By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
As he does every Monday, Iowa State head football coach Paul Rhoads met with members of the media today to discuss the upcoming week in Cyclone football. Rhoads and the Cyclones will head east to take on rival-Iowa this Saturday in Kinnick Stadium. The game will kick off at 2:30 and will air on ABC. Here is the complete transcript from Rhoads’ Monday press conference.
We are excited to line up for what we believe is our first of four games against top 10 opponents in the country, a team who some predict will contend for the national championship in the University of Iowa and rightly so. We don’t see any weak spots in this football team. Offensively, defensively, special teams, we certainly have our work cut out for us. We got that week started with a good day of preparation yesterday. Today, the players are off with the opportunity to come in and watch film on their own. We will get back to work tomorrow afternoon.
You mentioned on Thursday night that you thought Austen was a little inconsistent in the opener. After watching the tape back, what is your assessment of Austen’s game?
PR: Very good. A small amount of inconsistency. He threw two bad interceptions. They were bad decisions on his part and bad balls on his part. But he threw for 75 percent accuracy with 36 thrown balls, which is something that he didn’t do a year ago. Some of those 27 completions were outstanding balls. He did a great job of executing and running the offense. He did an excellent job of running the football. I was very pleased with Austen’s first performance.
Do you get the feeling that Austen really wants to make up for the game he had against Iowa last season?
PR: I’m sure that he does and there lies the challenge of making sure we have our quarterback prepared just to play his best game and not to press and make amends. He just has to go out and perform and execute as one of 11.
What other things have you learned from reviewing the tape?
PR: We tackled better than I probably thought we did. We missed 14 tackles overall but they came in bunches when they did. There were a number of plays in a row at times when they did. I thought we maybe missed upwards of 18 to 20 and overall, we tackled better than I thought we did. I think defensively, we ran around really good. We played with outstanding effort. I think that our offensive execution offensively at times was really sharp. Then, we took our foot off the gas and did not, especially in the third quarter.
Can you talk about the play of your linebackers?
PR: I think that they got off to a really good start in their careers as linebackers. Certainly they have played special teams a little bit. There were enough mistakes there to keep them grounded and keep them humble. We will learn from that. I talked to them both about that yesterday as they were stretching. The great thing about those kids is that they are fully aware of it. They know it. They have a lot to learn and a long ways to go, but they are willing to put in the effort and give themselves an opportunity to have those types of performances, week in and week out.
How does playing Northern Illinois’ offense prepare you for Iowa?
PR: They are different. I think the number one thing that helps you prepare is they are both physical in nature. They both like to come off the ball and knock you off the line of scrimmage. They try to run the ball north and south. That is the biggest bit of preparation that we get that we don’t get from our own offense.
Where do you sit on David Sims right now?
PR: He will compete for the starting job. He got one day at it yesterday. Tomorrow and Wednesday will be the days that settle that out. It will be Bob Elliott’s (secondary coach) decision, he and Wally Burnham, who they feel are the best two to put out there for the first snap.
What does he bring to the table?
PR: Well I think he brings a third safety. We have three guys who we are confident that we can put out there in Mike O’Connell, Zac Sandvig and David. He had two excellent interceptions in this game a year ago, so he has the ability to make big plays in the passing and running game. He is an explosive player and he brings that presence to our defense.
Was the Iowa game the low point for your team last season?
PR: I think it was probably a low point because we played so poorly. The turnovers really don’t give a team much of a chance to win. That’s what we did. We played out of character. We’d pride ourselves in playing disciplined, playing smart and playing sound. I don’t feel that we did it in that game and neither do our players.
Do you think that confidence is an issue for your team after last year’s performance?
Who is your punter?
PR: They will be competing as well. Yesterday was actually our kickoff return day. They hit the balls, the specialists and both hit it well. Both hit it well with me chirping in their ears. We’ll see if they can continue to do that on Tuesday and Wednesday, then we’ll make a call.
Are you worried about that?
PR: Yeah. To what extent, with only one punt, and one bad punt…Michael Brandtner had a number of bad punts a season ago. He had a great year so concerned yes. Worried at this point? No.
Where do you think your running game is right now?
PR: On course. They had a lot of people in the box on Thursday night. They were going to make us beat them with the passing game. Austen and the rest of the offense did that. They had seven and eight defenders in there at every opportunity to stop Alexander. They did a good job of that. First game things that we need to get taken care of, how we block, the footwork and precision of our blocking…We’ll get that done this week.
What does Iowa’s defense do that sets it apart from a lot of other teams in the country?
PR: I think that they just play extremely well. They are not a flashy team and they are not a flashy team by their own account. They have a front four that is as good as any front four in the country, if not the best front four in the country. They have a coordinator who really does a fantastic job, as well as his entire defensive staff at preparing their kids. There is something to be said about doing something over and over and over, and doing it well. That is the University of Iowa.
What have you seen from Iowa’s defensive line that makes you think they are one of the best in the country?
PR: They allow them to stop the run and deploy their linebackers to defend the pass. As I just described with Northern Illinois, most teams’ answer for stopping the run game is packing it in there. Having all of your linebackers between the tight ends and putting an extra safety in there. Iowa doesn’t have to do that. They have guys who have the ability to get off blocks, to take care of multiple gaps and make plays without all of those players having to be in there. That allows them to spread out and now the quick passing game isn’t as open to you because they have linebackers out there covering that now. That is what makes it such a special unit, as well as the ability to put pressure on the quarterback to make you step up and throw the ball on time.
With all of the questions out there with conferences right now, how important is it to you, as an Iowan, to keep this series going in the future?
PR: I would love to see this series keep going. It is important to everybody in the state. With that in mind, I think that the game should continue to be played but that is out of my hands and certainly won’t be decided for years to come because the Big Ten’s schedule as I understand it, is not set for just a few years from now. If they go to a nine game schedule, if they do, then decisions will have to be made.
When you came here in 1995, what was the rivalry like then compared to what it is now?
PR: It didn’t exist. We were playing the game but there was no rivalry to it. As we recruited in the late 90’s, the kids who we were recruiting had never seen Iowa State beat Iowa. It might have happened when they were one or two, but they didn’t recall it. There was no rivalry until we went over in 98 and beat them in Kinnick Stadium. Then it became a game again and I think to the enjoyment of the state and the fans, it became a game again.
How do you remember that game in 98 Paul?
PR: I remember walking out here to the east side of Jack Trice Stadium where our practice fields used to be, on that Friday afternoon doing walk-thrus and we were horrible! I was coaching the secondary at the time and they couldn’t get a thing right on Friday afternoon, when you should have everything right. We walked off the practice field and Jeff Waters and Jamarcus Powers came walking up to me and they wrapped their arms around me, one on each side and said, ‘don’t worry coach. We’re all right.’ They were and we went over there and played a heck of a football game with a defense that swarmed all day. Darren Davis carried the rock and did a good job of leading the offense.
Darius Reynolds only caught two passes on Thursday night. Are you not showing everything with him yet or is that just the way that it worked out?
PR: I think the way we spread the ball out, it was the way that this particular game turned out. All five of those receivers that we played caught balls. Collin Franklin had a big night and Alexander caught a number of balls out of the backfield. I think it is just a matter of spreading it out and finding targets based on certain plays when Darius was on the field. Nothing to hold him back or nothing to reflect that we aren’t thinking highly of him or that other guys are ahead of him.
What does Collin Franklin bring to this team this year?
PR: Hopefully the same type of statistics that he did on Thursday night. I remember saying hi to Norm before the game a year ago. He was commenting on Collin and what type of player he thought he was and what type of weapon he thought he was. I was biting my lip because I knew how sick he was and I knew that he wasn’t going to be much of a factor that day. It turned out that he wasn’t a great factor all season long because of that sickness and lack of strength that he had to deal with. I believe that everybody saw the real Collin Franklin and what he is capable of against Northern Illinois. It needs to continue for us to be a good football team.
Now that you are doing this for your second year, what kind of a challenge does Iowa provide, not only on the field but in recruiting and getting some of the spotlight and what not?
PR: This is a fun game. What I mean by that is that it that they are just a sound, fundamental football team. It gives you a great measure of where you are at with this team and with your program. Can you go out there and be just as sound as them? Can everybody take care of their gaps? Can you move the ball against a defense that is going to end up, statistically, as one of the best in the country? It gives you a measuring stick of where you are at, at this particular point.
Paul how did you grade out the play of your offensive line against Northern Illinois?
PR: I would say ‘good’ is how they graded out and not ‘great.’ We gave up a sack and a pressure or two. Even though they had packed it in there, you would like to believe that if we are going to run the ball like we think we are capable of, we could still create some creases and holes for Alexander to run though for some yards in the run game. They are going to have to play extremely well against this defensive front. We are going to have to be able to throw the ball and to throw the ball, you have to have time. To throw the ball, you have to run the ball so they are going to have to open up holes against a team that we didn’t get holes opened up a year ago. The staff is going to have challenges of figuring out exactly how to get that done, and then put a game plan in those players’ hands to go out and execute.
With his performance against Iowa a year ago, did Kelechi Osemele show you the type of player that he could eventually be?
PR: I believe he did. Kelechi had a good season as a sophomore. He had a fantastic training camp and I think he had a good game against Northern Illinois. I think they moved on him a little bit and he missed a block or two. You could see the dissatisfaction in him, which is what I want to see in all of our football players when something like that happens.
If somebody has never seen Alexander Robinson run, describe some of the things that he brings to the table.
PR: He is going to be around for all 60 minutes of the game. What I mean by that is that sometimes he appears to be running tentative. He’s just very methodical by the way he approaches the game. Then it is two yards, then it is two yards, then it is three yards. A lot of times, something is being accomplished by those two yard and three yard runs. Whether it is wearing your team out, whether it is the offense starting to figure out what it has to do to be successful. Then all of the sudden it becomes five and eight and occasionally a 63 yard run. He catches the ball very well and he understands the leverage when it comes to the passing game. He picks up blitzes and pressure in pass protection. He is a very intelligent player. As I stand behind the quarterback as I often do in practice, the things coming out of his mouth that I hear from him to Coach Pope asking a question a question or explaining something, or coaching Jeff and Shontrelle, or James, almost on a step-by-step basis.
What is the challenge in stopping Iowa’s Adam Robinson?
PR: He is so physical and so north and south. To me, the mark of a great running back is there are very few times when they have negative plays. He is a fall forward type of guy. He is always gaining positive yards. He runs hard, which makes it hard to wrap up and finish tackles on him. That is what we are going to have to do to be successful against him, and their running game overall.
In a game like this, how do you straddle the line between being emotional, being excited about it and also, keeping it so they don’t get burned out a day or two before kickoff?
PR: I don’t straddle that line very well with this game or any game. The game has got to be played that way. It has got to be played with raw emotion and enthusiasm. It has to be played with what I refer to as a ‘one play at at time’ focus. You can be that way. You can be excited. Kids these days, they get excited and they chest bump and they do those kinds of things. But then you have to go back to the next snap and you have to understand that you are supposed to execute and you have to do it from the snap to the whistle. That is what you have to get your kids prepared to do.
Iowa gets Jewell Hampton back on Saturday. What are your thoughts on him?
PR: From everything you read, he is one heck of a football player and I know that we are going to find that out on Saturday afternoon. Every time I pick up a newspaper to read how good he is, it scares me to death. We’ll find out Saturday. We have nothing to base that on because we haven’t had to defend him and we haven’t seen him so for Kirk to say those things about him and everybody, we know he is a fine football player.
What are the advantages of playing last Thursday and having a long week to prepare fo Iowa?
PR: It is a great advantage for a number of reasons. One, you get to rest your team a little bit. Two, we went out yesterday in shoulder pads and helmets. Normally, in a seven day week, we would have gone out just in helmets and been a little bit lighter. Three, you get to take advantage of recruiting time. We were all over the state of Iowa on Friday night, going into double-digits in games that we saw in the state of Iowa. Saturday, we got to go out and do a lot of great junior college recruiting and see teams play and get early season evaluations.