Tuesday, September 11, 2007 12:05 PM CDT
ISU football: Hawkeyes far from Cyclones' only concern
By JIM SULLIVAN, Courier Sports Writer

AMES - Hype is usually the main course during Iowa-Iowa State week.

Gene Chizik knows it. On the other hand, he has other items he wants to put on the table.

During his Monday meeting with the media, the Cyclones' rookie head coach said he relished rivalry games. He wants ISU to enjoy the moment when the Hawkeyes arrive at Jack Trice Stadium for Saturday's 12:30 p.m. kickoff.

"They've got to enjoy these type of games," said Chizik.

On the other hand, Chizik said Iowa State's attention must be centered on a more important issue - getting better following losses to Kent State and Northern Iowa.

"We can't get so caught up in all the elements of the big rivalry that we don't continue to get better," added the new coach.

The list of problems has been well-documented. Iowa State is a minus-four in turnover margin. Two bad center snaps have derailed scoring drives. The offensive and defensive lines haven't always met Chizik's standards for physical play. Stopping rivals on third downs has been a problem. Bret Culbertson is 0-for-3 on field goals. An extra point was botched against UNI.

So ISU has plunged to 0-2. And the Hawkeyes are coming.

But to some extent, Iowa is not the top priority right now.

"We are on a quest to make us better," said Chizik. "Until we get ourselves better, the opponent really doesn't matter. Everybody we play from here on out is going to be good."

Chizik also said there are hints and signs of better things from his team, especially in the 24-13 loss to the Panthers.

"There are small victories that lie in there," said Chizik. "We've got to put them all together."

For instance, the penalties declined from six against Kent State to one last Saturday.

The sacks are down. Quarterback Bret Meyer has been tossed to the turf just twice in 2007, after going down 38 times last season. While Meyer has been picked four times, the downfield passing game improved, said Chizik.

The lines are showing more muscle. The kick return unit has been solid.

"There are things within our football team on offense, defense and special teams that are getting better," said Chizik. "We've got to put the whole thing together."

Chizik added, "There can be a lot of negativity that surrounds an 0-2 start, but we're not going to let that filter in and we're going to show (the players) positives, obviously. We're going to show them things that are correctable. But you can't let negativity seep into everything you do and everything you hear."

When he talked about Iowa, Chizik left negativity out of the conversation. He praised the Hawkeyes' defensive effort against Syracuse. He likes quarterback Jake Christensen and the physical style of the running backs.

"They're playing really well right now," Chizik said of the Hawkeyes.

Added linebacker Jesse Smith, "They're a great team. We're going to have to step our game up this week."

The oddsmakers Monday listed Iowa as a 16-point favorite for Saturday's meeting with Iowa State. If the Hawkeyes win, they'll claim back-to-back victories in the series for the first time since 2003-2004. As for the Cyclones, they're trying to avoid their first 0-3 start in 10 years.

Ultimately, the game itself will be the main course. Monday's session only kicked off the hype.

"There's going to be a whole lot of emotion," said wide receiver Todd Blythe. "It's going to be a crazy week from the media and the fans."

NOTES - Chizik said a game-time decision will be made on injured safety Caleb Berg. Berg has yet to play for ISU in 2007. ... Saturday's game is being televised on Versus. On metro area cable, Versus can be found on Channel 77 on Mediacom and Channel 60 for Cedar Falls Utilities customers. DirecTV subscribers can find the game on Channel 608. Dish Network users must turn to Channel 151

Contact Jim Sullivan at (319) 291-1434 or jim.sullivan@wcfcourier.com