I've had some time to talk to coach Paul Rhoads and linebacker Jake Knott recently, but if you missed our coverage, here's a quick look back.
I hope you enjoyed our coverage of the spring, but there's still plenty more that didn't fit into those stories.
Here's some leftover nuggets.
The strength of the Cyclones is at the linebacker spot, where Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Matt Tau'fo'ou reside. It's easy to forget that all were first-year starters last season after Knott and Klein combined for 241 tackles and Tau'fo'ou played well before suffering a broken leg. All three can get a lot better, and Knott is well aware. "All three of us know it, and we'll all tell you we need to work on the same thing," Knott said. "We need to bring our feet through harder tackles. We're good at making initial contact, but we need to keep bringing our legs through and stop them dead in their tracks and not even let them get half a yard once we make contact." Knott was the best of the trio last year with 131 stops, but Rhoads says Klein, who isn't far behind, actually has more upside. "I think that tandem of linebackers is as solid as anybody else in the league," he said.
Iowa State's new scoreboard made some headlines on Wednesday, but Knott likes what it may do for the program once it's built. "It's awesome. I think the more improvements you can make for a school, the better. I think it's going to be a big recruiting tool and when you see that and you're playing on that field, it's going to help bring kids here," he said.
Though the Cyclones were 5-7, coach Paul Rhoads was happy with how his team ultimately exceeded expectations once again, even though it didn't do it enough to win a bowl game. The Cyclones won every game they were favored to win except one, Colorado. "We were on the road in Colorado with a unique situation with a coach being removed and another coach taking over that clearly had his team motivated and ready to play and a quarterback that was playing for his dad," Rhoads said. "That's sort of like a quarterback not being on a roster. You take the line off on a game like that." He also added that he has no doubt that his 2011 team will be the best in his three years at Iowa State, but the schedule will be even more difficult than last year, with a ninth conference game being added.
Iowa State also knocked off Texas and Texas Tech, the program's first win ever over Texas and it did it in Austin, which came over a then-ranked Longhorns team. "I used the word historical, and that's exactly what it was," Rhoads said. "It was a big step for our program, and remember, this is a Texas team that had just come from Lincoln, Neb., and beat Nebraska." Iowa State, meanwhile, had suffered 41 and 52-point losses to Utah and Oklahoma before knocking off the Longhorns, which made the win even more meaningful for Rhoads. "We had just got our ass handed to us for two straight weeks, so it was a maturing step for our football team," he said. "When you're dealing with 18-, 19- and 20-year old mentalities and to get beat that bad and to honestly be able to say all three weeks of that preparation, our demeanor and tempo on the practice field never changed once." Mid-week practices were the same and for Iowa State, it paid off. "When we started performing and knew we had an opportunity, we played even better," he said.
Rhoads loves what he's seen from Darius Reynolds this offseason and is in a position to be a big-time playmaker. "He’s shown play-breaking ability and we haven’t had it for two years. Our biggest playmaker the last two years has probably been Jake Williams, and make no mistake about it, he’s what you’d define as a possession receiver," he said. "But whether it's catching a 50-yard post like Darius did against Texas Tech or a a receiver turning a 5-yard catch into a 50-yard pass play. I think we have more of that and Darius has shown an ability to do that."
And of course, there's the fake extra point against Nebraska, for better or worse, one of the plays that defined Iowa State's season. A conversion would have meant a trip to a bowl game. "The play was wide open. There was nobody within 8 yards of the intended receiver after the play developed," he said. "We had a quarterback that was limping badly. We had a top receiver who was limping badly. Our starting center had to come out of the game twice because of an injury. The further the game went along against their defense, our ability to make plays was going to diminish. We had the opportunity to end the game. The play, through our preparation and what we'd observed throughout the game, was there. We failed to execute and that's the bottom line."