Football Insider: Missouri

In this week's football insider, Cyclone Nation analyst Ben Bruns says he expects a breakout game from quarterback Seneca Wallace against Missouri and makes the point that Iowa State still has a shot to win the Big 12 title.

Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and a key member of the 2000 senior class that led Iowa State to a 9-3 record and top 25 ranking in both the Coach's and AP polls. Bruns finished 5th in the voting for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top center in college football, and in high school was named the Class 1-A Player of the Year by the Des Moines Register. The native of Denver, Iowa now provides analysis for the Cyclone Radio Network and Cyclone Nation during the football season.

CN: Let's start with your overall assessment of the Texas game.

BRUNS: I thought it was nice to see the Cyclones fight back and play a much better football game than the previous week. They just couldn't overcome too many mistakes and bad officiating.

CN: The Longhorns came into the game ranked 71st in the nation in rushing offense, and they haven't exactly played the toughest schedule in the country up to this point. Nonetheless, they were able to run for 245 yards against Iowa State. How do you explain that?

BRUNS: In two and a half drives in the game Texas ran the ball very, very well. I think it took Iowa State a little bit of time to get used to the rushing attack of Texas after practicing the majority of the week for Chris Simms and the Longhorn receivers. Overall, the numbers don't really show it. However, I think we played pretty good rush defense when it counted.

CN: On the other side of the ball, the Cyclones gained just 58 yards rushing against the nation's 41st-best run defense. Is it time to see more of Brian Thompson at running back to see if he can provide more of a spark than we seem to be getting from Michael Wagner or Hiawatha Rutland?

BRUNS: I think Brian will play a fair amount this week, but I also think it's a bit of a function of the offensive line's rhythm. It seems like there is little consistency in the schemes up front week to week. When I was playing, we ran a few things and ran them very well. I think we're trying to scheme to our offensive line's strengths and weaknesses too much. Play it base, and let ‘em go.

CN: Thompson looked terrific during garbage time of a couple of early season blowouts. Fans want to know why we haven't seen more of the talented redshirt freshman during conference play. Do you have insight into that?

BRUNS: I think it's a function of maturity. You have two guys ahead of him who do the little things the right ways; that makes it very hard for a coach to not play them because they have talent and you know what you're going to get game in and game out. As Brian Thompson gets more consistent in practice and games in all phases of the offensive schemes, he'll play more and more, I think.

CN: What do you make of Mac publicly praising the scout team efforts of Stevie Hicks during his redshirt season? Is he trying to motivate the current runners by pointing out they will see increased competition for playing time next year? Or, is he trying to tell fans help for the beleaguered running game is on its way?

BRUNS: I don't think he's trying to send a message to his guys. They understand that Stevie has talent and that they're going to have a heck of a battle on their hands next year. I think Mac has always been one to let the fans know the good things that are on the horizon, and Stevie Hicks is no different from all the good young players who have gone before.

CN: I think running the option not just once, but twice, in the confined space of the red zone against an opponent like Texas that possesses superior athleticism and quickness was questionable on Saturday. Do you agree or disagree with that?

BRUNS: Yes and no. Seneca is a talented quarterback, and you want to have the ball in his hands. You also want to be able to run the ball outside, but I think there are a couple things that we're not doing correctly to execute the play. The depth of the tailback at almost ten yards makes it difficult to run option, because he has to run so far to get on the right path with Seneca. We're also not getting the back-side linebacker blocked, and that's a function of getting a good push on the down linemen to the second level.

CN: At times the Texas game was a replay of last season's trip to Texas A&M. Just like in that game, the Cyclones missed some chip shot field goals in Austin. But shouldn't the onus be on the offense more to score touchdowns in the red zone instead of settling for field goal attempts?

BRUNS: First and goal on the two, and you come away with zero points: that is not your kicker's fault.

CN: Did Iowa State execute better and play with more heart and tenacity against Texas than it did the previous week at Oklahoma?

BRUNS: Obviously. I also think you have to give some credit to Oklahoma. Had the Sooners played anyone else that day, they would have racked up similar results.

CN: Is Seneca Wallace still a Heisman Trophy candidate in your mind?

BRUNS: Yep, easily. If Lance Young makes that grab, Seneca is back in the mix without a doubt. Who else can get away from two guys as athletic as Texas defenders and throw a strike down the field like that?

CN: What do you have to say to Hawkeye fans who are calling my radio program on KXNO and/or WHO's Sound Off both on TV and the radio wanting to discuss who would now win between the Cyclones and Hawkeyes?

BRUNS: I honestly thought they were smarter than that. Iowa is a very good football team, but I've been saying for the past several weeks that Michigan really is not a great football team. Did we deserve to be ranked No. 9? Maybe not. Did Michigan? No way. Iowa would have success in any conference, but perhaps not the same success it is having in a conference in which the third-place team is Minnesota. Did anyone see Minnesota vs. Illinois? Yeah. Would I play Iowa again? You bet I would. I think we've improved, too, and we played like crap in the first half of that football game.

CN: If Iowa goes to the Rose Bowl does it have any impact at all on the Iowa State program in terms of recruiting?

BRUNS: No. I think recruits are smart enough to know what a premiere football conference looks like and motivated enough to want to play in it.

CN: Have the Oklahoma and Texas losses made you reevaluate your goals for this season?

BRUNS: Nope; I still plan to say whatever I think, whenever I feel like it. The real question is, will you and the Cyclone Radio Network keep paying me? Actually, Steve, I think they have a harder road to hoe but still have their fate in their own hands.

CN: On to the Missouri game. The Tigers feature arguably the best running quarterback in the league with Brad Smith. How do the Cyclones try to stop him?

BRUNS: I think we need to play base defense. Smith doesn't scramble around a lot; they run a lot of quarterback draw, iso, etc. All of which should be defended just like a run.

CN: The one game last season that Seneca Wallace really struggled in was at Missouri. Was the drizzly weather the mitigating factor there or was it something the Tigers did defensively?

BRUNS: I have had enough of the "small hands, wet ball" crap. Let's be honest: can announcers get any more annoying? And back to the Texas game: did we talk about fourth down? Yeah. Hose job. OK, back to our regularly scheduled topic: Seneca will play well this week. Mark my words.

CN: What do you want to see out of the offensive line this week?

BRUNS: Consistency, communication, and fundamentals.

CN: In the long run, are you seeing the development there you had hoped for?

BRUNS: I don't know that I am, and I'm not 100 percent sure that it's all their fault.

CN: I've spent a lot of time this week on television, radio, and the website trying to help galvanize the Cyclone Nation into greeting the football team with a sellout crowd on Saturday. Are you sensing any jumping off the bandwagon after the last two losses?

BRUNS: I think that's natural for there to be a little bit of that. That's why they call it a bandwagon, right? There will be an entertaining football game Saturday afternoon, and I hope they realize that the Cyclones still have a very, very good chance at winning the league.

CN: What do you make of Matt Word's lack of playing time against Texas? When he finally did get in, he had a missed tackle that led to a big play for the Longhorns.

BRUNS: I thought he played poorly early in the game, quite frankly. Chris Whitaker, who due to injury, doesn't have the ability that Mo does, works very, very hard and makes plays while he's in the game. I think Chris has an extra heartbeat and more toughness when a team's running straight at you.

CN: Finally, give us your keys to victory for the Cyclones on Saturday.

BRUNS: I'd say the band has to play well. Just kidding, of course. I think the Cyclones need to play very good fundamental defense and execute offensively, and enjoy the opportunity to be back at the Jack.

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