Kansas Travels to Face Iowa State Saturday

With three games left last season, the Iowa State Cyclones were humbled.

They were 1-8, without a Big 12 victory and with seemingly nothing to play for. Even worse, the Cyclones had Kansas State, which needed one more victory to go to a bowl, Colorado, which was headed to a bowl and the soon-to-be Orange Bowl-bound Kansas Jayhawks. But the Cyclones stole two out of the three games to finish 3-9.

Much of that momentum has carried over into 2008, where the Cyclones are 2-2, and just as easily could have been 4-0, if not for red zone and special teams miscues against Iowa and a nailbiting finish against UNLV.

The Cyclones have been steady and tough defensively, while moving the ball efficiently on offense.

The offense revolves around two sophomore quarterbacks, Austen Arnaud (6-foot-3, 222 pounds) and Phillip Bates (6-1 218). Arnaud is the better passer, while Bates, who played receiver last year, is a better runner. Both can move – Bates has a 56-yard run to his credit this year while Arnaud had a clutch 25-yard run against UNLV. The duo also represents Iowa State’s first and third leading rushers. But Arnaud is more than a runner. The tall Ames native has a strong arm to propel the ball downfield and is completing 65 percent of his passes with a 2-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

The running game is solid, but not spectacular, with three different backs leading the charge. The best of the group is Alexander Robinson (5-10 182) a shifty runner who lacks explosiveness. He’s backed by Jason Scales (5-9 212) and J.J. Bass (6-0 200), and all will likely see carries on Saturday. None average four yards per carry. Taylor Mansfield (6-1 255) is the fullback, but he has zero carries or catches this year. Arnaud essentially serves as the team’s goal line back and has four touchdowns on the ground this year.

R.J. Sumrall is the best of the Cyclone receiving corps is high on steady players but short on explosive athletes. The exception to the rule is Sumrall, who has broken out for his senior season this year. After averaging eight yards per catch in 2007, Sumrall has boosted that total by nearly 11 yards in 2008. To that, he’s added his first 100 yard game and is only 150 yards short of shatter last year’s career high of 434 yards. Houston Jones (6-1 196), Darius Darks (6-1 167) and Marquis Hamilton (6-4 220) also provide nice possession targets. Tight end Derrick Catlett (6-4 241) is a decent safety valve.

The offensive line returns four starters from a year ago, but Coach Gene Chizik reopened competition before the season started, leading to senior center Brandon Johnson (6-4 322) moving to right guard, where he backs up fellow returning starter and sophomore Ben Lamaak (6-5 315). Overall, the Cyclones have been good in pass protection, but not so great in creating holes for running backs. Matt Hulbert (6-7 286) and Doug Dedrick (6-4 301) are the tackles, with Lamaak and Reggie Stephens (6-4 314) manning the guard spots. Smallish Mike Knapp (6-3 272) starts at center.

Chizik believes in fielding a defense that can fly to the ball, and these Cyclones represent that trend. They are undersized in several spots, but have forced 13 turnovers, helping the team to lead the conference in turnover margin.

Possibly the strongest position on the defense is at defensive end, where the Cyclones pair Kurtis Taylor (6-2 255) and Rashawn Parker (6-0 246). Taylor led the team with 6.5 sacks last year and is off to a nice start this year with five tackles for loss. There’s depth there too – backup end Christopher Lyle (6-3 249) actually leads the team in both tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (3). Tackle Michael Tate (6-4 285) and nose guard Nate Frere (6-1 291) are solid players, though neither has made up for the loss of last year’s star defensive tackle Athyba Rubin.

The Cyclones are also pretty steady in the linebacking corps. Josh Raven (5-11 216) and Michael Bibbs (6-1 234) rotate at the SAM position with nice results –Bibbs is tied for second on the team in tackles while Raven is tied for fifth. Middle linebacker Jesse Smith (6-0 231) is one of the stars of the defense and is always around the ball. He’s tied with Bibbs with 25 tackles, has 2.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up and a 41-yard fumble return to his credit. WILL linebacker Fred Garrin (6-2 221) is nice in pass coverage.

Cornerback Chris Singleton (5-10 190) and safety James Smith (5-9 189) are the leaders in a secondary that has seen the use of several young players this year.  Singleton is a solid tackler and has 1.5 tackles for loss this year. Smith leads the team with 28 tackles. Devin McDowell (5-9 180) is quick and mans the other cornerback spot, while Brandon Hunley (5-11 207) starts at strong safety.

Freshman kicker Grant Mahoney has been solid this year, though he missed his only opportunity between 18 and 29 yards. He’s 5-6 between 30 and 39 yards and 2-4 behind 40 with a long of 48. Mike Brandtner averages 42 yards per punt. McDowell handles both kick and punt return duties.

Chizik has his team playing hard on both sides of the ball, and the Cyclones aren’t the easy victory that they were for most of last year.

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