It's game week at Iowa State as the Cyclones prepare for their 2014 season opener against FCS opponent North Dakota State. Head coach Paul Rhoads held his press conference Monday afternoon at the Bergstrom Football Facility. Here's the transcript.
"We're very excited that game week has finally arrived. We've been talking a lot about it. We've been pleased with training camp and have left it as healthy as you can be as a football team. We now get into a normal flow and routine, as school starts today, and have a typical game week progression."
"We're excited about the challenge that North Dakota State brings to us as the three-time defending national champions and winners of 24 straight games. They have our kids' full attention as they should. We're going to need great preparation the rest of the week to give us an opportunity come Saturday."
"You see a team that belongs on the national level. This is a team that has won three national championships in a row at their level and has played up and beat 'big boys' at the FBS level. They can beat anybody in America on any given day, based on how they've executed and how extremely hard they play."
On where team is right now, compared to game week one year ago:
"I really don't know if I can say (we are ahead), because we haven't played anybody yet. Am I happier at this point than I was a year ago with what I've seen on the practice field? Yes, I am. But until we get out there and start playing against other folks - we've got areas that are concerns for us. Defensive tackle is right at the top of the list, we've got unproven MIKE linebackers added to that list, and a group of safeties that haven't played a snap of defense. We need to start mixing it up with other folks to see how much we have improved."
On how receiver Dondre Daley has impressed him:
"He came into fall camp and showed exactly what he would have shown this spring, had he not sprained an ankle and missed so many practices. Dondre has good body control and can run, he's got good length, can catch the ball and goes after it aggressively. He's been extremely coach-able as we've gone through fall camp. He's really risen from a production standpoint on a weekly basis."
On depth chart shuffling with D'vario Montgomery moving down and Allen Lazard moving up:
"Everything is great from catches as an individual to production in scrimmages. He's a big target that fits well at the X position that he plays. We have a lot of talented guys at the wide receiver position and that's a good problem to have. We'll play a number of wide receiver sets and guys will move out of where they're listed on the depth chart to other places."
"I haven't put a number total on (Lazard's snaps) and haven't put in a rotation, and part of that will go away as you run certain routes and the length of drives. We're going to get him snaps and I'm sure he'll get a ball tossed to him."
On how backup quarterback Grant Rohach is approaching things:
"Grant's a guy that is ready to fire. He had some balls that he threw Friday and Sunday that were great balls. I'm talking about what we call a seven-cut, which is the route towards the corner of the field right on the sideline where the receiver was able to catch it, get one foot on the ground and the defender missed it by inches. He makes that throw because he is a starter. He's started and won football games at this level and understands that it could be his in a snap, week, or whatever happens. I respect his approach."
On the interior defensive line mix with Brandon Jensen and Devlyn Cousin as starters:
"They proved to be our two best at this point, so to get both of them on the field we moved Brandon to a three-technique. He's played both and can play them both. We went into it with Robby (Garcia) coming out and having a very good spring, and thinking Brandon might be inside of the nose guard too. As it's played out, you're going to see (Jensen, Cousin, Garcia, Pierre Aka and Vernell Trent) on the field. Brandon gives us the best to start with as a three-technique."
On the importance of playing well in the first game:
"You focus on one game preparation and getting ready to play that one game. You don't have to spend much time emphasizing how we started last season. We've had excellent focus and preparation leading into this game. Our guys' eyes are wide open."
"(Winning this game) is very crucial. I'd probably place more emphasis on it than most. There's 11 more games to play beyond the opener, but I'd say that it can be effected by an opening-game loss. There were a lot of health reasons that went into effect (last year). You practice a long time to put a product on the field and you want to go out and play and succeed."
On what NDSU does defensively:
"They are a run-stopping first defense, which is a mark of all great defenses. They're going to have plenty of schemes where they're going to have enough people in the box to stop the run. Their safeties are going to be very involved in run defense. The thing that jumps off the tape at me is how hard their kids play. These guys play sideline to sideline and they play hard. That's the established culture of winning and why they've been successful. They have great players, but it's not like they put together a roster of four-star and five-star players. They've put together a team of guys that love to play the game of football and play hard every snap."
On Bison's use of fullback Andrew Bonnet:
"They line up with what's called a 'fullback' and he does everything. He lines up as a fullback, an H-back, a tight end and moves around and catches the ball. He's a great blocker. They're going to run a power game with play-action pass off of that with those kinds of personnel on the field. They're also going to expand and play three wide receiver sets, which is a style that's seen more today."
On leadership of new MIKE backers Alton Meeks, Kane Seeley and Jordan Harris:
"Our guys are in good position and that's the piece they really need to stick with. They have 1/11th responsibility of the defense, and a piece of that responsibility is getting them lined up. That's not something we've had a problem with as we've gone through camp. We'll have 11 guys out there lined up right for a high percentage of the time."
On heading into the season opener with Sam Richardson as starting quarterback:
"Sam Richardson was named our starter for a reason and he's in the position that we're excited about him leading us onto the field a year ago. Once he got hurt, it was hard to assess his abilities and capabilities of leading our offense. Right now he's healthy, stronger and smarter. He's older and more experienced because of that. He's in a great place from a poise and leadership standpoint. I'm excited about Sam taking the field and playing ball."
On difference between this year's team, compared to the 2013 version:
"Energy. An excited attitude. A coach-able attitude every time they come to work and practice. Mark Mangino has commented on it a lot, that these guys are fun to coach and really show up ready to work. That's a trademark of the culture of our program, and even more so with our group. This is a different team and has had that air about them all summer. They like being around each other and like the work and sweat that goes into it. There's no ego. They work hard to improve upon those mistakes once they've been pointed out. They've responded to what's been laid out at the start of training camp."
On what he'd like to see from the defensive front-seven:
"They need to hold their own and hold the point. We don't need to lose gaps and the line of scrimmage up front. We need to get pressure on the quarterback when we're called upon to get pressure on the quarterback. When we get the chance to pin our ears back, we've got to make a quarterback move his feet. If we're doing that through these first three opponents, then we'll know we've improved as a front-seven."
On the itch to get this season going after a disappointing 2013:
"I think that always follows the season that didn't fill expectations. That hasn't been building just for a few days, but for a long time. It was building in November and December as we finished off the season and went into the off-season."
On play of nickel back/hybrid linebacker Drake Ferch, who beat out Jared Brackens for a starting job:
"He's just been really consistent doing things right, making plays and being tough and hustling. Those are all great traits for a quality defensive football player."
On what he's seen from the defensive backs in camp:
"I think the corners have played like veteran players and like guys that have covered good receivers and broken on good balls. The safeties have looked like guys that have not yet played in the Big 12. At times they've looked good and at others they've looked like they have a lot to learn. They all realize that and know they've made mistakes. They know that beginning on August 30th, those mistakes really need to be minimized. They're one bad step away from the referee raising his hands and signaling touchdown for the other team."
"Overall as a secondary, Mo Linguist has done an excellent job of getting those guys acclimated quickly to his coaching. They play hard and will stick together and play together. I like the makings of the talent that's back there. But they need the experience."
On the emergence of Nick Severs at center and Jamison Lalk's move to guard:
"Nick Severs is our backup center and Jamison Lalk is working exclusively at guard. We got to a point where we realized we needed to start ranking our best five offensive linemen, because of how things have jockeyed around position-wise. Jamison emerged as one of our best five, and is a guy that's played both. Nick's growth has allowed us to practice with him at center, which has been valuable."
On workload at the running back position:
"We're going to distribute the ball and be smart in how we distribute it. Some games it might look like that's our go-to guy and other games you might say that he disappeared. That's nothing to get alarmed about, if the other weapons we're distributing to have been productive."