By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
As he does every Monday, Paul Rhoads met with the media today to talk about his Cyclone football team. Iowa State is 1-2 with a home game against Northern Iowa on the horizon this Saturday. Here’s a complete transcript of today’s press conference.
Can you give us an update on Austen?
PR: We took it easy on him yesterday and held him out. We didn’t want to jar the shoulder around. We gave him an extra 48 hours of rest with today being our day off. We’ll see how he is tomorrow and that will determine how much he practices and how much he works.
Is his arm mobile or is it in a sling?
PR: He is mobile. With a soft tissue like that, they try to get it as active as they can as fast as they can.
Is there any doubt that he will start Saturday?
PR: Not based on his history. The fact that he had a similar injury two years ago in his throwing shoulder and played through it, I don’t see any issues.
What is Bailey Johnson’s situation?
PR: I don’t know. Bailey’s injury is interesting and unique and unpredictable. He had a stress fracture in that leg a couple of years ago. He has got a bone growth in between the two bones in his lower leg. When you have rotation and twisting in that leg, it gets extra stress provided because of that. It flared up through training camp, towards the end of it, and he’s been playing hurt through the first two games. He just wasn’t able to go in this game. He is day-to-day to see how much he can utilize the push off going into this game against UNI.
How would you assess your team’s passing game so far this season?
PR: Inconsistent, in a word. The Northern Illinois game, we were very sharp. We completed 75 percent of our passes. That helped move the chains and find the end zone. What’s lacking in it is the deep ball, the explosive play and when we’ve had our opportunities, we haven’t capitalized on that. At times, we can move the sticks with the best of them but the odds and the numbers work against you when you have to work long fields all of the time. We haven’t been blessed with great field position. So even though we can be productive with several seven and eight yard catches over the course of a long field, it is hard to continue that and be successful.
There seem to be a lot of people who are second-guessing Austen Arnaud and blaming everything on him. What can you say to those people who are doing that?
PR: I don’t have to speak to those people who are blaming everything on him. I have to speak to our football team and our quarterback. He has to be more productive. He, like every other player on our team has a series of responsibilities in every play. He needs to make sure that he is doing those to the best of his ability on a consistent basis.
You said before the season that in order to be successful, your team needed to score well over 20 points a game. How disappointing has that been so far?
PR: It is extremely disappointing. We sit here 1-2 in large part that we are not scoring points. I’ve spent a lot of time with the offensive staff over the last two days to figure out things that we can do to upgrade, specifically in that area. Some of those things are out of control. You score more points in short fields. We haven’t been blessed with them. Explosive plays are something that we have to find a way to get into the offense and our production. Getting Alexander Robinson free on some runs, which we have only done once, contributes to that. There are a number of things that we are looking to get the offense unleashed, as you will. We’ll practice hard in preparation to do that on Saturday night.
Will you try to stretch the field with your receivers a little more on Saturday night?
PR: Yeah. I think that will come into play as we go on through the season. You have to pick and choose. The longer routes you run, the more time you better have. Against the pass rush that we faced against Iowa, that wasn’t going to be the case. We were able to set up some things in the Kansas State game and like I said, didn’t take advantage of those. You have to be able to throw the ball vertically down field at times and make people respect it.
Why isn’t Alexander Robinson putting up the kind of numbers that you might expect from him?
PR: I think that people are playing to stop Alexander Robinson and our run game, first and foremost. Just like we’re playing to stop other teams’ run games. Obviously, that’s not working. It is for them because we haven’t thrown the ball with enough success to make people fear that. One of the things that you have to do with your passing game to make people fear it is make big plays. It’s a recurring theme.
How wide is the talent gap between a FCS team and a FBS team?
PR: I think it is increasingly narrowing as football moves forward. We were playing Iowa. We had televisions in the locker room and we were watching Minnesota and South Dakota play. I posed a question to the staff. How has this shrunk so much? I think there are several factors. One, I think it is early offers in recruiting. You offer kids early, get early commits and there are more players leftover who develop as seniors and these programs are taking advantage of that. I think that student athletes are more developed individually overall and there are more of them because of that different position. I think that the advancement of spread offenses where people are having to makes plays in the open field allows those teams to have a chance, with one or two game breakers on the field. It allows them to score points and hang in games. I think that the difference is narrowing as we move forward.
Do you plan on giving a series or two to Jerome Tiller on Saturday or is it best to go the whole way with Arnaud?
PR: Jerome did a nice job coming off the bench. Jerome has the things that he has to do to play himself on the field, given the chance. But that opportunity could become available to him certainly. With Austen’s health and trying to keep him from taking so many shots, that might open up that door.
You commented on Saturday that you weren’t happy with how your team practiced. Do you anticipate improvement this week and did you see it yesterday?
PR: I do and I did. That is to no surprise. We had an excellent Sunday practice last week coming off the Iowa loss. We had an outstanding practice yesterday. The key is doing it again tomorrow. The offense practiced well on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. The defense didn’t practice as well. But you need all parts moving together if you are going to have great preparation. We’ll focus on one day at a time this week. Tuesday is at the front of our mind as we come back. They’ll know the importance of it and they already do. I would trust that we’ll have a good practice tomorrow.
What role have penalties played in your offensive struggles?
PR: Pivotal is the word that bounced into my mind. You get the ball moving down field and you are on the right side of the 50 and then you get stuck with a holding penalty or an illegal chop block. Now you are first and 20. Your mindset starts changing because you don’t want to turn the ball over because you are in field goal range. Instead of being 1st and 10 and thinking ‘touchdown, touchdown, touchdown,’ now you’re thinking about getting yourself in confident field goal range and not turning the ball over because you have to walk away with points. I think that penalties have been very pivotal in our production on the scoreboard.
What have you seen from Northern Iowa on film?
PR: Speed and the ability to make a lot of plays offensively. They have done well with the option game and the success that Kansas State had against us with the option, we know we’ll be faced with that. But this isn’t a one-dimensional team. They’ve thrown it well and they’ve ran it very well. When you can do that out of the quarterback position, that creates a lot of problems schematically for a defensive football team. At this point in the week, that is where my focus is.
The last three times that UNI has gone into a division one stadium, they’ve either won the game or been very competitive. What is it about that program that keeps them from being the least bit intimidated?
PR: They have nothing to lose. They aren’t expected to win. They are coming in and playing loose, relaxed and giving it everything they’ve got. They have the chip on the shoulder card that you play up to. They weren’t recruited by whichever institution it is and told that you couldn’t play at this level. All of those things allow a team to play up and be highly motivated as they take the field in this case.
Is there anything schematically that you can do to help your team stop the run or is it a matter of them physically just doing it?
PR: It is a combination of both. The option play, when you’re dealing with tight ends on the perimeter, which we were on both sides, you have to have two people outside of that tight end. There is a quarterback responsibility and a pitch responsibility outside. When you are trying to defend other things, sometimes it is hard to have the angles to do that. They were able to block us at the second level and not allow us to get there so that is a schematic thing that you need to be able to fix with calls. Going into the game, obviously, they had not been a big option team out of that so you have to prepare with those adjustments on the field. You have to tackle well to be a good defense. You have to get off of blocks to be a good defense. There is a combination of both speed and ability to finish things.
Is there a reason that opponents don’t commit as many penalties as Iowa State does?
PR: I looked at that a little bit on Sunday. Our numbers aren’t at the bottom of the league but in games against us, they seem to be a little bit different. Why that has occurred…who knows? Officials are like Sean Connery. They’re untouchable. So we’ll let that go.
Do you feel like Austen and Alexander are close to breaking out or are you going to have to do some things to help them out?
PR: I think there are a number of plays that we can point to. It’s an arm tackle here. It’s a trip there. It is two inches away from being a completion there. I think we are close to making plays but I also think that we need to change some things to put us in better position where that arm is not there or that trip is not there and where it is just space to see if we can finish things off.
How do you think that your offense matches up against UNI’s defense?
PR: The key is our execution and doing that with prolonged success. You look at yourself first. Its not as much matchups at this point or lack thereof. It is about 11 guys doing their job and finding space. I think that will remain the focus of our team as we go through the week and not necessarily making comparisons of how we match up.
How did Matt Morton do in his first start?
PR: He did pretty well. He was productive. He had six, seven, eight or nine tackles. He played hard. He is playing with a sore shoulder so it was a very admirable effort on his part too. Coming from a guy who was just practicing special teams not too long ago and now he is the starting SAM linebacker, I am proud of Matt and what he gave us.