Cyclones seek first winning season since ’89

Jeff Stell

Saturday could be a day of firsts for ISU Head Football Coach Dan McCarney when the Cyclones take on Texas A&M at Jack Trice Stadium.

The Cyclones sport a 5-1 record, and a victory over the Aggies would clinch McCarney’s first winning season in his five years at Iowa State. The win would also make the Cyclones eligible for postseason play, a position they haven’t enjoyed in 20 years.

The contest is the Cyclones’ Homecoming, and the nationally-televised game will kickoff at 2:30 p.m.

“This is the first time since we’ve been here that we’re going into a game where we have a chance to clinch a winning season and be bowl-eligible,” McCarney said. “This team has a chance to be 6-1 for the first time in 52 years. It’s great to be back home. I know from previous years that Homecoming is really big on campus so we’re excited.”

The Cyclones are coming off a thrilling 33-26 victory at Oklahoma State. Sage Rosenfels threw a 33-yard touchdown strike to Lane Danielsen with only 18 seconds left to escape with the win.

“It’s always tough to go on the road and win in the Big 12,” McCarney said. “We made the plays in the end and won the fourth quarter. It was a tough game, but we responded when we had to.”

The Aggies are 4-2, with losses to Notre Dame and Colorado. The Aggies return 14 starters from a year ago and their four victories have come by convincing margins.

“Texas A&M is without question one of the top programs in the nation,” McCarney said. “They have a great tradition, national rankings, bowl games, NFL players, that’s what we want to get in our program.”

“We need to play fantastic football to win. Fourteen starters return, and they’re extremely talented with fantastic team speed.”

The key matchup in the game could be the ISU ground attack going against the Aggie defense. The Aggies feature the 13th best rush defense in the nation, while the Cyclones are averaging almost 200 rushing yards per game.

The Cyclones are 20th in the nation in rushing offense and 12th in total offense at 446.5 yards a game.

Last week, ISU tailback Ennis Haywood, the leading rusher in the Big 12, missed the Oklahoma State game, and freshman Michael Wagner stepped in with a huge game.

Wagner rushed for 170 yards and scored three touchdowns.

If Haywood misses action, McCarney doesn’t see much dropoff when Wagner enters the game.

“We feel very confident about Wagner if Ennis can’t go,” McCarney said.

The Aggies also have injuries in their backfield, as starter Richard Whitaker will most likely miss the game with a groin injury. Aggie coach R.C. Slocum will go with two backs as Maurice Harris and Joe Weber will split time.

“We’ll play Maurice and Joe and try to keep both of them fresh,” Slocum said. “Joe will most likely get more carries, but Maurice will play some too. We’re not sure about who is going to take Whitaker’s spot on kickoff returns.”

One change in the Cyclone lineup will be the kicker, where senior Carl Gomez takes over the field goal and extra point duties. Gomez replaced struggling Mike McKnight at Stillwater and drilled a pair of field goals and extra points.

“We missed an extra point and field goal against Oklahoma State, and we felt like going to Carl Gomez,” McCarney said. “He’s definitely our field goal and extra point kicker this week. He hadn’t kicked a field goal since high school but he stepped in and made two field goals. He’s got tremendous focus.”

The Cyclones haven’t faced the Aggies since 1997 when the Aggies rolled to a 56-17 win. The year before in Ames, the Aggies escaped with a 24-21 victory.

Slocum is expecting another hard-fought battle in the Aggies’ return to Jack Trice Stadium.

“After having watched the tape of the Nebraska game, I would hope that our players would realize that it’s going to take maximum effort and performance to have a chance,” Slocum said.

“You can look at their record and look at the way they play on tape and see that they are a good football team. They have a chance to wrap up a winning season for the first time in a while, so they will have a lot of emotion.”