With the Toledo Rockets returning home following a tremendous upset of nationally ranked Arkansas, we sat down for a chat with our friends at Wide Right & Natty Lite to help breakdown the upcoming game with Big 12 foe Iowa State.
A big thanks goes out to Kevin Fitzpatrick from Wide Right & Natty Lite for participating, Kevin can be found on twitter @KFitzy87 and his contributions can be read at www.widerightnattylite.com.
Hustle Belt: Following a loss to instate rival Iowa in the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy, how do you feel the Cyclones will respond to a road game against a MAC foe in the Toledo Rockets?
Wide Right Natty Lite: So far, the mindset of the players seems to have changed for the better this year. The past couple seasons, a loss like that would have definitely affected their play during the following week. There were reports before this season began that last year's team basically quit trying at a certain point. The chemistry was bad and morale was low... Not a good combo.
Fortunately, this year's squad seems to have much better leadership. I get the sense that they'll be ready to get out there and fight for another tally in the win column. With a daunting Big 12 schedule coming down the pipe, the players know it won't get any easier (well, except maybe against Kansas...), so if they're to have any chance at a bowl, a win against Toledo is virtually required.
Through two games ISU QB Sam B. Richardson has been very solid and developed a nice rapport with sophomore wide receiver Allen Lazard, but the Cyclones have really struggled to develop a consistent rushing attack, what needs to change for offense to develop a more balanced attack?
It all starts up front with the offensive line. I'm a big believer that if the O-line is good enough, there should be holes for whoever totes the rock to run through. Our running backs are inexperienced, but they haven't been the problem.
The past few years of fielding a terrible rushing attack is likely what's contributed most to ISU's struggles on the offensive side of the ball. We have the pieces at quarterback and receiver to do damage in the passing game, but they're easily nullified if defenses can stop the run with only a few guys in the box. A lot of our fan base loves to dog on Richardson because he appears to be indecisive in the pocket, but my suspicion is it's because there's a ton of defenders helping out in coverage and he honestly doesn't have many spots to throw the ball.
Coach Rhoads and offensive coordinator Mark Mangino are going to have to figure out if the run blocking issues are a scheme problem or personnel problem, and they're gonna have to do it fast.
Head Coach Paul Rhoads is now in his seventh season and the struggles the last two years are well documented, just how hot is the proverbial "hot seat" for Rhoads and is a bowl game appearance a must in 2015 or will he be shown the door in Ames?
Right now, his seat is frying pan warm. If he loses to Toledo or Kansas, it'll be lava warm. I don't think a bowl is necessary for him to keep his job (to the dismay to many of our fans), but this year's team has to prove they at least belong in the Big 12. Last year we were the ugly duckling, and if that happens to be the case again this year when we hit conference play, I think he'll be shown the door at the end of the season.
No matter what, I don't expect him to get fired mid-season.
The good news is, with our two game sample size, the defense has looked like they actually have a pulse this season. The off-season saw a number of JUCO players join the team, and almost all of them have made a positive impact for defensive coordinator Wally Burnham's unit. An improved defense would do wonders for ISU's ability to compete in the Big 12.
While Toledo did pull a massive upset in Little Rock against Arkansas last Saturday, do the Rockets have the respect as a program from Iowa State fans and how do the Cyclone faithful feel about playing a road game against an MAC opponent?
Toledo certainly has our respect. ISU hasn't experienced enough success recently to overlook or disrespect anyone on their schedule. In fact, many of our fans were picking the game against the Rockets as our one non-conference loss this year. Obviously that theory was debunked with the loss to Iowa, but the point still stands that we know Toledo is going to be a tough MAC opponent.
As far as going on the road, I'd say it's kind of a neutral feeling. We got both of our in-state rivals (Northern Iowa, Iowa) at home before the Rockets, so this road trip will be a nice early season test of overcoming adversity for the Cyclones.
For Iowa State to reach a bowl game in 2015, does this game become a "must win" situation prior to entering a challenging 9 game Big 12 conference schedule?
Yes, I think it is. Looking at the rest of ISU's schedule, it's basically impossible to point out five more wins if we drop the game against Toledo. Even if we win, four more wins is a pretty tall task.
Finally, would you care to offer a couple keys to the game for ISU and a prediction heading into the Saturday night contest?
In my opinion, the key to the game will come down to which defense performs better. If Iowa State can stop Toledo from running all over them, I think the Cyclones will be the victors. On the other hand, I think if Toledo can limit ISU's passing game, then the Rockets will come out on top.
I'll stick with the prediction I made for this game before the season:
ISU 21, Toledo 17 in ugly fashion.