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September 01, 2009

What about that defense?

Like everyone else, I'm eager to see what Iowa State can do with its new spread offense. I'm also curious about the defense. Because the defense, not the offense, will determine if the Cyclones can better last year's 2-10 record.

It could be that Austen Arnaud completes passes all over the field, Alexander Robinson finds big holes to run through and the offense lights up the scoreboard. That would be entertaining and Cyclone fans would be delighted. But if the defense can't keep the other team from doing the same, all those yards and points rung up by the offense won't mean a darn thing.

And last season, the defense couldn't stop anyone. In their 10 losses, the Cyclones gave up an average of 38.5 points and 467.4 yards. Two teams put up more than 50 points on the Cyclones. Another scored 49. Iowa State scored enough points to win at least four other games, but the soft defense negated whatever the offense accomplished in those contests.

I'm thinking new coach Paul Rhoads brought in a good hand to run the defense. For sure Wally Burnham is an experienced hand. He's coached for 40 years, including stops at Florida State, South Carolina and, most recently, South Florida. His South Florida units consistently ranked among the nation's top 30 in total defense.

Burnham is old enough to be his players' grandfather. But he's still feisty. "He mixes it up with us," linebacker Derec Schmidgall said. "He's out there running around. We can't get him stopped most of the time. He's out there moving more than we are."

Let's hope Schmidgall is exaggerating to make a point. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to think a coach old enough to get Medicare is moving around more than my linebackers.

Burnham coaches an aggressive, attacking style that the players seem to like. With all the spread offenses the Cyclones see in the Big 12, they'll have to be aggressive or risk getting blown up. They might get ripped anyway.

There's some talent and skill in the secondary, Nate Frere has the ability and mentality for the nose guard job and I think Christopher Lyle can have a big year at defensive end. We'll have to see about the rest.

ISU's spread offense features a hurry-up, no-huddle component. If the defense isn't any better, Cyclone fans might not want that group to hurry too much. Because that would mean the defense gets back on the field that much sooner.

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