Another spring is almost in the books as Iowa State will take the field in Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday in front of
thousands tens of fans for the annual Cyclone Gridiron Club Spring Game.
For the first time in a few years there's an undisputed starter at quarterback with senior Sam Richardson leading the way and the offense is the focus and strength of the 2015 Cyclones. The last time the offense was this much of a focus for the Cyclones was way back in 2006 when Bret Meyer and Todd Blythe led the way in a season that was expected to be a defining moment in program history.
The spring game that year saw the offense just destroy the second string defense and engage the hype train for a team that should have won the Big XII's North Division the prior season. What we learned in the 4-8 season that ended Dan McCarney's reign was that a Barney Cotten led offense wasn't good enough to make up for an inexperienced and thin defense.
If there's something you don't want to see in a spring game its a blowout. It's a sign of a lack of depth on one side of the ball and very rarely does it bode well for the upcoming season.
With that in mind let's talk about what to watch for on Saturday in Ames.
The game will kick off at 1 PM with parking available in the North lots. Fans enter through Gate 1 on the Northeast corner and will sit on the East side.
68 degrees, sunny, and a wind from 6 to 13 MPH out of the South. Gorgeous day to enjoy
VEISHEA the spring.
First, a potential change of pace:
Rhoads says that they are contemplating doing a draft to determining rosters for the Spring Game. #Cyclones— Tommy Birch (@TommyBirch) April 7, 2015
Typically the spring game under Rhoads has went one of two directions: best on best (1s vs 1s, 2s vs 2s, etc) or 1s and 3s vs 2s and 4s. McCarney favored the latter method and typically spotted the 2s and 4s 21 points.
It was the late goal line stand by the first team in the 2005 spring game that showed the 2005 Cyclones had an amazing amount of depth on both sides of the ball. In 2006 the first string beat the other group by a score of around 48-21 and ignited the hope that 2006 was the year. Instead, it just showed how far the second string had to go to compete with the starters.
Early in Rhoads' tenure his best on best created some sparks. That's easy to do when you have guys like Jake Knott and A.J. Klein on one side going against Austen Arnaud and Alexander Robinson on the other. As the depth and experience of the team fell off Rhoads went to the mixed format that McCarney favored.
Rhoads hasn't been in favor lately of keeping score in the spring game, which was a stark departure from his early years in Ames. Fans like a winner and the coaches are looking to see how guys perform after a month of practices. These are goals are clearly at odds and it can make the game difficult to follow.
So instituting a draft might be the very thing that injects some life in to the spring game. A draft likely balances the teams, creates interesting match ups, and most importantly keeps the fans engaged.
How to Watch
It's confounding to me that Cyclones.tv won't have a live stream of the game itself, but that's the case. If you want to see the action live you have to be in attendance. There will be a spring recap show early in the week on Cyclones.tv that will no doubt feature highlights, but watching it live from your couch will not be possible.
Who to Watch
The unfortunate thing about spring ball is the fact that players are always missing due to injury or rehab, or are in light contact jerseys and will be used sparingly. At the start of practice in March here's what the non/limited participation list looked like:
Peters and Knott have swapped on that list, although Peters is still limited coming off his Achilles surgery. D'Vario Montgomery had shoulder surgery and will be out, and Martinez Syria sustained an injury that will keep him out as well. Be prepared for the walk-on show on Saturday, but a word of warning about those walk-ons:
If we see them in the fall then something horrible and terrible has happened. They might be stars on the field Saturday, but the majority of them should see special teams duty at best come September. If not, then be ready to cover your eyes.
Now on to the guys who are playing and deserve your attention.
Sam B. Richardson
The undisputed starter and leader of the team, Sam should look head and shoulders above the rest when he steps foot on the field. If he doesn't, then it merits concern. If he does, don't jump on the hype train quite yet but honor the fact that maybe things are falling in to place for the senior signal caller.
Good Game: Sam hits his targets, moves the pocket with his feet, leads a few scoring drives, and doesn't turn the ball over.
Bad Game: Anything resembling last year's performance where he looked lost and off target.
Chris Williams is excited about him, and so am I, but for every different reasons. Chris wants to see if Lanning brings something to the table that can cover for Sam should he struggle this fall. I'm looking for something out of Lanning that forces Mark Mangino to put him on the field. Is he the best with his feet? Does he warrant a package that makes use of his size, running ability, and all the while keeping his arm as a threat?
Good Game: Doing something that shows he belongs on the field in some capacity in the fall.
Bad Game: See: Richardson, Sam 2014 Spring Game
Jeff Woody threw down on the podcast with Williams the other day and put Warren in Alexander Robinson's level of production before his career is done in Ames. Whether or not that means it happens in 2015 remains to be seen, but if it's going to happen you will see flashes of it on Saturday. Warren is an intelligent runner who can find seams and was close to playing last year had it not been for a shoulder injury.
Good Game: Racking up yards like they're going out of style, a score or two, and making gains out of nothing.
Bad Game: More of the same from ISU running backs, not getting through the holes the line opens, hesitation, inability to catch the ball.
This is cheating, but it's true. Both lines are undergoing overhauls with Tom Farniok needing replaced on the offensive side, and JUCO defensive tackle Demond Tucker trying to inject some life into a moribund defensive line. The exciting thing is these battles will happen against each other on the inside of the line.
My recommendation is to take every few plays and just watch the center and guards work against Tucker and the rest of the interior defensive line. How that battle goes will tell us a lot about this fall.
Good Game: Offensive line: No sacks, consistently getting to linebackers in the second level, minimizing pressure up the middle.
Defensive line: Stuffing runs, winning short yardage situations
Bad Game: Offensive line: Letting the quarterbacks feel pressure, being bent backwards off the snap
Defensive line: Getting blown off the ball, not keeping linebackers clean, failing to get off the field in short yardage situations
The man brought in to take over at SAM/Nickel, Jones is a former NC State cornerback who should be in the mix to start by the time fall camp rolls around. He's battling hard with Reggan Northrup for the spot, but this is a Jared Brackens vs Drake Ferch match up all over again. Ferch should have never seen the field on a consistent basis but he did the things that Brackens wouldn't do and did them consistently.
Jones is a great athlete with good size for the Nickel, and if he can play the position and set the team up for success then he's already a better player than Brackens.
Good Game: Disruptive and assignment based football. No blown assignments that result in large gains.
Bad Game: Out of position, fails to force guys inside, too easily sealed on the edge.
The redshirt freshman corner is apparently so good that he's the reason Ken Lynn requested a switch to wide receiver. Rhoads sometimes goes overboard on who he's high on, but no one can argue with Rhoads' success as a cornerbacks coach. If he believes Peavy is going to be better than advertised then we would be best served to listen.
Good Game: Shuts down Bundrage or Lazard.
Bad Game: Bundrage out runs him, Lazard out jumps him, over and over again.
It's a spring game, watch for players and watch for one on one battles. Hope for no injuries, a nice day, and a couple of great highlights in between the beers you sneak in to the stadium.
Hype Train 11
Tire Fire 9