What better way to find about the Iowa State Cyclones other than to interview Mark Kieffer from Clone Chronicles, SBN's own Iowa State blog.
What will the Cyclones offensive gameplan be against the Huskies?
Offensive Gameplan: Ball Control. They run a no-huddle spread with 4 Wide (sometimes 5 with the RB motioning out wide as well), but tend to run the ball and execute short passes. The strength of the offense is the O-Line and running back position with Alexander Robinson leading the way. The O-Line was one of the best in the league, and the running back position is 4 deep with talented guys.
Robinson is a smart back and has good hands out of the backfield. He's been known to wheel route it out of the backfield, and usually defense don't pick up on it, with Robinson going for 6, or at least a huge gain.
ISU runs the zone-read quite a bit, and Arnaud is not a shabby runner either.
If we are able to stop the run, how confident are you with your quarterback (Austen Arnaud) and the passing game?
If NIU can stop the run, ISU is in trouble. The big disappointment last year was Arnaud never getting a full grasp of the offense (first year running it), and the Wide Receivers underachiving big time. I am in "wait and see" mode with the passing game. I expect it to be improved, but am not sure how much it will be. In my opinion, wide receivers are overhyped. In the Big 12, guys that are 6-2 and run a 4.5-4.6 40 are a dime-a-dozen, and ISU doesn't have WRs that stand out in comparison with the league.
If ISU is going to win games this year, they will need to pass well, to avoid having opponents stacking 8-9 in the box. That's pretty much the storyline with the offense.
The key for the defense last season was to force the turnover. What will have to happen this year for that side of the ball to be successful?
Defense: This team will continue to have to be turnover minded. The front 7 are a total wildcard but weakness on the team. If they can get a pass rush without having to sell out on the blitz, they will be fine. The secondary is very good, but when the QB has all day to throw, it makes them look much worse than they are. The defensive line has been horrible for a few years, and I expect them to be the worst in the league again.
Honestly, if ISU wins games, it will be with the defense allowing 21-24, and the offense scoring 27 and up. The coaches on that side of the ball are great, but even good coaching can't make up for lack of athleticism at times, especially on the D-Line.
How are is the Cyclone fanbase feeling about the game this weekend? Where are the expectations for this year?
Fanbase's feelings for Thursday: must win. ISU fans know if they lose this one, a bowl is not happening. We've been told all summer by the local media NIU will be tough, and I think most fans know it will be a close, grind it out type of a game. They'd be disappointed with a loss, but not completly shocked.
Expectations for the year from fans: all over the map. The analytical ones point out the #1 toughest schedule ranking by Phil Steele. The gut-feel type say "come on man, Paul Rhoads did big things last year, and that will continue.", and arrive at the conclusion that the team will win 6 games somehow.
For me, I expect the team to be better, but record to be worse compared to last year 3 or 4 wins. I will say I predicted 6-6 last year and was dead on. Last year the schedule was the 71st most difficult by Sagarin. The team was mediocre and barely got in a bowl game. It's going to take a few years before we know if Rhoads can take ISU to the proverbial next level when they are competitive week in and week out in the Big 12.
Predictions: ISU wins 20-16 in a slugfest. NIU will force ISU into their weaker areas, but I think ISU has more depth, which will help, in a grinder like this one.
Thank you so much to Mark for answering these questions and good luck on gameday!