Sep 16, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Jacob Park (10) looks downfield in the third quarter in a game against the Akron Zips at InfoCision Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Precision throws will be at a premium. Good hands? They’re essential, too.
It’s no secret when Iowa State suits up for Thursday’s 7 p.m. (ESPN) Big 12 home opener against Texas, drops must dwindle and big plays in the passing game need to increase.
But how to ensure both vital elements coincide? Rep, rep, and rep some more.
“Just execute,” said Cyclones quarterback Jacob Park, who’s completing 66.7 percent of his passes and holds an 8-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. “Execute on third down. Catch the ball. Throw the ball to the right place. Make the right decisions. Back to the fundamentals. Just the little stuff. Just refine your game and get closer to perfection.”
Little stuff. Huge game. And on paper it appears ISU (2-1) will clearly have more success through the air than on the ground against the improving Longhorns (1-2).
Texas has dramatically shored up its rushing defense, allowing just 125.3 yards on the ground versus more than 190 yards per game a year ago. The Longhorns held No. 5 Southern Cal to just 71 yards rushing on 37 carries in a tough-to-swallow 27-24 double-overtime loss on Sept. 16 in Los Angeles.
“Just period, this is an outstanding defense,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “We played these guys last year (in 27-6 loss at Austin) and I thought without a question they were the best defense that we played against. They can run. They’re talented. They — and now, kind of adding the element of even more pressure is really impressive in my opinion. So this will be a great challenge for us across the board and whether it’s running or throwing, I think all avenues of our football program we had to improve on and having a couple extra days (of practice) gave us a chance to really start to go back to our fundamentals and our details of what it takes for us to be successful.”
ISU, meanwhile, is on pace to eclipse several aerial-based records. Park’s throwing for 311.7 yards per game — good for 14th nationally.
Four Cyclone receivers boast 130 or more yards through the air, led by Hakeem Butler, with 15 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns. Add in record-setting pass catcher Allen Lazard (a team-best 19 receptions and three touchdowns), Trever Ryen, Marchie Murdock and still-explosive Deshaunte Jones, and its clear ISU fields an elite receiving corps that simply needs to diminish juggling near-misses.
“We’ve had a few drops as a group, but we also make a lot of plays,” Butler said. “We’ve just got to throw and catch the ball consistently.”
That’s why the Cyclones returned to fundamentals with extra practices at their disposal in preparation for the Big 12 opener.
But don’t sleep on the running game, either. Elusive and powerful David Montgomery has rushed for 100 or more yards in four of the past six games and Texas’s defense was vulnerable in all aspects during a disquieting 51-41 season-opening home loss to Maryland.
“They’re good at stopping the run, but we’re still going to run the ball,” Butler said. “David’s a great back.”
And don’t put too much stock into that Longhorns loss to the Terrapins. Campbell said it’s likely new Texas coach (and former ISU offensive coordinator) Tom Herman and his staff were still sorting out personnel issues and trying to establish an identity. Campbell feels they’ve done both — as evidenced by the resilient performance 10 days ago against the Trojans.
“You just see a team that really knows who they are a lot more into game (four) than they did maybe into game one,” Campbell said.
He hopes the same can be said about his Cyclones, once the lights dim late Thursday night over Jack Trice Stadium.
“Really excited and great to be able to be on this stage, certainly, for our program,” Campbell said.
Campbell said Kamilo Tongamoa continues to progress as a young Division I player — and added because of his late arrival, it’s like he’s nearing the end of fall camp, not entering the second third of the season.
“He didn’t get any bigger, which is positive,” Campbell said of the talented JUCO transfer defensive tackle. “Hopefully he’s going in the right direction size-wise. I think Kamilo, you’re only going to continue to see him increase and you really have in three games that we’ve played. I think Kamilo’s one of those guys that only will continue to grow.”
Campbell also said Jamahl Johnson (high ankle sprain) is getting healthier, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be back this week.
“I think he’s a guy, again, you talk about depth and having some guys that can give you some purposeful snaps, he’s another guy I’d throw in the boat too,” Campbell said.
SAME GUY, EVERY DAY
Montgomery’s a man of few words. They’re always well-chosen, though. Here’s his take on the big stage he and the Cyclones will be taking against Texas:
“The same as any other game to me,” Montgomery said. “The difference is, it’s nighttime.”