Football Insider: Connecticut

In his final column for the 2002 season, Cyclone Nation football insider Ben Bruns assesses the Iowa State football season overall as well as this week's home-finale against Connecticut.

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: Another tough road game, another tough road loss for the Cyclones. Where do you think team morale and the team's collective psyche is after such a brutal road stretch?

BRUNS: I know they are just glad it is over and are hungry to play the Huskies and whomever we face in a bowl.

CN: During this gauntlet of a road schedule over the past five weeks, each of Iowa State's away games came against teams of championship-caliber. What do you think the Cyclones learned about themselves in comparison to those teams and what it takes to reach that "next level?"

BRUNS: I don't know they learned anything earth shattering. I think it made them feel terribly mortal. If you look back at the stretch I feel like, up until the Oklahoma game, the team felt invincible. They had the faith that, no matter what they came across, they could overcome it. When Oklahoma completely dominated us, they stole our faith as well. It is very difficult to rebuild faith. You can bounce back, set your jaw, and try to do better next time--which they did against Texas. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to believe you can't be beaten after something like that.

CN: Talent-wise, how close is Iowa State in comparison to those teams?

BRUNS: I don't know that we are light years behind them. I think we were better as a team than Texas and Colorado. Even though they had better personnel, we lost because we didn't make plays, not because we were outclassed as a team.

CN: Seneca Wallace has committed an uncharacteristic eight turnovers over the last two games. How much of that is related to the quality of the opposition?

BRUNS: I think some of it. K-State had his number on the quick-out. However, some of the mistakes, like the fumbles, are a function of concentration and execution. Good teams tend to force you into trying to do too much, and I think Seneca has felt that way the last four road games. Credit the opposing defenses.

CN: Was there anything strategically that could've been done to slow down the Colorado running game, or was it just a question of the Buffaloes having an edge in manpower?

BRUNS: I thought ISU did a relatively good job from an assignment standpoint defensively. Colorado has run the ball very well against everyone this year, and they are tough to handle. By the end of the ballgame, it was tough to hold them back defensively because of their relentlessness throughout the entire contest.

CN: Credit to you, because you were the first person to publicly fire a warning shot during the great start to the season about the running game potentially haunting Iowa State once it had to go on the road. Heading into the Colorado game, the Cyclones were averaging just 72.2 yards rushing per game away from Jack Trice Stadium.

BRUNS: Well, they have played some outstanding rush defenses. Their lack of experience has been tough this year. With three guys that have never played and a couple that had only been starting for a year and a half going into this season, it was going to be difficult.

CN: Many fans believe the problem with the running game this season directly correlates to the offensive line being in a transition stage. Do you agree with that? How would you forecast the future of the returning players there? Is the talent there to groom and nurture or will some junior college recruiting help be needed for next season?

BRUNS: I think the real problem goes a long way back. In 1997 we had a huge offensive line recruiting class. I believe we had six scholarship offensive linemen sign in that class (not including Marcel Howard, who was a walk-on tight end when he first arrived at ISU). Though they worked extremely hard to develop, only one of them ended up starting by the end of his career. Seeing that we needed some more help down the road, we recruited several JUCO O-linemen in the next couple of years, and Zach Butler was the only high school lineman we signed in 1998. The next year again only one frosh was signed: Bob Montgomery. Both of these guys have contributed the last two years, but it left a void needing to be filled by JUCOs and cross-over D-linemen. Next year, Bob and Casey Shelton will do a nice job. Korey Pence was signed in 1999, but would be leaving for his two-year mission trip. I think he can help next year after getting a little more time to really figure out the offense.

There is no real room for a lot of JUCOs in this year's class, since we have some excellent incoming freshmen. That leaves the future to a couple of JC guys that will need to play well for us to be successful up front next year. I think Colin Menard has gotten a lot of great experience this season and hopefully it will carry him to a good year next year. Emmanuel Valcourt looks like he has the tools, and it would be good if he can contribute next year. Matt Bockes has also proven he can be successful in a big game. So has Luke VanderSanden, who will be a great leader who will have to overcome extreme adversity to get back in the saddle next year. The biggest bonus for ISU is a handful of young talented players are on their way into the mix off of the scout team. Specifically, Corey Wierson and Seth Zehr have a great future ahead of them. Watch out for the Cyclones in three years, however. By that point, I don't see any reason we can't have one of the better groups in the conference.

CN: What do you think about the development of John Skladany's defense? At times they have struggled to get off the field on third downs. However, considering the schedule they played and to be able to say that Texas Tech and Colorado were the only Big 12 teams to gain 400 or more yards of total offense is noteworthy. Especially with the lack of help they got in terms of field position and turnovers from the offense at times.

BRUNS: I think they have come a long way over the last few years. There are more athletes than ever before. They run to the ball very well and are tenacious. They execute stunts up front better than in the past. However, you are absolutely right; the offense hasn't done them any

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