I was able to track down Mark at Clone Chronicles to help me get a better understand the Iowa State Cylcones. The Insight Bowl isn't the sexy destination that Gopher fans were hoping for but a bowl is better than no bowl and maybe facing Iowa State is the best way to remind us of this fact.
TDG - Talk about ISU's road to the Insight Bowl. Obviously the win over Nebraska highlights the season but what else should we know about how the Cyclones' schedule.
CC - Overall, I thought ISU's schedule was pretty easy. They had winnable games against Kansas and Kansas State, but just couldn't execute in crunchtime. They did get lucky against Nebraska and pulled off that huge win, but for the most part the schedule was ho-hum. North Dakota State, Army, @ Kent State, Baylor, and Colorado are all games that they were favored to win and did. Any team that was respectible with the exception of Nebraska (Iowa, Oklahoma State, A&M, and Mizzou) were all games that the other team controlled, with a few being blowouts.
TDG - After going 2-10 last year, working through a coaching change and then maneuvering a Big 12 schedule how did Iowa State get themselves bowl eligible? What was the secret to their turnaround?
CC - Last year they were one of the youngest teams in all of college football, starting a lot of true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores in some key positions. Last year was a 2-10 team that lost @ Iowa by 12, but was tied 3-3 going into the 4th quarter, lost @ UNLV by 3 in OT, at home to Kansas by 2 after being up 20-0 at halftime, and was 1 yard away from winning @ Colorado. To me, they were a team that could have won 6 games, and probably should've won 4 or 5. I don't see as huge of an improvement year over year to be honest, and I think the secret was really better execution in crunchtime, and an easier non conference schedule this year.
TDG - Let's get offensive. What makes the Cyclone offense go? I realize they are similar to the Gopher offense in that they really aren't terribly productive, but when they score what is working well? And when they are not moving the ball what are the opposing defenses doing to slow them down?
CC - Iowa State does well when running the ball. Arnaud is a good runner in addition to running back Alexander Robinson, and they execute the zone-read well. They also run WR screens, and try to take advantage of the middle with their Tight Ends. But what really makes the offense go is getting 4-5 yards/carry and continuing the drives running the ball.
TDG - Alexander Robinson is a Minnesota native and your team's leading rusher. Is Robinson going to be featured enough that we will regret not keeping him home to play for the Gophers?
CC - Alexander Robinson in my opinion should've been All-Big 12 2nd team. For the most part, he is our offense. He played most of the year with an injured hamstring, missed some time, and when playing didn't have his top gear: we saw runs of 10-20 yards, that he would've taken to the house. That said, he really fits the system the Cyclones run. The way ISU runs the ball is all about reading the holes, knowing where to go, and he does that well. He also has good hands, and can do some damage as a receiver. He is healthy, so I'd imagine he'd carry the ball a lot, and could see some passes out of the backfield as well. Since last year, he's been one of my favorite players on the team. It's hard to know how he'd do in another system; it all depends on the offense run. He's not a bruiser, and has had some injury issues the last couple of years, so his durability is a concern. But when he goes, so does the ISU offense.
TDG - Also similar to Minnesota the ISU defense was pretty good. Not great, but pretty good. Tell me about the strengths of the Cyclone defense?
CC - To me, the defense doesn't have a ton of strengths. I would say the biggest thing they have done is not give up on the play. At the end of long runs, you see the guys trying to poke the ball loose, and often times they have done that. In general, the ISU front 7 is better against the run than the pass. There isn't a ton of athelticism there, but a lot of heart. MLB Jesse Smith is a run stopper and roams all over the field in that mode. Against the pass, the Cyclones are less athletic and can be exposed. I think the secondary is good, but the defensive line can't get a good pass rush going, and the opposing QB gets too much time to find the open guy.
TDG - OK, now I'm going to get a bit frontal. Your team finished 3-5 in the Big 12 but they missed playing Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. The ISU defense is OK but they didn't have to face three of the top four offenses in the conference. The ISU offense is really bad AND they didn't have to go up against some of the better defenses in their conference. Is this team really a bowl team? I know there were a couple close losses to both Kansas squads but what about this team should the Gophers fear?
CC - Regardless of the year, ISU is going to play 3 Big 12 South teams, rotating every two years. This year, they went 1-2 against the Big 12 South opponents. If they had Texas, Oklahoma, and Tech, they would've probably gone 0-3, a one game difference, and would've missed a bowl game. No one around here is overconfident about the team. Everyone knows it was a relatively easy schedule. At the same time, there are 68 teams that get to play in a Bowl Game. If not ISU, then it would've been Louisiana-Monroe, or Louisiana-Lafayette. There has to be some benefit for playing in a BCS conference. I personally think there are too many bowl games, but it is what it is.
Now, as far as the Gophers go, something to keep in mind is that for the Seniors on the team, this is the first (and only) bowl game they have been to. ISU was thought to be Houston-bound in the Texas Bowl, so landing the Insight was a pleasant surprise. In short, ISU as absolutley ecstatic about going to this game. I would expect for Minnesota it would not, as this will be the 3rd time in 4 years heading to Tempe. I think the Cyclones are going to play with a lot of heart, and will have more fans at this game than the Gophers.
TDG - What gives you confidence heading into the Insight Bowl? Assuming you believe ISU will win, why will the Cyclones beat the Gophers? And please provide your official prediction.
CC - #6 explains most of it. I think ISU wins a close, low scoring game, due to having more heart and having a more favorable crowd. I think the final score will be something like 20-17, or 17-14.
TDG - Finally, should the Insight representatives be worried about Cyclone fans hooking up in the bathroom stalls? Is that an Iowa thing or a Hawkeye fan thing?
CC - Definitely a Hawkeye thing. Most Cyclone fans can afford to get a room. Definitely the ones heading out to Tempe can, as the plane tickets out there were crazy-expensive.
Thanks to Mark at CC and be sure check them out heading into the Insight Bowl for more coverage and insight from the enemy.