Critical showdown for ISU, Kansas State

Jeff Stell

With a winning season already intact, the ISU football team is now aiming to improve their postseason status. The Cyclones can take a big step in the right direction with a win at No. 19 Kansas State Saturday.

The Cyclones enter the Big 12 North showdown with a 6-2 record and fresh off a 39-20 victory over Missouri which clinched the programs first winning season in 11 years. Kickoff is set for 11:30 a.m.

The six wins qualify Iowa State for postseason play, and the Cyclones have three more chances to add to that win total. After Saturday, the Cyclones play at Colorado and end the regular season hosting Kansas.

“It’s nice to be going into the last three games of the season playing for more than respect,” said ISU Head Football Coach Dan McCarney. “We’ve always been trying to earn respect but this year, there’s more at stake. We’re trying to finish strong and not look ahead to possible postseason play. We got a lot of incentive and a lot of neat things out there if we continue to improve.”

The Wildcats are 7-2 after having lost two of their last three games. The Wildcats have given up 67 points in their two defeats after only allowing 61 in their first five games of the season.

“We’ve given up some big plays and that’s been a struggle for us all year long,” said KSU defensive back Jon McGraw. “We’re playing well, but we’re giving up those few big plays and it’s killing us. We’re going to go out this weekend and try to correct as much of that as we can.”

The Wildcats’ two losses were against top-ranked Oklahoma and No. 25 Texas A&M. Despite the recent setbacks, McCarney still views Kansas State as a dangerous team.

“There’s no doubt that Kansas State is a tremendous football team,” McCarney said. “They’re loaded with talent, major league players all over the place. They got a lot of starters back; guys that have started two or three years, and their record speaks for itself.”

“Their team speed is fantastic, and I think their special teams are the best in the Big 12.”

Last season, the Cyclones jumped all over the Wildcats, building a 28-7 lead, before the Wildcats rallied for a 35-28 victory. In that game, the Cyclone offense outgained the Wildcats 406-294.

That game was a striking improvement for the Cyclones compared to their last trip to Manhattan when the Wildcats won 52-7.

“We’ve looked at the tape from last year obviously, but I haven’t lost any sleep over what happened,” McCarney said. “It should give us a lot of hope and confidence that we can line up and play with them. The last time we went down there was a joke. It was a college football team against a junior high team.”

The Wildcat offense is led by quarterback Jonathan Beasley. Beasley is strong all-around, as the senior is third in the conference in passing to go with 15 rushing touchdowns.

“Beasley can hurt you a thousand different ways,” McCarney said. “He’s very involved in their offense, he can hurt you scrambling or throwing. He’s an outstanding player.”

Beasley’s success running the football has been a major emphasis in the Cyclones defensive strategy. Last week against Missouri, Tiger quarterback Darius Outlaw hurt the Cyclones with 107 rushing yards.

“We have to do a better job with our front seven of reacting to scrambling,” McCarney said. “We gave up 77 yards on scrambling and that’s horrible. Our defensive line has to react better and retrace their steps. The linebackers got to come out of coverage.”

The Wildcats feature david Allen, one of the top kick returners in the nation. Allen has been injured most of the season ,but burned the Cyclones last season with a 94-yard punt return to turn the game in the Wildcats favor.

“We’re going to try and keep it away from [Allen], but we don’t want to shank it out of bounds either,” McCarney said. “Some teams have been successful kicking away from Allen, and we saw what happened last year with the turnaround in the second half when they came back to get us. He took it deep, deep, deep in their territory and took it the length of the field, and it was the biggest play of the game.”

Wildcat Coach Bill Snyder is concerned with the Cyclones lack of turning the ball over.

“You are looking at a football team [ISU] that over the course of the season has only been credited with four fumbles, and only two of those have been turned over to the opponent,” Snyder said.