Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has cultivated a reputation of being able to do more with less. After a 5-19 record the last two seasons, Rhoads and his reputation are being put to the test. The Cyclones went winless in the Big 12 last season — which, of course, means they lost to Kansas — and rebounding by a significant margin would seem to be a tall task.
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Previewing Iowa State’s Offense in 2015
Iowa State finished last season ranked 89th in the nation in total offense. But with coordinator Mark Mangino’s system now fully in place and an experienced starting quarterback in Sam Richardson running the show, there is reason to believe the Cyclones can be greatly improved.
One of the main reasons for the optimism is a wide receiving corps that should be among the best in the Big 12. Quenton Bundrage, who tied a school record with nine touchdown receptions in 2013, tore his ACL in the 2014 opener and is set to return at full strength. He will be joined by two large and talented partners in D’Vario Montgomery (6'6", 236) and Allen Lazard (6'5", 218), both of whom showed great promise during the 2014 campaign.
It’s the offensive line and running backs who hold the questions surrounding this offense. Gone are both of Iowa State’s top tailbacks from last season, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy. Sophomores Tyler Brown and Martinez Syria and redshirt freshman Mike Warren are expected to share carries this fall.
Iowa State’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries in each of the last two seasons. However, because of that, there are a bunch of players at the position who have received significant playing time. Jake Campos, forced into the lineup early last season, will anchor the line at left tackle.
Previewing Iowa State’s Defense in 2015
There is only one way for this group to go following last season’s final ranking of 125th in total defense. The good news for coordinator Wally Burnham is that his defensive line should be much improved, thanks in part to the arrival of junior college transfer Demond Tucker, who impressed at nose guard in the spring. Devlyn Cousin is a reliable defensive tackle, while Dale Pierson and Trent Taylor gained valuable experience in 2014 and should be viable defensive ends this fall.
Linebacker is another story. Jevohn Miller was leading the team in tackles before he got hurt last year and is gone to graduation. Luke Knott can’t seem to stay healthy. A bulk of pressure is going to be put on the back of Jordan Harris, a junior college recruit from 2014 who redshirted last year because he couldn’t grasp the defense. Harris had a great spring and is the favorite to start in the middle.
Iowa State is in good shape at cornerback with both starters from last year, Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson, returning. The Cyclones’ second-leading tackler, strong safety T.J. Mutcherson, was dismissed from the team in the offseason and is expected to be replaced by senior Qujuan Floyd. The Big 12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year, Kamari Cotton-Moya, will be the man at free safety.
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Previewing Iowa State’s Specialists in 2015
There is no controversy when it comes to Iowa State’s kicking game. Cole Netten went 11-for-14 on field goals last year and is back for his junior season. Punter Colin Downing had an impressive freshman campaign, averaging 39.4 yards per kick. The return game will be interesting, but specialist Jomal Wiltz was brought in as a junior college recruit specifically for these duties.
There is significant pressure on Paul Rhoads, whose program has won a total of five games in the past two years, to show significant improvement this season. First and foremost, for that to happen, the Cyclones have to stay healthy. After that, the offense needs to be more explosive and efficient. The defense should be improved, but not enough to consistently slow down quality Big 12 offenses. Getting to six wins — and reaching bowl-eligibility — will be a challenge for the 2014 Cyclones.