By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
As he does every Monday, Iowa State’s head football coach Paul Rhoads met with members of the media in his weekly press conference. Below is the transcript of what went down.
No matter who is under center, how important is it for your offense to get more production out of that position?
PR: If you’re going to be productive as an offense, it starts with your quarterback position. I think there are two key areas on offense. One is the offensive line. Second is the quarterback position. I think there is plenty of room for improvement with everybody in our offense right now. From the head coach to the offensive staff to every player participating on the offensive side of the ball. The quarterback is not removed from that. Whoever is taking the center snaps needs to be making accurate throws and good decisions on the field.
Do you know who will start? Are you just playing coy or do you really not know?
PR: I really don’t at this point. I will say this about Austen Arnaud and his health. He practiced fully yesterday where a week ago, he really didn’t practice until Wednesday. He did nothing on Sunday, ran around on Tuesday and practiced on Wednesday. He did everything yesterday and if we were in pads, he could have done the same. Normally, a player is not removed from a starting position because of injury. That being said, I anticipate Austen will be out there with the first team when we take the field. Jerome did a nice job of leading our team to a victory. I don’t look past that. Does that mean both will play? Does that mean I will split time? That is what I don’t know and we’ll figure it out as the game gets here and goes along.
Can you talk about what you saw from Jake Knott on Saturday?
PR: He had 11 tackles, an interception, his third of the season and a caused fumble. If you put up those kinds of numbers in a shutout win, I would hope that you gain some recognition. I was pleased that the Big 12 office honored him as such a player. He has been consistent with his tackle numbers. His speed and hustle has been tremendous through four games. He is playing somewhat like a veteran player I believe. One of the things that doesn’t show up in numbers is finish ability on plays. The very last drive of the game on third down when we stopped them at the three or the two leading up to that last play, he flies in there and put a big hit on the quarterback to stop him where he did. That kind of stuff shows up in coach’s reports but not so much the fans and media.
Did you expect this from guys like Knott and A.J. Klein or have they exceeded your thoughts?
PR: I don’t believe they are exceeding expectations. I do believe they are fulfilling expectations. But I would also add to that we expect them to get better and better as this year goes along, let alone their careers go along. I think that the five turnovers between the two of them and two touchdowns, that is something that you don’t prepare for or see in practice. That is guys being in the right place, hustling and playing hard and are gaudy numbers at this point in the season for true sophomore linebackers.
Have those two guys been the biggest bright spots in your mind on the team this season?
PR: Well I think that Grant Mahoney is a bright spot. He has played exceptionally well. I would agree with that statement that the linebackers have been a bright spot, not only for our defense but for our football team.
Last year your team finished the season ranked second in red zone defense. This year, you’re in the top 10. Did you expect that to carry over to this year and if so, why?
PR: I think you try to create a culture in your program about certain things and that would be one of them within our defense. We have got to keep scoring output of offenses down. Our yardage that we are going to give up is going to be high. We are probably going to end up near the bottom of the league in those numbers. But if you let a team drive 60 or 70 yards, it doesn’t mean that they have to end up the drive with a touchdown. What is different between the red zone and the middle of the field? If you can stop them in the red zone, why not at the 50-yard line? Because the field gets shrunk down in the red zone. They can’t take the top off. You have an end line that begins to assist you, along with the other 11 players on the field. I think that our defense takes advantage of that and the emphasis of Wally Burnham on down helps us in that part of the field.
How much confidence will the defense take away from a shutout?
PR: I think the main thing that you take from it is the confidence that it adds to the hard work that the kids have been putting in and the plans that the coaches have been giving them. We know that we have good plans. We know that we have strong work ethic. To go our there and have success shows how we practiced yesterday. We flew around the field yesterday. We had great energy. We had great concentration and focus. We not only fixed some things that we did poorly but we moved on in preparation of Texas Tech.
Can you comment on the play of Jeremy Reeves? It seems like he is starting to play like a Big 12 cornerback.
PR: A mark of a good cornerback is a player who has a short memory and can let plays go by like the fade to start the second half. He gets beat for 30-some yards. An immature player, a player who maybe isn’t up to the level that he needs to be hangs his head and doesn’t play with the level of focus and energy the rest of the drive. He did play flawlessly on the snaps leading up to his interception. And then on his interception, if you watch closely on film, you see him look the ball in. The ball is not being thrown to his man. The ball is being thrown to Ter’Ran Benton’s man. There was excellent coverage on the play and the ball was forced to have more air on it. Jeremy came off of his man, looked the ball into his hands and then accelerated his way downfield. He was aided by the help of Stephen Ruempolhamer on a great pass rush and getting up off the ground and throwing a block later down the field. I think that Jeremy Reeves has confidence in his ability. He wants to challenge himself to be the kind of guy who his receiver or the guy in his zone is going to be involved in minimal plays because of how he plays him. He wants to be more physical as a tackler and a run defender and I think he is doing that as well. When you match that confidence and understand the game and the ability that he has, he is going to develop into a fine player for us this year.
Anthony Young had nine tackles and a fumble recovery. Your depth seems to be coming around at that spot.
PR: It is showing. We thought that it would. I thought so at that position because of the four guys we can play above the linebackers because there is depth there. Anthony Young is probably the most physical of the four corners in actuality. He will put his face on you. He brings his hips and tackles with a great physical presence. That showed up on Saturday.
Does this quarterback position put you in a tough spot or did you kind of assume that this might happen?
PR: Health is what put us in this situation. Most of you were at the game and it isn’t like Jerome went out there and looked like Terry Bradshaw, completed every pass and led us to 50 points. Neither one of them, as they know and they would be the first to admit to you as well, have played up to the expectations that we have of our offense. I talked to the entire offense about that on Sunday and without hesitation, they agreed with the assessment of where they are at right now. I think that we have a very determined group and how they are approaching this week, whether it is Austen, Jerome or whoever, I am anxious to see our guys finish out this week and see them play the game on Saturday.
Why hasn’t Alexander Robinson gained 100 yards yet?
PR: Alexander probably had his best game on Saturday of the four. I thought he was less tentative. I thought he was faster at hitting holes. I thought he was more aggressive at running the ball. He had limited carries. He had what 15 carries for 70-some yards or something like that? Those are pretty good numbers. I think the fact that we played some other guys more like Jeff Woody and even Shontrelle Johnson cuts back on those numbers. We are being forced to throw it a little bit more because we haven’t thrown it effectively. People are saying ‘if you are going to run it, we’ll stop the run and make you throw the ball and beat us like that.’ We haven’t done a good enough job for Alexander to open things up and give him a 100-yard game or more explosive runs that we have seen to this point.
Your team only had one offensive play that went for over 20 yards on Saturday. How do you explain that?
PR: Protection was a factor in Saturday’s game. We had a couple set up, one where Josh Lenz was behind and another where we had a post on the other side of the field that we didn’t even throw, that the defender was behind. We are trying to set up those plays. Protection broke down on Saturday, which affected that, things of that nature. An arm tackles here or there or a missed thrown ball here or there. We simply have to execute with more precision everywhere you turn.
Do you think that Texas Tech is dramatically different under Tommy Tuberville?
PR: I don’t know enough about them, not playing them a year ago, to say how drastic of a change it is. I have started with third defense right now and haven’t looked at their offense and that would probably be the biggest change of any. The numbers I have been quoted say that they are still throwing it around quite a bit. I know that still isn’t Tommy. But I know that Tommy is also going to work to the strengths of his personnel. If he doesn’t have the folks he thinks he can run it with or if defenses aren’t giving that, he is going to throw it to what is going to be effective for his football team.
Have you talked to Tuberville since you became the coach here? Are you guys close?
PR: We are. Tommy and I have a great relationship. I have a lot of respect for what he has done in this profession. I saw him in May at a coach’s event that we have. It was like we just left Auburn the week before. He is a real easy person to get along with and there is good reason he has had the success in this business that he has.