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The Summer Preview: Iowa State Cyclones

We're nearing the end of our summer preview series and the 11th game of the year is the Iowa State Cyclones.

Brett Deering

Quick Hits:

Opponent: @ Iowa State Cyclones
Last Year's Record: 3-9, 2-7
Coach: Paul Rhoads
Game 11: November 22nd

Five Things:

1. Not Gonna Do It. Normally, I spend my summer preview gushing about Paul Rhoads and that I believe that he's a good guy and a good coach. He is still all of those things, but I'm going to stick to the football team. Here we go. Iowa St. obviously struggled last year, winning only 2 conference games, Kansas and West Virginia, while winning only 1 non-conference game, at Tulsa. So yes, you have a loss hosting Iowa and Northern Iowa on the ledger last year. From what I remember doing the preview last summer, Iowa St. was going to be a very young team along the defensive line and I think that ended up being problematic, especially defensively. Iowa St. was 105th in total defense, 112th in rushing defense and 75th in passing defense. Without an explosive offense to back things up, there simply wasn't the firepower to keep pace. I don't know how quickly things can change for Iowa St. this year, but the defense is going to have to be better in order for the program to be a bit better. And Rhoads maybe had the best hire of the offseason in hiring Mark Magino. The fact that he was able to do what he did at Kansas should be a testament to Magino's coaching prowess. Don't care about his weight issues, he can coach. Long-term, that will prove to be a nice hire for Rhoads.

2. More Experienced Defense. Naturally, Iowa St. does sport a more experienced line with Brandon Jensen and Cory Morrisey are two returning starters and both are seniors. That should help anchor the line, while Cory Morrissey and Jared Brackens will help at the linebacker spot. Don't sleep on Luke Knott and Jevohn Miller at linebacker either. The more I look at this, the more I think that the linebacker spot will be a pretty nice strength of this team. I should also note that both cornerbacks return, Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune are smaller cornerbacks, but at the very least, they both started a handful of games last year and that will help.

3. Talent on the Offense. I really like the talent on the offensive side of the ball. E.J. Bibbs is the conference's best tight end. Bibbs caught 39 passes for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns, while receiver Quenton Bundrage caught 48 passes for 676 yards and 9 touchdowns. Running back Aaron Wimberly ran for 567 yards and 2 touchdowns last year. And if I'm reading things correctly, I think that Iowa St. will have their entire offensive line return, from tight end, all the way down. C Tom Farniok and RT Jacob Gannon are the most experienced players, but Iowa St. returns plenty of talent here.  And see item #5.

4. The Problem Has Been Consistent Quarterback Play. The biggest problem with the Iowa St. offense has been the quarterback. They simply haven't had the opportunity to really get all of the parts moving because the quarterback was inconsistent. I thought last year that Sam B. Richardson would be that player that would get the Cyclones over the hump, but he couldn't hold off Grant Rohach, a redshirt freshman that seemed to put up similar numbers to Richardson. They both completed about 55% to 57% of their passes for about 6.3-6.4 yards per attempt and both had quarterback ratings of near 117 to 118. Still, Rohach had a better spring adn commanded the offense during the spring game. Even if Rohach doesn't work out, I still think Richardson has something and so the Cyclones should be in better shape.

5. Help Arriving. Allen Lazard is a fantastic receiver, a 4-star legacy for the Cyclones that was a great get for Iowa St. Paired with Bundrage, this should help the passing game open up even more with Bibbs there to clean up over the middle. The Cyclones also dipped into the JUCO ranks with Terry Ayeni, Gabe Luna and Dalyou Pierson at defensive end, Jordan Harris at linebacker and Qujuan Floyd and Devron Moore at defensive back. That's a lot of players that are hoping to fill holes, much like at Texas Tech. Also much like Texas Tech, Iowa St. tried to find someone that defensive end to get some pressure on the opposing quarterback with the hope that one of them can help.

Q&A with Wide Right & Natty Lite:

Thanks to KnowDan from Wide Right & Natty Lite for answering some questions about the Cyclones.

1. What are your expectations for 2014?

Are we talking our expectations around Hoiberg beating Kingsbury in the first ever Big XII Coaches Runway Show? Oh, we're talking about football. Got it.

I think this year we're looking for the oft used "continuous improvement". Whether or not that shows up in the win column remains to be seen, but this team is replacing a lot of parts from last year's 3-9 campaign and it will be hard to add six new coaches, a new offensive coordinator, and replace another All Big XII linebacker and expect more wins than in 2013.

Having something measurable would be nice, and in that regard I would look for a few more wins than last year's campaign just due to the general improvement of the team (despite all the needed replacements). Last year's squad lost five games by a touchdown or less and most of those were due to general offensive ineptitude. If offensive coordinator Mark Mangino is as good as advertised, and defensive coordinator can scrape together a functional defense, then this team will show some strides on the field and people won't be so quick to start the countdown to basketball season.

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses for the Cyclones?

The strength of this year's Cyclone team lies squarely on the offensive side of the ball. Receiver Quenton Bundrage returns after tying Iowa State's single season touchdown record last year and he'll be flanked by transfer D'Vario Montgomery and little ball of juke Jarvis West (who Tech fans should be familiar with). That's not to mention preseason All Big XII tight end E.J. Bibbs, who no doubt will be a focal point of the offense. Once Mangino can settle on a quarterback to deliver them the ball then the offense should start clicking and allow for an otherwise outgunned squad to finally look like a real Big XII team.

The defense, specifically the line, is a huge weakness this year. Starting defensive tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed from the team this spring, and Coe was playing just as well as anyone on Iowa State's roster at the end of 2013. Brandon Jensen returns in the middle, and is joined by Cory Morrissey on the outside. Unfortunately those two are the only ones with significant experience on the line, and everyone else is young and currently undersized. It's our expectation that we're going to see a lot of failing and flailing with the rush defense this year.

3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for Iowa State?

Offensively there's a lot to choose from but you have to start with Bibbs at the tight end spot. He's a little shorter than the average tight end but is fast, bulky, and has soft hands. He's a match up problem for anyone and Mangino has every intention of splitting him out wide and seeing how teams can handle him in one on one situations. Ranking just behind Bibbs will be running back Aaron Wimberly. Wimberly was known for his coming out party against Texas last year, but his slight frame and our previous offensive coordinator's meat grinding style left him hurt for parts of last season. Wimberly is that classic scat back type player that can do it all, and will be the second focus of the offense after Bibbs.

Defensively this is a tough question to answer. No one stands our specifically, but Morrissey is probably the most consistent and has had a steady climb in production since first stepping on the field in 2012. He's bigger than he was last year and will be tasked with anchoring the defensive line while still putting pressure on the quarterback. You'd need to turn your attention to the secondary to find the next best player on defense, which would be sophomore cornerback Nigel Tribune. Tribune was pressed into duty last year against Texas, and saw significant action in every game thereafter. Tribune is physical (sometimes in detrimental way) and never lets his receiver catch the ball cleanly if he can help it. Paul Rhoads likes bigger corners and Tribune has the potential to become one of the best in the Big XII over the next three years.

BONUS: You all have written a bit about Grant Rohach and how it appears that he's taken control of the quarterback job. Statistically, he appears similar to Sam Richardson, but I'd love to hear how you believe that Rohach differs to Richardson.

We actually do a solid breakdown of the two men in our camp preview of the quarterback position, but the long and short of it is this: Richardson is the more athletic of the two but has been prone to run too quickly at times, which leads his smaller frame open to hits and subsequent injuries. It's my personal belief that Richardson is more accurate and a better decision maker, but Mangino needs a quick decision maker, which Rohach is capable of doing. As of last weekend it was a dead heat between the two, and Rhoads has said they want to make a decision after this weekend's scrimmage. I'm comfortable with either man winning the job, but think Richardson exhibits more upside.

From the Spring:

Much to my dismay, I couldn't find any transcribed quotes from Rhoads during the spring, so I'm taking the next best thing and grabbing some of his quotes from the Big 12 Media Day.

Opening Statement:

We've had a great summer as a football team and notably with NCAA rule changes we've been able to spend time around our kids. And that's made for a most enjoyable summer to watch our guys develop and to work and to train hard towards the 2014 season. We have six new coaches on our football staff. That's a lot of change. That's a lot of transition highlighted by the addition of Mark Mangino to our staff. He inherits an offense that is experienced with a group of quality players. Two of them are with us today. E.J. Bibbs, who I think is the best tight end in the Big 12 Conference and certainly one of the best in the country, and Tom Farniok, a four-year starter, for us on offense. We've also got playmakers in Quenton Bundrage at wide receiver and Aaron Wimberly at wide receiver.

On the defensive side of the ball will be a young, spirited group and, quite honestly, will be led by our defensive coordinator, veteran Wally Burnham who has been doing it for a lot of years, and I look forward to watching him mold this group certainly in the month of August if not the entire season.

On Magino:

I reached out to him and certainly had great respect for what he's done in our profession. It took me a week one day to get to Pittsburgh through Detroit and as weather can be that time of year and condensed what the additional interview process I wanted it to be. I spent eight years in Pittsburgh, and Mark's a western PA guy. So we knew each other through mutual people that way and had a respect because of that. Coached against him in 2009, my first year as the head football coach at Iowa State, and then his proven track record as a play caller, as a tough guy, type of coach in what he could bring to our offensive mentality that way, but at the very top of the list was the simplicity with which his offenses have had success, and that was something that our program needed.