The Ottumwa Courier

October 25, 2008

Struggling Cyclones, Aggies to face off

AMES, Iowa (AP) — There’s a reason why Texas A&M; and Iowa State are winless in the Big 12, and it starts with a “D.”

The Aggies and Cyclones are the only teams in the league to have allowed more than 200 points this season. In Big 12 play, they’re worse. Texas A&M; (2-5, 0-3 Big 12) has allowed a staggering 47.4 points in conference games, while Iowa State (2-5, 0-3) has given up 108 points in its last 10 quarters.

But things could be looking up for the Aggies and Cyclones when they square off on Saturday night in Ames.

Each will get their best shots yet at a conference win —if only because they face each other. And Iowa State coach Gene Chizik and Texas A&M; coach Mike Sherman, both in the early stages of rebuilding efforts, could both use the pick-me-up.

Iowa State got thumped in what appeared to be a winnable game for the second straight week, losing to Nebraska 35-7. Texas A&M; took a 23-20 halftime lead against No. 8 Texas Tech last week, but their offense fell flat in the second half of a 43-25 home loss.

It was the fourth time in five games that an opponent beat the Aggies by scoring more than 40 points, but Sherman praised his team for the passion and cohesiveness they showed in defeat.

“We put an awful lot into the ballgame, we had a great week of preparation, and we made an investment and it didn’t pay dividends necessarily ,” Sherman said. “But from my standpoint we took a big step as a football team. So I want to see how they handle the loss and how it will help us this week in preparation for Iowa State.”

The Cyclones are about as low as they’ve been under Chizik, who took over before the 2007 season. Sure, they were 1-8 at one point last season, but they bounced back with two Big 12 wins and seemed to be building a decent head of steam by opening this season 2-0.

Iowa State then suffered close losses to Iowa and UNLV on the road, and the 20-point halftime lead they took on No. 19 Kansas on Oct. 4 seemed to symbolize the team’s progress under Chizik.

What’s happened since has been disheartening. The Jayhawks won behind a furious second-half rally, scoring 35 points in 30 minutes, and the Cyclones were manhandled by Baylor and Nebraska — two programs rebuilding behind first-year coaches.

Chizik said that despite his team’s five-game losing streak, he’s seen them improve in a number of areas from a year ago. What he’s also seen is a league that has gotten better from top to bottom, meaning that progress doesn’t necessarily translate into league wins.

“The bottom line is, we’ve got to play better than we have the last two weeks,” Chizik said.

This matchup of the Big 12’s last two winless teams could come down to the running game. Iowa State has had trouble since day one getting the ground game going, but Texas A&M; has had just as much trouble stopping teams on the ground.

The Aggies are last in the Big 12 in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed, and they’re the only team in the league letting up five yards a carry. But Iowa State is getting just 3.6 yards per carry out of tailbacks Alexander Robinson, J.J. Bass and Jason Scales, and if the 67-yard touchdown run by Robinson last week is taken out of the mix, the Cyclones had 24 carries for 38 yards in a 35-7 loss to Nebraska.

Iowa State’s inability to establish the ground game has put more pressure on sophomore quarterback Austen Arnaud, and he’s thrown for just 289 yards the past two games.

“Any time you can’t run the football, you make yourself a one-dimensional football team,” Chizik said. “If everybody in our league knows right now that we can only throw it, forget about that. That’s scary.”

Both Iowa State and Texas A&M; are longshots — at best — to make a run at a bowl bid, but there’s still a lot to play for. Iowa State closes its season with three of four on the road, where they haven’t won since 2005, and they play No. 16 Missouri in the home finale, leaving 2-10 as a real possibility if they can’t beat the Aggies.

Texas A&M; is building for the future as well, and defensive back Trent Hunter said that last week’s strong performance against the Red Raiders was the direct result of a great week of practice.

“Even though we’re not right yet in the eyes of the public, we need to prepare like we are,” Sherman said.