October 4, 2007

The Cyclones could be dangerous

Five games into the 2007 football season, and nobody has really come close to stopping the Texas Tech offense. The next defense to receive this dubious opportunity is the Iowa State Cyclones, who will visit the life-affirming confines of Jones/SBC stadium this coming Saturday night.

Now one of the reasons that the Red Raider offense leads the nation in passing yardage is clearly the level of competition. Three C-USA opponents, an outfit from something called the Football Championship Series, and a-probably--middling Big 12 team, have not been a strong test for the Air Raid. The hill might get a shade steeper with the Cyclones coming to town.

Iowa State is surrendering only 318 yards per game, which is more than 200 yards less than what the Tech offense is averaging. And more specifically, opponents are passing for only 179 yards an outing against the Cyclones. That figure puts Iowa State's pass defense in the top 25 nationally.

No, the Cyclone defense is not the Steel Curtain of Mean Joe Green, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount stripe, but it will probably prove the best Tech has seen thus far.

One reason for the quality defensive play of the Cyclones has been an adherence to basic football. What ex-Red Raider head coach Jerry Moore used to refer to as "good, solid" football.

Indeed, according to Texas Tech inside receivers coach Dana Holgerson, "Their defensive staff's one of the most respected in the country. With the guys that he [Gene Chizik] has brought in are all very respected, so you can see that in how they play."

"They line up right; they play hard; they're in position to make plays."

But the Iowa State defense is also very stripped down at this point. And that's not a bad thing, by the way.

"They're still kind of learning their scheme a little bit, so I don't think they have all their stuff in, which makes them sound," Holgerson observes.

"You know, the hardest defenses we go against are not those that jumble stuff around a lot. It's guys that line up and do what they do and they do it with good people. They line up and they're always in position to make plays."

That sounds a lot like the Cyclones, although whether ISU has uniformly high-caliber personnel across the entire defensive side of the field may be open to some question.

Not open to question, however, is the quality of Iowa State's linebackers. Alvin Bowen is a bona fide All American candidate, while Jon Banks opposite Bowen is more than a little bit dangerous with five tackles for losses already. Those linebackers concern Holgerson.

"Mixing their front and bringing those guys [linebackers] is something they've done their first few games and the linebackers they blitz are active," Holgerson states.

"They've got that Bowen guy, number fifteen, who led the nation in tackles last year-extremely athletic. And then they've got the guy on the other side, about the same size and pretty active as well. So whether those guys are in pass coverage or blitzing, they're pretty active guys."

One might think that the almost complete failure of Tech's first five opponents to effectively blitz the Red Raiders would cause the Cyclones to try a different approach. According to Holgerson, however, such a supposition could be wrong.

"I like to think we have something to do with that [teams blitzing the Red Raiders]. We've been moving the ball pretty good and we're forcing people to do stuff they don't want to do, which is bring a lot of people," Holgerson relates.

"So they [the Cyclones] are gonna start off playing base and then bring people if that doesn't quite work. And if that doesn't work, they're gonna bring a whole lot of people. That's what everybody does."

The extent to which defenses blitz the Red Raiders, in other words, is an index of how much the Tech offense is hurting the defense. Here's hoping Iowa State sets a new high water mark for blitzes against the Air Raid.

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