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2010 Nov 05

FIVE KEYS: ISU

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By HuskerLocker

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In his post-game presser after a 52-38 win over Texas Tech, Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads couldn't stop gently pounding the lectern. His blood was still pumping after playing a game that most – including some ISU fans – gave the Cyclones little chance of winning.

He wanted to sum up the whole night - how Iowa State had jumped the Red Raiders with a series of smart plays, how embattled quarterback Austen Arnaud soldiered through injuries and delivered one of his best career games - with a simple anecdote.

“We had a pregame meal a 2 o'clock,” Rhoads said, rubbing a hand through his tussled hair. “Pregame meal at 2 o'clock. Our team was there eight minutes early. Ready to eat.”

He paused.

“We were ready to play.”

Rhoads doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it like a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. And he's precisely what Iowa State – forgotten, downtrodden, a little maligned – needed, right when ISU needed him.

“He knows exactly what this team is going through, it seems like, at all times,” Arnaud said.

He's very different from the rather secretive, reluctant Bo Pelini, who declined to share even a clever joke about how he prepared his team for Saturday's home game with Missouri by driving them on buses out of town and back again – as if to say “here we are.”

It's a sharp little dose of humor that not only cut the tension, but served as a small lesson, too: We'll change our routine a little bit, but some of this stuff was in your head. Get rid of it because driving around on a bus is a little ridiculous. Given NU's first-quarter barrage over Mizzou, I'd suggest the teaching hit its mark.

Rhoads leaves no stone unturned and openly rallies the media, the fans and the student body to the Cyclones' cause. As he must. Bo insulates his team from the nonstop deluge of speculation, adulation and attention. I think he closes the lid too hard, and sometimes tries too much to obscure matters that seem rather plain to sentient folks, but his style is also, to some extent, out of necessity.

On with the keys:

Turnovers: Any game between Iowa State and Nebraska must include this storyline, especially after the 2009 contest, when NU handed the Cyclones eight gift-wrapped morsels of hope. ISU actively goes after the ball like few teams in the Big 12 – or college football.

There's a downside to that approach, of course: Unsuccessfully tackling the ball – which the Cyclones do a lot - leads to broken tackles and yards after contact. Iowa State willingly sacrifices some technique for a shot at a takeaway. If Nebraska protects the ball well, it could be worth a lot of yards and point for the Big Red.

Speed: Nebraska's fastest team in memory sure showed it against a pretty speedy squad in Missouri. Iowa State certainly doesn't have the quarterhorses to hang with the Huskers for four quarters without some help from turnovers. Watch for this disparity to show up most readily in special teams, where the Cyclones field one of the nation's worst kickoff and punt coverage units, while NU gets back Eric Martin from a one-game suspension.

Tempo: Iowa State is slow and steady, building its scoring drives play by play, third down conversion by third down conversion. Nebraska's is, of course, getting its doctorate in big plays. ISU's aims with time of possession and clock control are similar to that of Kansas State: Steal time and bleed the clock. NU will have to stay patient, consistently win early downs on drives and not press too hard to create big plays when they're not available. So much of the Huskers' loss to the Cyclones in 2009 was about panicking throughout the second half, especially in the fourth quarter.

Jack Trice: Because of its setup, it's a wind tunnel that serves as the Big 12's most frigid field – oh yes, much more so than Folsom Field or Memorial Stadium. While that won't be an issue Saturday – expect a gorgeous day – the expected crowd of 56,000 will be cozy and loud. ISU has good fans, and the Cyclones have been waiting for this game since the last one. NU should face its toughest – yet good-natured - road crowd of the year.

Magic Healer: Ankles sprains don't typically heal overnight. But Taylor Martinez appears to be the quickest of healers – so much so that offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called him “Superman” Tuesday. We'll see. NU might be employing a bit of gamesmanship with the Cyclones this week, presenting Martinez as 100 percent when he may be short of that while Zac Lee waits in the wings to run the show Saturday.

Lee can handle that kind of scrutiny; he won key road games at Kansas and Colorado last year under similar circumstances. But Martinez, I suspect, wants badly to play in Ames, where his father played one season for former ISU coach Jim Walden. It Martinez can have his wheel at 80 percent, he'll play. If not – sit him and trust NU has enough athletes to prevail anyway.

Tags: five keys, isu game, taylor martinez, bo pelini, paul rhoads, eric martin, zac lee

Comments (1)

Profile image for HuskerBoPower
HuskerBoPower

Again, I say that if TMagic isn't 100%, but could play, that the coaches start Lee, and if NU seems to need a change of pace and the game is in question because of QB play, then insert TMagic. But if you don't need him vs ISU, and he isn't 100% healthy, rest him for a job well done, and he will be fresh going into the home stretch of the season. No dishonor. Martinez may want to play at ISU since that is where his Dad played, but he will be at the game on the sidelines regardless. Remember also that Lee has put in the time and been a team player, and he deserves every snap he gets in his senior year. Lee likely won't make it in the NFL, so this is his last year, and unfortunately for him, Martinez just had too much upside not to start him. So, Lee's opportunities are dwindling in his senior year, and TMart wants a shot to play ISU at ISU where his Dad played and NU will not revisit. Both players have sentimental reasons to play, so those cancel each other out. It all depends on Martinez's health and how he practiced this week vs Lee.

– Nov 5, 2010 at 10:15 am

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