Cyclone Preview

What is it about the Iowa State Cyclones and Big 12 Conference openers?

Last season, the Cyclones nearly upset the Kansas Jayhawks in Ames, taking a 20-0 lead into the half before eventually falling 35-33. This year, the Cyclones (3-2, 0-1), scored what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown against Kansas State, only to lose by a point 24-23, when the extra point was blocked.

Now, Paul Rhoads's Cyclones will try to even up their Big 12 record as they take on the Jayhawks in Lawrence. Several team members have said last year's game left a bad taste in their mouths, so there's little doubt they'll be out for revenge.

To do that, the Cyclones will need a big game from quarterback Austen Arnaud (6-foot-3 224 pounds). Arnaud has improved this season as a runner, bulling his way forward for 322 yards rushing and five touchdowns. But at the same time, he has regressed as a passer in Iowa State's new no-huddle offense, throwing for just 787 yards in five games and completing just 53 percent of his passes, down from the almost 62 percent he completed last season. His 6-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio isn't exactly sparkling either.

At the same time, he's one of the top runners for a rushing game that averages 207.6 yards on the ground. The top runner is Alexander Robinson (5-9 187), who has fought off a groin injury to run for 502 yards at six yards per carry, to go with his four touchdowns. Rhoads said earlier in the week that Robinson's condition had improved since the Kansas State game, but it still remains to be seen how many carries he'll be able to take. If he wears down, Jeremiah Schwartz (5-11 232) is a nice option. A power back, Schwartz has averaged more than four yards per carry this year and has a 30-yard reception to his credit.

The Cyclones' receiving unit took a pretty big blow when JUCO transfer Darius Reynolds, who caught 13 passes in Iowa State's first two games, was knocked out for the season. Still, there are a few nice weapons in the passing game, led by Marquis Hamilton (6-3 224), a big target with 18 catches for 313 yards and two scores. Jake Williams (6-1 199) is a former walk-on who scored on two of his 14 catches, while Darius Darks (6-1 184) was a major factor as a possession receiver last season. Tight end Derrick Catlett (6-4 243) is dangerous when he catches the ball, averaging 16 yards per reception.

Iowa State's offensive line has been key in the Cyclones' no-huddle offense, allowing just one sack in five games, while Cyclone runners have averaged 5.2 yards per rush. It's a massive group, with four players weighing in at 318+. Only left guard Alex Alvarez (6-2 295) weighs under that 318 mark. Left tackle Kelechi Osemele (6-5 349) is the biggest of the bunch, followed by right tackle Scott Haughton (6-3 338), center Reggie Stephens (6-3 333) and right guard Ben Lamaak (6-4 318).

While the offensive line has been pretty strong, the defensive line has struggled at times, allowing four yards per carry. That line took a further hit when Rashawn Parker, arguably the Cyclones' top pass rusher, was lost for the season to injury. Into his place stepped Patrick O'Neal (6-0 227), who earned his first start against Kansas State, and Roosevelt Maggitt (6-2 239). Christopher Lyle is an excellent player at the other end spot, where he has 27 tackles, six for loss and two sacks. Nose guard Nate Frere (6-1 291) is probably the Cyclones' best interior linemen, and he plays next to announcer's nightmare Stephen Ruempolhamer (6-3 287).

The Cyclones boast one of the most underrated linebacking groups in the conference, led by Jesse Smith (6-0 234), who is averaging nearly 10 tackles per game. He is flanked by Fred Garrin (6-1 227), the team's second-leading tackler with 34 stops, and playmaking SAM linebacker Josh Raven (5-11 223). More than one-fourth of Raven's 20 tackles have been for loss, and two of those were for sacks. The Cyclones' linebacking group as a whole has combined for double-digit tackles for losses.

Iowa State has a short defensive back group—the tallest of the bunch is cornerback Leonard Johnson (5-10 189). Kennard Banks (5-9 191) is the other cornerback, while James Smith (5-8 191) is a good player at free safety. The best of the bunch has been strong safety David Sims (5-9 208), who has 31 tackles, two for loss and three interceptions. Johnson, Banks and Smith all have one pick apiece.

The Cyclones have an experienced special teams unit and it shows. Punter Mike Brandtner (6-0 200) averages 43.8 yards per punt. Even more impressively, the Cyclones are third nationally by covering his punts to a 42.7 net average. Kicker Grant Mahoney (6-1 162) is also a good one. He's 7-9 on his field goals, with his lone misses coming from 41 and 57 yards. He drilled a 50-yard field goal against Army. Johnson and Sims return kicks for the ‘Clones, while Josh Lenz, a wide receiver, returns punts.

In this year's opener, the Cyclones showed plenty of grit and fight. But if they want better results than last year's results, they'll need to maintain that fight through the rest of the Big 12 season, starting on Saturday.

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