FB Notebook: 'Special' Attention Needed

At least on paper Iowa State's performance against Missouri last Saturday could have been considered a dominant one. Seneca Wallace and the offense racked up 600-plus yards of total offense and out-gained the Tigers by 237. Still, the Cyclones needed a long scoring drive late in the fourth quarter to pull out a 42-35 victory.

Dismal play in the punt game could be to blame for that dominant effort not showing up on the scoreboard. Missouri took advantage of mishaps in the third and fourth quarters and took a 28-27 lead after trailing by 13 points with less than six minutes remaining in the first half.

One play after Antwan Bynum blocked a Tony Yelk punt in the third quarter, Mizzou got a 55-yard touchdown pass. Early in the fourth quarter, Marcus James returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown to draw the score even, 35-35. If not for a 90-yard scoring drive late in the game, ISU's comedy of errors could have cost it a pivotal Big 12 home game.

"It was extremely disappointing and the biggest negative to come out of that game was our punt game," said Cyclone head coach Dan McCarney, who has seen opponents block three punts in 10 games this fall after getting just one all of last year. "Missouri hadn't blocked a punt all season and hadn't returned one for touchdown all season. They happened to do that against Iowa State. So that was not a fun punt meeting we went through yesterday evaluating it."

His team's effort on the two plays made it even tougher to swallow, figuring the Tigers managed to block a punt without a max rush and get a long return after several missed tackles by ISU defenders.

"That's ridiculous when they're in punt safe and blocked a punt," McCarney said. "We've got about three or four guys in position to make a tackle on the return and don't. None of those guys out there had sprained ankles. Those were healthy Iowa State punt cover guys that need to go down and tackle.

"It's a combination of things. We had poor snaps, poor punts and took too long to punt some. The protection one time was poor. They're in punt safe and get a punt blocked. I've been in it for 27 years and don't remember that happening against a team that I was on. What a great way to remember your punt team from last Saturday. It's just stupid. Those things should never happen, but they had one guy that came hard and we had a guy that didn't do what he was supposed to. He thought he was going to put his hands out there, got run over and the punt got blocked."

Blame could be placed in a number of places and McCarney said it's time his players take some of the credit for lackluster play in the punt game.

"It was absolutely inexcusable," he said. "Some of the problems and breakdowns we have reviewed, tested, coached, had it on tape, coached it through and didn't get it done. I hold my coaches responsible and challenge them, but those guys sitting in this room better take some responsibility.

"That was sickening to watch. It's not right when you've got a football team like that one where one segment of the special teams is so poor that it lets this whole team down. All of them feel bad about it and are embarrassed. We'll see if they do something about it this week."

A backup on the punt team, Tyson Smith knows what to expect from future opponents.

"We know they're going to come after us and every team has been looking at that," he said. "I'm sure Coach Mac is going to put some extra emphasis on the punt team and all the special teams this week. It would probably have to start up front. Missouri blocked a kick on punt safe and that's probably just lack of motivation and relaxing."

Looking long-term

Being that the Detroit News named him as a possible replacement for Bobby Williams at Michigan State, McCarney faced the question about his long-term future at ISU at Tuesday's weekly press conference. While reaffirming his love for the Cyclone football program and those around it, he could not totally guarantee that he'd be back next season.

"There are no guarantees in life," he said. "I don't think about it right now. All of that stuff and my consideration of staying at Iowa State will take place after the season. I want to be here, I want to stay and am looking forward to it. We just want to be taken care of.

"Leaving Iowa State or anyplace, I don't ever look forward to that. When I left Iowa, the toughest thing was saying goodbye that last time to Hayden Fry and Bill Brashier. It broke my heart to leave my hometown, parents, lifelong friends and the University of Iowa. How easy do you think it was to leave Barry Alvarez and Wisconsin to take this job? Those players up there, you get attached to them."

Smash-mouth ‘Cats

It won't be too hard to predict K-State's offensive gameplan for this Saturday, figuring it has completely mauled the Cyclones up front in recent years. Look no further than last season's 42-3 blowout. Tailback Josh Scobey and quarterback Ell Roberson combined for 303 yards rushing and the Wildcats won time of possession by more than 19 minutes.

The approach has been very similar in 2002. Bill Snyder's team hasn't needed to go away from the run very much during a 7-2 season. First-year starting tailback Darren Sproles and Roberson have combined for nearly 1,800 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.

When he's needed to pass, Roberson has been effective, completing 53-of-104 passes for 867 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions.

"I think they're going to come into this thing and try to take it over at the line of scrimmage and come after us," McCarney said. "It's sure not that Ell Roberson can't throw the ball and they don't have good receivers. We haven't slowed them down in the running game and haven't stopped them.

"They have really dominated the line of scrimmage running the ball and have been at their best. It's a power attack, physical attack and a speed attack. They get you outside on the perimeter with their option game, come inside and come after you."

Added defensive lineman Jordan Carstens, "It's one of these teams where there's not a lot of scheming. We've got to go in and play tough. That's what you've got to do to win. We've got to come out and play smash-mouth football.

"You see them play a lot of good Big 12 teams and they just drive them off the ball and gain six to seven yards a rush, then dump it through the air for another 15."


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