Oklahoma gets their first taste of Big 12 North action Saturday night when the Iowa State Cyclones come into Norman looking for an upset. To help us preview the Cyclones we hooked up with Paul Conrad of SBN's Iowa State blog, Clone Chronicles, to get a few answers.
CC Machine: First things first. In the pre-season I picked Iowa State to finish second in the North behind Nebraska. Was I insane or a genius?
PC: I have to say that I'm pretty impressed that you would pick ISU 2nd in the North. Being an engineer, I'll tell you that the answer to your question is "it depends". From the beginning of the season I was anticipating ISU to be 3rd in the North, with an outside chance of doing a little better than that. Assuming we win games against Kansas, Colorado and Mizzou, we'd be 6-6 (4-4) and that would almost certainly be in the upper half of the North standings, if you look at how things have shaken out in recent years. I don't know if you'll turn out to be prophetic, but I certainly hope so!
CC Machine: With the injury to Alexander Robinson, what does it do to the Cyclone offense if he can't go on Saturday?
PC: If you'd asked me this question at the beginning of the season, I would have said that we'd be in serious trouble. Since then we've had some spectacular proof that Paul Rhoads and his coaching staff can recruit and train some excellent running backs. Shontrelle Johnson is the future at ISU, and he's proved it as a true freshman. I can't over-state what that young man has done both as a return man and as a running back. His speed and agility are comparable to Alexander Robinson, and from all accounts A-Rob has been a fantastic leader for the other running backs as they continue to mature. Shontrelle Johnson is Yin to Jeff Woody's Yang. Where Shontrelle gets things done with speed and agility, Jeff Woody is a power back, in your face, kind of guy. He runs through the tackles and keeps on moving as long as he possibly can. He's also a bit of a cinderella story, since he came onto the team as a walk-on last year and was awarded a scholarship this fall. He's a red-shirt freshman so both of these excellent backs will have 3 years of eligibility remaining after the end of the year.
CC Machine: Do you have more confidence in the ISU defense or offense going into this game? Why?
PC: I have slightly more confidence in the offense going into the game against Oklahoma. I don't think any ISU fans honestly expect to win in Norman this weekend, I know that I don't. At the same time, last week's loss doesn't seem to have broken the spirit of the team. They fought until the very last minute, and losing can be good for the soul. It teaches humility. A bright spot was that the team managed to score 27 points, too many times last year ISU seemed to be incapable of scoring against a better team. ISU didn't move the ball well, but they DID move it. I expect that ISU will manage to score at least some points against Oklahoma on Saturday. I think it's also critical for the Offense to realize that it's responsible for the success of the defense as well. If the Offense continually goes three and out, the defense will spend too much time on the field and be unable to stop the other team. This is a team game, not just on offense or defense but between offense AND defense.
CC Machine: Austen Arnaud has only one more touchdowns than interceptions (8/7) this season. Is on the receivers, protection or just bad decisions?
PC: I think it's mainly just bad decisions. Most of his interceptions came against Iowa and Kansas State, since then he's improved markedly. In the Texas Tech game he threw for four TD's and had no interceptions. Arnaud is one of those guys who takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. When ISU is losing he tries to win the game on his own talents, and ends up trying to force a ball into somewhere it shouldn't go. I give him credit for his heart and spirit, but he needs to take that extra second to make a good decision. You'll also notice that the defense in the Iowa and Utah game (which I believe accounts for 5 of the interceptions) was spectacular. Will Oklahoma's defense be that good? Maybe, we'll just have to see on Saturday.
CC Machine: Sitting at 3-3, how is the season matching up to the fans expectations.
PC: I think the fans have been through a bit of a roller coaster already this year. 5-7 was probably the most common prediction for the final standings for ISU. It's not a bad guess, but you have to understand that ISU fans have been repeatedly disappointed over the years. They tend to be pessimistic doom-sayers and really don't mind being proved wrong on that. Beating Texas Tech two weeks ago gave us an enormous boost, but we've already crashed quite a bit after Utah thrashed us. Personally I think Paul Rhoads will find some way to win 6 games this year. No one thought he could do it last year and most people don't think he can do it this year. My guess is that he'll win a game no one is expecting him too.
Well, here's to hoping that the Cyclones don't even sniff that unexpected win this Saturday night.