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Iowa State defense key to football team's success

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads celebrates with his team after the Cyclones' victory over Colorado on Nov. 14 in Ames, Iowa.

COLUMBIA — Weather.com predicts Saturday’s football game between Missouri and Iowa State at Memorial Stadium will be played with temperatures in the low 50s.

The game is the last of the regular season for Iowa State, but the Cyclones still might get an opportunity to play in warm weather. They are bowl eligible for the first time since the 2005 season.

“We’ve put the program a little bit more on the national map by gaining bowl eligibility,” first-year coach Paul Rhoads said on the weekly Big 12 Conference coaches’ teleconference. “And hopefully the bowl game that will follow, it helps recruiting, it helps people’s perception of you. It begins to build tradition.”

Iowa State ranks 11th in the Big 12 this season in total defense, ahead of only Texas A&M. At times, the defense has shown why it ranks so low in the conference. The Cyclones gave up 41 points to Kansas in the Jayhawks’ only conference win on Oct. 10. In that game, Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing had 442 passing yards and four touchdowns.

The Cyclones also gave up 35 points to Texas A&M. The Aggies had 267 rushing yards in a 35-10 win.

Rhoads cites the progress of his defense as important to the team’s success. In each of the team's three conference wins, the defense has allowed 10 points or fewer.

“We don’t intimidate or scare anybody,” Rhoads said. “But we’ve done a great job of keeping points off the board. They continue to develop in that regard.”

The Cyclones are coming off one such win. They beat Colorado 17-10 last Saturday.

“Their preparation and their understanding of Colorado was as good as it’s been all year,” Rhoads said. “The communication that took place out on the field, the adjustments and communication that took place on the sideline, just gave us the appearance of a very smart football team.”

When the Cyclones won at Nebraska on Oct. 24, the defense held Nebraska to seven points. Iowa State got three interceptions off Nebraska quarterback Zac Lee, and the Huskers lost five fumbles. Iowa State was able to win by scoring nine points and generating 239 yards of offense.

Rhoads didn’t always think he would see these results from his defense. He left his job as defensive coordinator at Auburn to take the Iowa State head coaching job after last season. Early in spring practice, he did not see a defense that could hold a Big 12 team to 10 points. The team’s first drill in pads did not go well for the defense.

“Our tackling was so bad, and the desire to tackle and play physical was so far off, it left us scared,” Rhoads said. “There was a bunch of ghosts sitting in the locker room after that practice. But we’ve come a long way. They’ve come a long way in the understanding of our scheme. They’ve come a long way in playing together.”

While Rhoads said his defense has made progress, he also said there is more work to do. That is one reason he is hopeful his team qualifies for a bowl game: He wants the extra practices to give his defense more work.

“You’re still having to teach so much,” Rhoads said. “It’s invaluable what you get out of those workouts.”

 


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