Just How Good is Iowa State?

Just one month ago, the Iowa State football team was dead in the water.

The Cyclones were battered and beaten around the football field in a 56-3 loss to Texas, knocking Iowa State’s record to 1-6, with losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa at home, along with Toledo on the road. The Cyclones’ one win was a nail-biter against rival Iowa.

But Iowa State came out firing defensively the next week, giving Oklahoma all it could handle before falling 17-7. The next week, they were within seven points of Missouri in the third quarter but lost again. That’s when Kansas State came to Ames, and promptly lost with by a 31-20 margin. A week later, Iowa State proved it wasn’t a fluke by scoring 31 second-half points to defeat Colorado 31-28.

All of a sudden, the Cyclones are a team on a roll, with a two-game winning streak and two close losses to top 10 teams. Because of the sudden change, it’s tough to get a read on just how good Iowa State, which ranks near the bottom of the conference in almost every statistical category, is.

Offensively, the Cyclones will show multiple formations and a lot of different looks, while often running behind a fullback or H-back.

As Iowa State has been inconsistent, so has the quarterback spot. While Bret Meyer (6-foot-3 211 pounds) will finish his career ranked among the Big 12 greats statistically, he has seen a disappointing end. Meyer has averaged just 186.2 yards passing per game, with 13 interceptions to his nine touchdowns. He has also rushed for 283 yards. Redshirt freshman Austen Arnaud (6-3 222), the former Gatorade Iowa High School Player of the Year, rotates in on some possessions and provides mobility and a strong arm.

Instead, the big reason for Iowa State’s offensive resurgence has been the emergence of a solid running back. Redshirt freshman Alexander Robinson (5-10 181) has topped the century mark in two of the past three games. The back from Minneapolis has rushed for 337 yards and five touchdowns in those games, topping 20 carries in each. He also has 152 yards receiving on the year. J.J. Bass (6-1 206) has run for 462 yards and four touchdowns this year, while Jason Scales (5-9 212) has 333 yards to go with three scores.

While Meyer has struggled to live up to his previous seasons, Todd Blythe (6-5 214) has rebounded nicely. Blythe missed games last year with an illness, but has 50 catches for 759 yards and five touchdowns this year. He starts opposite Marquis Hamilton (6-3 220), who has 40 catches for 448 yards and a touchdown. R.J. Sumrall (6-1 203) averages just 8.4 yards per catch over his 50 grabs and has yet to find the end zone. Tight end Ben Barkema (6-3 252) is another safety valve.

Coming into 2007, the Cyclones had a mish-mash across the offensive line, but they have found some consistency of late. Doug Dedrick (6-4 282) is the left tackle, while Ben Lamaak (6-4 306), a freshman who started at tight end, holds down the right side. Reggie Stephens (6-4 320) and Tom Schmeling (6-3 293), related to German boxer Max Schmeling, are the guards. Brandon Johnson (6-3 305) snaps the ball.

Defense has been a strong suit for the Cyclones, despite the fact that they don’t have enough scholarship defensive backs to blanket multiple receiver sets, Instead, Iowa State relies on its linebackers to cover players out of the slot, and plays a lot of zone, mixing in blitzes as a change of pace.

Rashawn Parker (6-0 252) and Kurtis Taylor (6-2 257) are the bookends, and have combined for 62 tackles, 12.5 for loss and 8.5 sacks. Bryce Braaksma (6-3 262) has been a playmaker from his defensive tackle spot, collecting five tackles for loss and four sacks, while Athyba Rubin (6-3 320) has been a solid gap plugger.

Weak side linebacker Alvin “Ace” Bowen (6-2 218) led the country in tackles last year, and has put together another banner season. He leads the Cyclones with 94 tackles, including11.5 for loss and also has four forced fumbles and two sacks. Jon Banks (6-2 227), a former safety, mans the other side and has 69 tackles and nine for loss. Middle linebacker Jesse Smith (6-0 235), a former walk-on, has 70 tackles.

Opposing quarterbacks have completed more than 69 percent of their passes against the Iowa State defense. Chris Singleton (5-10 195) has four interceptions and is the team’s best cover guy. Allen Bell (6-2 189) a former first-team JUCO All-America, has 51 tackles. Both safeties are short, with James Smith (5-8 192) as the main ball-hawk. He has 76 tackles, 4.5 for loss and two interceptions on the year. Chris Brown (5-10 177) plays strong safety.

While the safeties are short, Bret Culberson (6-6) is likely the conference’s tallest kicker. He’s also a good one, and has made all of his extra points and nine of 16 field goals, with a long of 48 yards. Mike Brandtner averages 38.7 yards per punt, while Drenard Williams averages 22.6 per kick return and 6.9 per punt return.

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