VTM: It seems that Iowa State hasn't been on the national stage, in a good way, since the days of Seneca Wallace. Of course there is the goal line stand that wasn't against UT in 2013 that was in the national news, but through it all, Iowa State has one of the best fan bases in the country. Doesn't seem to matter what the record is, the fans always show up and the players always fight hard. A scary combination to teams vying for a Big 12 title. What is it about Iowa State that makes them so tough to play?
WRNL: For most of Paul Rhoads' tenure his teams lived and died by their hallmark of physicality. This was readily apparent with linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein running the defense from 2010-2012. That physicality remained after their departure but began to whither over time and bottomed out in last season's 2-10 performance. Prior to last year there was no doubt in any fan's mind that a Rhoads coached team was going to make up for a lack of talent by outworking and outsmarting opposing teams, and that plays well to people in Iowa.
There are no pro sports in Iowa, so the dedication of the fans is channeled completely in to the two FBS schools in the state. Plus it never hurts to have tailgating surrounding the stadium and the opportunity to spend most of the day lubricating oneself before heading to the game.
VTM: Iowa State have always seemed to have their back and forth even if, from a distance, on different program levels. Earning back to back wins over Tech in 2010 and 2011, before dropping 3 highly contested games the next three years to day. Losing by 11 points in 2012, 7 in 2013 and 3 last year. What makes the games against Tech, such close contests and good games all around?
WRNL: I think early on the close games were due in large part to Rhoads' rivalry with Tommy Tuberville and knowing the ins and outs of how Tuberville coached (Rhoads was Tuberville's DC in 2008 at Auburn). There was always a noticeable uptick in how the team performed when Texas Tech was on the other sideline and it was exhibited by some very tight games during Tuberville's tenure.
Since Kingsbury took over I think the reason for close games has more to do with the relative talent level of both squads. The Texas Tech that Kingsbury took over and is trying to build does not have the talent that the Mike Leach teams of the mid to late 2000s did.
VTM: Your head coach, Paul Rhoads has been talked about recently as having a hot seat when it comes to job security. Is that actually the case in Ames, or do you think Coach Rhodes is the right guy for the job?
WRNL: He's most definitely on the hot seat after matching Gene Chizik's two year record of 5-19 the past two seasons. Iowa State didn't look competitive in half of their Big 12 games and set a school record for largest margin of defeat on the road against Baylor in 2013. Rhoads has had some big wins in Iowa State's record books but his lows are on par with what was going on in the 90s during the late stages of the Big 8 and early stages of the Big 12. Attendance is up, fan support is growing, and the investment in football has never been higher. Simply put, winning two or three games a year is not what Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard expects.
To answer the question more directly, yes, I feel Rhoads is somewhat the right guy for the job. He's a local guy, loves Ames, and is the best ambassador that Iowa State can have. Lately though he's made a lot of rookie head coaching mistakes when it comes to program and personnel management. What's more saddening is these mistakes are coming in years 5, 6, and 7 when you wouldn't expect them to happen. In the end those mistakes might ultimately be his undoing.
VTM: While on the subject of head coaches, can we play Six Degrees of Separation? Gene Chizik bolted from Iowa State after going 5-19 in two years, to Auburn and almost overnight wins a National Championship. Obviously he fell into Cam Newton there, but how does a coach go 5-19 at one job to one of the best jobs in the SEC after Tuberville leaves? See what I did there?
WRNL: Two reasons: Gus Malzahn and the difficulty of recruiting/winning in Ames.
Malzahn is the closet thing to an offensive genius in this day and age and he just so happened to be paired up with the perfect quarterback for his system. It's pretty easy to see his influence when he leaves for Arkansas State, Auburn falls apart, Chizik loses his job, and he returns only to be a few plays away from winning another national championship with Chizik's players.
As for the latter, Ames is notoriously tough to get recruits to on visits. There are no direct flights, the closest major airport is 45 minutes away, and Iowa doesn't produce a lot of DI talent that can make a drive to Ames on a moment's notice. Rhoads and his staff feel confident that when they can get parents on campus they will win the recruiting battle, but the NCAA currently doesn't allow schools to pay transportation for parents on recruiting trips.
VTM: If Paul Rhoads seat is getting warmer, what does he need to do this year to keep his job? Obviously, getting a win in Lubbock will help. And what do they need to do to take the next step?
WRNL: Before the season the popular rumor around Ames was "bowl or bust", and I think that was true. However, the team has clearly improved with an infusion of JUCO talent on defense and an experienced offense that has yet to find its groove, but is not turning the ball over at a high rate. I'm a firm believer that this team could still go bowling, and would feel even stronger about it had a last second kick against Toledo went wide before Iowa State fell in overtime.
If Cole Netten makes that kick Iowa State is 3-1 with three home games remaining and a few winnable contests on the road. Ultimately I think because of the clear improvement a 5-7 record will keep Rhoads in Ames.
VTM: Most Tech fans think Iowa State isn't worth the worry until the game actually arrives... Then we get nervous. Coming off a good win over Kansas, how much confidence is ISU bringing to Lubbock this week?
WRNL: A lot. Kansas thumped Iowa State in Lawrence last year for their only Big 12 win, and it happened due in large part to player effort. That was not the team that took the field last Saturday. Despite some early miscues on offense and special teams this team was focused, knew what they had to do, and dominated Kansas for the better part of the game.
This team knows they're better. The defense isn't giving up as many big plays and is getting stops on 3rd down, and the offense is finding an identity behind a redshirt freshman tailback. They're not overconfident, but now they're figuring out what it takes to win.
VTM: Speaking of the game, who should Tech fans look/worry about on the Iowa State side of the ball?
WRNL: Be afraid of Mike Warren, the aforementioned redshirt freshman tailback. He's got size, quick feet, and some stellar vision. He's rushed for over 100 yards the last two games and set an ISU freshman single game rushing record against Kansas last week. Given Tech's current state of affairs with stopping the run this could be a long afternoon if Warren gets clicking early, which will then free up receivers Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage in one-on-one coverage.
VTM: Tech gets the win if...?
WRNL: Tech wins if they can get explosive plays out of the offense, force some missed tackles, and keep Iowa State well under 200 yards rushing.
VTM: Iowa State gets the upset if...?
WRNL: Ball control. Not only with rushing and controlling the clock, but holding on to it. Sam Richardson threw two picks last week, one of which was returned for a pick six. You simply cannot give a team like Tech more possessions than they deserve. Additionally, limited Tech's big plays. The team with the most explosive plays at the end of the day wins.
WRNL: I've felt Iowa State could win this game for awhile, and that belief was strengthened the last few weeks seeing how the defense has been coming together. Tech has played a brutal schedule at a breakneck pace and no one knows how they'll respond to that as the schedule lightens up. However, I have seen this game before: Iowa State plays a team with a clearly disadvantaged area on defense and fails to capitalize. The Cyclones should run for 200+ yards on Saturday, but I could see Tech finally figuring out their run defense for the first time this season and eeking out a victory. Texas Tech 31, Iowa State 30