AMES — Just try to pry the lid off the first offensive game plan Mark Mangino’s devised for ISU.
You’ll utterly fail — and receive answers like this:
“I think we’ll just let our play speak for itself on Saturday,” understandably guarded Cyclone offensive line coach Brandon Blaney said. “I don’t want to get into any types of schemes, or evolutions or anything like that. We’ll let our performance speak for itself, good or bad.”
ISU will take the field at 11 a.m. against FCS power North Dakota State well-versed in the fundamentals of an offense cloaked in secrecy.
It’s simple, we’ve been told, but multi-faceted.
Receivers up and down the depth chart could shuttle in and out, possession by possession, quarter by quarter.
The run-pass ratio could be fairly balanced.
Then again, it might not be, too.
Mangino — who owns the distinction of being honored as both the national assistant coach and head coach of the year — and his staff won’t offer any hints, tip-offs or tendencies.
And why would they?
“Our game plan is basically what we do and what our kids are good at and how it matches up with who we’re playing,” Mangino said.
Keep ‘em guessing?
Right on, coach.
“We’ll find out,” Bison coach Chris Klieman said. “We get to go against our offense all the time which is smashmouth, power, pound it at you. So we’re ready for that kind of attack. I don’t think that will be Iowa State’s attack, so I think time will tell.”
One thing’s certain: A reinvigorated Sam Richardson will call the offense’s shots in the field, while Mangino surveys the big picture from the box.
“This is Sam’s job,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said. “This is Sam’s season.”
Richardson’s legs, when fresh, greatly augment a Cyclone rushing attack that managed 168 yards on 44 carries in last season’s opening loss to Northern Iowa.
So pound it or pass it at the three-time defending FCS champion Bison?
Time, as Klieman said, will tell.
But ISU’s primary offensive goal has been clearly defined.
“We want to start fast and come out and see what we can do on offense,” said Richardson, who’s thrown 19 career touchdowns to seven interceptions. “Get some points on the board.”
And keep going.
The Cyclones, as is well known, sputtered early in games during last season’s 3-9 run.
As CF’s Kirk Haaland noted early this week, ISU managed just four first-quarter touchdowns against FBS foes in 2013.
The Cyclones did score one in last year’s loss to the Panthers, but trailed the final three quarters of the game.
“(That loss) motivates us to not let it happen again,” ISU center Tom Farniok said.
Same goes for the defensive side of the ball, where Wally Burnham’s largely unproven cast of characters must bow up against the Bison’s “old-school” offense.
NDSU features formidable runner John Crockett, who rushed for 1,277 yards and 11 touchdowns as a No. 2 back last season.
“They’re downhill, very physical,” Burnham said. “You’ve got to match their physicality. You’ve got to hang in there. They want to shorten the game for them.”
NDSU out-possessed teams by more than seven minutes per game in 2013.
And how’s this for “fast” starts: The Bison outscored opponents 145-34 in the first quarter last season.
The only frame in which they were better? The fourth quarter, where they held a 103-13 edge.
“They know how to win and they’re sound,” Richardson said. “Defensive-wise, they’re not going to mess up many assignments or anything like that. You’re not going to get many free ones out there.”
Nor should they.
That’s where Mangino comes in.
His plan, though under wraps, takes into account each possible contingency.
His “on the fly” coaching occurs during game week — and it’s no secret that wherever he’s gone, he’s been successful.
“Our offense is pretty legit,” ISU’s preseason all-Big 12 tight end E.J. Bibbs said on media day. “I like it.”
So, apparently, does Mangino.
During that media day, he held court for several minutes, surrounded by national and local reporters.
He smiled and seemed utterly at ease.
Then, he said this:
“I’m fortunate, I’m lucky,” Mangino said. “I’m with good people and good players. So we’re going to live for today and be ready for tomorrow. That’s how it works in my world.”