By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Spring football is now officially over for the Iowa State Cyclones. After yesterday’s spring game, head coach Paul Rhoads met with members of the media to discuss his team’s performance. Here is a complete text version of the Q&A.
It was a beautiful, sun-drenched Jake Trice Stadium that’s for sure. I can write your opening. I was thrilled with the number of our fans that showed up today. That was fun to see the lower east side packed and the kids are appreciative of that certainly. As with any spring game, there is good and there is bad. Tuesday, we’ll follow up and critique that with the kids and we’ll put this spring to bed. The number one positive that came out of today and the entire spring was we end up a healthy football team. Within a month’s time, when Brayden Burris and Beau Blankenship get healed up, we will be 100 percent healthy football team. That is exciting as we move into the summertime.
I was encouraged by the defense capitalizing on some fumbles today. Our turnovers have been down from what we created this spring. The objective there with the offense has been accomplished and we have turned the ball over less.
A couple of the running backs I think shined today. James White operated well in space. You got to see the power of Jeff Woody. And of course, Alexander Robinson was limited in his role.
The offense recorded over 700 yards, what is that accounted to?
PR: There was an awful lot of space that they seemed to operate with today. The spring game sometimes, by play calling and play selection and by that I mean, what we allow to take place, favors one side over the other. I refer to the quarterbacks in a game like this as invisible and bulletproof at times. I think that helps them a little bit at times. There were probably a minimum of four sacks that could have potentially been called in the first half but we allowed to let the guys play. I think that they spread the ball out well. There were a number of, I don’t know if I’d call them weapons but ball carriers on the offense. A number of receivers caught balls and took advantage of it and running backs just as well.
Do you have a number two running back right now?
PR: I don’t know if we have. I haven’t put Ken Pope on the spot or Tom Herman. It is something that we will define next week as we finish off the spring. It doesn’t just matter what happened today. I will say this. I think Jeff Woody is close to the top of the heap of those three for the number two spot at this point.
What did you like from him today?
PR: He is consistent. He is the same guy every day. In coaching terms, his shoulder pads are always north and south. He is always working towards positive yards. He doesn’t carry the ball and say ‘if I get this distance, I’ll turn it into a 70-yard play.’ He is going to run hard and what he gets, he is going to get. Sometimes it might be 70-yards. That is what I like about him. At the same time, you saw James White’s speed and elusiveness today. That is created by the tempo of this offense. As a defensive coordinator, trying to go against a spread offense, one of the number one things that can get you is tempo and you can’t even get lined up. That was nothing but a sprint for James from my angle, as he split the hole and ran for the goal line. But he has that ability to make guys miss. On the goal line down there, we were coming out and it put him on the one one time. He slipped through a hole between these two microphones right here. James has that capability. I think that we have four backs that all bring something different to the table and all bring something effective to the table.
What did you like from your defense and what do you want to see them improve upon?
PR: I liked the way that they started today. I thought that they started fast, particularly the number one unit, as they came out. I thought they were physical. I’ve thought that we’ve been very physical all spring long. We’ve got to build upon that. I think that we need to have a better understanding of how to tackle. Here is what I mean by that. We do team tackling drills every day. We can execute those drills with perfection. But when it is 11-on-11 and we go out to play the game, they don’t take those drills to the field. That is youth. That is inexperience. We have got to do that better. I think we have got to play with better vision as a defensive football team. There is a progression of keys that takes place. You can’t just focus on one thing every play. Our guys need to broaden their vision and have what I refer to as bigger eyes. The more they learn to accomplish those things right there, the more growth we’ll have and the quicker growth we’ll have.
What about your linebackers?
PR: They are working on it. They are a part of that group that is young and at this point, inexperienced. There is a group of secondary defenders that are the same way. Where if you take guys like David Sims and Mike O’Connell, they play at a better standard than that right now because of their experience and they are game ready. The linebackers in this last week progressed quite a distance in that category.
Did Blankenship pull a muscle or something?
PR: MCL in Thursday’s practice. We got after it on Thursday. Sometimes that effects what takes place 48 hours later when you are trying to showcase it in front of fantastic fans. But the NCAA gives us 15 and I take advantage of all 15. We got after it pretty good on Thursday. He had a minor MCL. Beau might be healthy in two weeks. MCL is a non-surgical injury.
With A-Rob, have you kind of been careful because there isn’t a lot to prove?
PR: There isn’t a lot to prove there and I put him in probably one more series than I had originally planned because I wanted to see that first offense get something generated. He is a guy that helps them get it generated. I just see guys get tangled up around legs and knees and he’s made it to practice number 15. I don’t want to be called stupid as a head football coach. It was time to put him on the sideline.
It seemed like you played at a fast tempo today, maybe faster than last fall. Is that part of the team evolving?
PR: It was a teaching lesson today. I saw the opportunity to play at that tempo a little bit more. I think I did get my lesson plan across to both sides as we finished up. We have got to play with an urgency on both sides of the ball. We have to play with urgency for 60 minutes of a football game and that tempo allows you to teach that and allow you to be ready to respond to that. Especially in the second half, we worked hard at that tempo.
Where is the program at today compared to where it was a year ago?
PR: Certainly ahead. I don’t know how I’d quantify that with any kind of definition or numbering system. We are ahead. We are smarter as a football team. I think by smarter, I mean our overall understanding. We still make silly mistakes like the tackling angles I referred to or the vision that I talked about. We are smarter with our overall understanding of our offensive and defensive schemes. We are developed more physically as a football team. We are faster. We are quicker. We are more athletic. We change direction better. I think we are a more physical football team. Last spring, we showed glimpses of understanding how to hit and how to tackle. This spring I was never frustrated at all with that. We’ll get after you and we’ll play physical. All of those areas, we are well ahead of where we were a spring ago.
What did you want to see out of your quarterbacks today?
PR: Accuracy and production and leadership and leading a football team down the field. As we went to the increased tempo at times and I knew it would happen, drives stalled because of that. At times, we could have given them more of a chance to compose and think and process some things and work through it but that is going to happen in September and that is going to happen in October. You have to teach it and they have got to learn it. With this offense, we need to throw around 65 percent completion percentage and in some games, even better than that. Our touchdown to interception ratio has to increase. You do that by putting the ball in the air and developing those skills.
Did Jerome show you enough this spring to show you that he can compete with Austen?
PR: The exciting thing is that he showed me a lot more in this last week. That was fun to see. Jerome is a talented young man. He has great velocity in his throws. He has great ability to throw the football and obviously make people miss and create big plays. Whether the fumble on the one option was his fault or not is irrelevant. It is a great teaching point. If Jerome is going to be an every down player for us, he has got to be smart. The number one way to win football games is not to lose them. He made a decision on that play to keep it in the option. After he got stopped, he made a second decision to create another play. You can’t do that. you take the play that you have got at that point and you line up the play again. Once he gets that figured out, whether we have a quarterback race or not, we have two quarterbacks who can help us win football games and that is quite pleasing.
Austen is still number one?
PR: Oh yes. Without a doubt.