going to have to really be a great tackling defense."

What Griffin also has going for him is a past history of success against the Cyclones. In the last meeting of the two programs, Griffin, then an unknown commodity on a pass-happy Sooner squad, ran roughshod over ISU to the tune of 123 yards and one touchdown on 11 carries. He also added another receiving touchdown in his breakout performance.

But this is also not the same Cyclone defense of old. Thanks to some impressive defensive play of late, ISU has done what it could not do in McCarney's tenure—beat Nebraska and Texas Tech. As a result, in three conference games this season, ISU is leading the Big 12 in total defense (294 yards per game) and scoring defense (11.3 points per game)

A big reason for the steady improvement is that the entire Cyclone defense, with the exception of true freshman Nick Leaders, has played together since the start of last season.

"One of the important things we have now that we didn't back then was game experience for some of the young guys," said Jordan Carstens, whose 46 tackles rank third on the team. "Some guys had some question marks coming in just because they didn't have much experience at the positions they were going to play. After seven games, those guys have a lot more experience and are going to be ready to play a big-time game like this."

Having worked on an offense line that was a work in progress early this season, Zach Butler knows what it means to play together as a unit for an extended amount of time.

"It started last season," Butler said. "Our defense started coming on strong about the last three games and showed up big time in the Alabama game. That carried over. It's Coach Mac taking time to get his type of players in here and we have finally gotten that. And John Skladany has done his type of defense that we run.

"It takes a while to gel as a group. I just know about the offensive line and how long it's taken us to get going and gel as a group. That defense has had a couple years together and is putting together some impressive games."

Mac discusses long-term future at ISU

With his team ranked higher than any point in history and off to the best start to conference play since 1949, McCarney, who's sure to generate interest from outside programs in the near future, faced questions about his future with the Cyclones on Tuesday.

Here were some of his thoughts on that matter.

"I don't think about it much this time of year," said McCarney, who has compiled a 22-9 at ISU since the start of the 2000 campaign. "I don't address it and don't go to bed at night talking to my wife about it. I don't talk to Bruce Van De Velde about it. I love this place. When you put as much and invest as much as I have into this program.

"We have come a long ways. The people have been very loyal to me here. I could definitely see myself being at Iowa State for a long time. I want everything right for my staff and this program. I want to make sure there is a commitment so that we know we can maintain this excellence for years to come."

He also recalled a story from after his team's 56-10 loss at Wyoming in the 1997 season and compared it to the environment in Ames these days.

"It's amazing when we came across the street the other day and almost can't even get to the building now, there are so many people out there," he said. "It reminded me coming off of a game years ago when we were so bad. We were out at Wyoming and got plastered and humiliated out there. I start coming off the field afterwards and this guy got right in my face and screamed. He was spitting in my face when he was screaming and said, ‘Don't you know anything?' The old Yogi Berra thing popped into my head and I said, ‘Sir, to be honest with you, I don't even suspect anything.' Instead of going after him, which I felt like at that stage, the guy was right."

But McCarney still faced another follow-up question of, ‘what if?'

"There are a lot of personal reasons why I want to stay at Iowa State, with my children four and a half hours away, parents two hours away and life-long fans in the state of Iowa," he said. "But I do have a family to take care of. I'm not out hunting or looking. I will never ever worry about the next job. I have always tried to do the best job I could with the one I have. I trust the administration is going to take care of everybody here and that's from top to bottom, head coach down to the graduate assistants."

Carstens' injury

The Cyclones are a relatively healthy squad heading into their biggest game of the season, and that includes starting defensive tackle Carstens. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder was in and out of Saturday's game against Texas Tech with a hip injury.

But Carstens doesn't expect any problems this weekend.

"I was in pain for a while, but got to the sidelines and under the care of Mark Coberley and some of the trainers," he said. "They got me into playing shape. I was a little sore, but played through it. I just landed wrong on my hip, that's about all I can say."


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