ISU sets sights on 3-0 start

Jeff Stell

The ISU football team is off to a fast start and gets the chance to stay in cruise control Saturday when it hosts Baylor in the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams.

The Cyclones are in the unfamiliar position of entering league play with only two games under their belt, wins over Northern Iowa and Ohio. With a somewhat inexperienced squad, the postponed Iowa game could’ve been a major measuring stick, but McCarney feels his team is ready.

“We’re still a young team, we need to keep maturing and improving, but I like where we’re at right now at 2-0,” McCarney said. “This game is as important as any game we’ll play all season. The Big 12 race is on, and this is the first step towards having a real good season in the conference.”

Last week, the Cyclones went on the road to Ohio University and came away with a 31-28 win. The Cyclones opened up a 31-14 lead and had to fight off a late Bobcat rally, showing signs of character.

“We’ve challenged our kids that if that happens again, we put a team down, let’s try and do a better job of handling it,” McCarney said. “At the same time, I think there’s a lot of things to take out of last week. We toughened as a team and showed a lot of character.”

The Cyclone defense had to battle the Bobcat option, and this week draws another tough assignment in the Bears’ no-huddle offense. The Bears will test the stamina of the Cyclone defense, as they are averaging 80 offensive snaps a game.

“They [have] a totally different offense than what we faced last week, but we’re getting familiar with it,” ISU linebacker Matt Word said. “We really have to settle down and be patient. We have to get ready quick because they can hit quick plays.”

Greg Cicero leads the Bear offense, and his main target is receiver Reggie Newhouse, second in the Big 12 Conference in receiving yards. Newhouse has 13 catches for 175 yards and one touchdown.

There have been no problems offensively as the Cyclones have scored 76 points in their first two games. Tailback Ennis Haywood had a huge game last week, racking up 219 yards and two scores.

Haywood, the 2000 leading rusher in the Big 12, is second in the nation with an average of 163 yards per game. Haywood came through in the clutch in the win over the Bobcats with a 66-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

With three new starters on the offensive line, a production drop by Haywood could’ve been anticipated but Zach Butler and Cory Hannen have stepped in. Along with Lorenzo White and Marcel Howard, Butler and Hannen have been strong up front.

“There’s been a lot of improvement in the offensive line,” McCarney said.

“There’s a good tradition of running the ball here, and this year we hope it’s no different. Zach and Cory are doing an excellent job.”