There are just 36 more days until the start of Iowa's football season, and I've only previewed Eastern Illinois thus far. So, let's get moving on this preview...for today: Iowa State.

The Game

Opponent: Iowa State
Location: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
Kickoff: 2:30 PM - September 11, 2010
TV: ABC Regional (ESPN2 elsewhere)

The Basics

Location: Ames, IA
Head Coach: Paul Rhoads
Mascot: Cyclone
Conference: Big XII
2009 Record: 7-6 (3-5)

The Offense

Returning Starters: 7
Key Players: QB Austin Arnaud, RB Alexander Robinson, OL Ben Lamaak
Key Losses: WR Marquis Hamilton, OL Reggie Stephens, OL Scott Haughton (dismissed)

The Cyclones will be in their second year running the Tom Herman, no-huddle, wide-open, spread offense. For all the hype that the Herman system received, in the first year of installing this offense Iowa State was not overly successful and in watch I saw of Iowa State last year, the offense actually looked quite blah. The offense averaged 360 yards per game, but had trouble scoring (just 21 points per game). However, with a majority of the offense coming back and with a year in the new system under their belt, Iowa State's offense should be better. More pages of the playbook should be in the repertoire so we might start seeing some of those exotic and exciting plays that I've heard some much about but never seen.

Anyway, even with all this spread nonsense the bread and butter Iowa State's offense is the simple zone-read play. Robinson and Arnaud were the leading rushers on the team and a strong rushing game is what kept the Cyclones on the field against Iowa last year, even though they couldn't score (ISU had 190 rushing yards). Robinson missed some time last year (didn't play at all against Nebraska) and still went over 1,000 yards averaging over 5 yards per carry. He also had the second most yards of any running back against Iowa with 100 (OSU's Brandon Saine had 103). I have a hard time seeing ISU put up nearly 200 rushing yards again though, even with Arnaud and Robinson back as seniors. I think preparing for Georgia Tech's triple option will prove to have made the Iowa defense more disciplined and as a result they will have no problem shutting down the zone-read.

And, if ISU can't run, then they are in big trouble. Arnaud will be a third year starter, but he's been far from effective against Iowa. The past two years he's thrown 0 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He was even benched last year after throwing 4 picks. Arnaud is also losing his number 1 receiver (Hamilton) and number 1 tight end (Derrick Catlett), though should still have plenty of targets. Iowa State had 11 different receivers catch at least 1 pass last year. I'm sure Iowa will give up a frustratingly high number of short passes to Arnaud and Co. but if Arnaud tries to force it down the field again, Tyler Sash will be waiting.

The Defense

Returning Starters: 4
Key Players: DE Patrick Neal, SS David Sims (?), CB Leonard Johnson
Key Losses: LB Jesse Smith, DE Christopher Lyle

Though the defense was opportunistic last year (see ISU at Nebraska...) it was not very good, and with only 4 starters returning, it could be worse this year. Iowa State gave up 415 yards and 22 points per game. Their opponents averaged almost 6 yards per play. If it was not for the 32 turnovers the Cyclones forced, they probably would not have been in a bowl game.

Coming into this year, the Cyclones must replace most all of its front seven on defense. They graduated 5 linebackers including all 3 starters last year. Those 5 linebackers accounted for 274 of the team’s tackles last year. They do have a JUCO guy, Matt Tau'fo'ou, but experience is very limited at the position.

On the defensive line, Iowa State lost its best player in Lyle, but has a handful of guys that had around 20 tackles and 2 or 3 tackles for loss last year. Two of those guys, Patrick Neal and Bailey Johnson, started the majority of the games last year. Iowa State also gets back Rashawn Parker who started early in the year an ACL injury forced him to miss the most of the season.

The secondary does provide Iowa State some hope though. There is actually some depth in the defensive backfield with 2 returning starters (David Sims and Leonard Johnson), a couple of JUCO transfers, and a handful of other upperclassmen. Sims and Johnson were both in the top 5 on the team in total tackles. The status of Sims is somewhat questionable though after being charged for unauthorized credit card use. He is currently suspended from the team, but it is unknown whether the suspension will continue into the season. Coach Paul Rhoads did says though, "Even with a worst-case scenario, he’s going to be on the team." So, I'm guessing Sims will play against Iowa.

The Special Teams

Returning Starters: 1
Key Players: K Grant Mahoeny
Key Loss: P Mike Brandtner

Mahoeny will be the starting place-kicker for the third year in a row. He was inconsistent last year and struggled at times. He was 13/20 on field goals and just 5-10 from over 40 yards (though he did make a 52-yarder). He also struggled kicking PATs making only 26/30 (some were blocked)…which ended up costing the Cyclones the Kansas State game. On kickoffs Mahoeny has a decent leg, but rarely gets the ball to the endzone. He averaged 63.3 yards per kick last year.

The punter position is wide open as ISU must replace a good punter in Brandtner who averaged over 40 yards a punt last year and have 24 downed inside the 20. They got a kid from West Des Moines Valley, Kirby Van Der Kamp, who is likely the guy as Rhoads gave him a scholarship. There are also a few walk-ons that are possibilities.

They do have a pretty good trio to kick returners. Josh Lenz handled punt return duties last year and is returning. He had a modest 4.8 yard average per return, but did break a 44-yarder. David Sims (if he plays) and Leonard Johnson are the likely kick returners. The both averaged over 20 yard a return last year.



In case you want to read more about Iowa State, here are some useful links: