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Down and distance stressing Cyclone offense

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012 11:26 a.m. CDT

AMES (ISU) — Jeff Woody could have a nice career in journalism if he wants to go that direction.

Iowa State’s junior running back has a strong understanding of deadlines, especially how they pertain to first-down success and how that relates to second-down situations.

In an upset win at Texas Christian, the Cylcones (4-2 overall, 1-2 Big 12) averaged nearly seven yards on first down. In the loss to Kansas State last Saturday, ISU averaged just more than a yard on 22 first-down plays.

Those type of performances have been indicative of a Cyclone offense that has struggled to be consistent and has failed to produce more than 300 yards in two of its three Big 12 contests.

Its ineffectiveness on first down has also made offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham’s job a lot more difficult, according to Woody.

“If you have a deadline and your boss tells you it is due at 3 and this is at 8 o’clock in the morning you are, ‘Alright, I have some time to work on this,’” Woody explained. “But the equivalent of second-and-10 or third-and-10, is he tells you its due at 3 o’clock and it is 2:51, and you are pressed and stressed out. It’s a lot harder to do your job and harder to do it well.”

Woody’s point? Second and short or third and short are much easier to execute than third and long.

“It makes a big difference,” agreed quarterback Jared Barnett. “If it is second and long the defense probably knows we are going to pass it. But if it is second and short, we can do just about anything we want to and the defense has to stay on their toes.”

Against Kansas State, the Cyclones had 13 first-down plays for zero yards, including incomplete passes. The longest first-down play ISU had was a 7-yard Shontrelle Johnson run.

With a trip to Oklahoma State Saturday on the horizon against a Cowboy offense that averages nearly 49 points a game, ISU figures it better get first down figured out and figured out quickly.

Much of the Cyclones’ concentration on improving first-down success will come in their run game, which ranks last in the Big 12 at 143 yards per game.

“I’m sure the offensive staff understands that and our football team understands that,” ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said. “I’m not a (slams the table with his fist) got to run the ball guy, but (slams the table with fist again) you’ve got to run the ball.”

Through six games, the Cyclones are averaging the fewest rushing yards in Rhoads’ four seasons. In 2009, ISU was averaging 209.5 after six games. In 2010 it was 154.2 and last season it was 150.5.

History shows when the Cyclones run for 190 yards or more they win (14-4 under Rhoads with 190 or better, 8-18 with less).

“If we can get to 200, we are probably having a good day overall as an offense,” Rhoads said. “Right now, I would accept 180, somewhere in that range.”

JAMES WHITE – Rhoads said his leading rusher, who had surgery to repair some minor fraying in his right knee last week, is ahead schedule in his rehab.

Rhoads ruled White out for this week’s game, but believes the junior could return in time for the Cyclones’ game against Baylor.

“He probably surprised himself with the things he was able to accomplish already,” Rhoads said. “(He was in a) good bit of pain 24 to 48 hours out and probably discouraged with that, but the fact now is he’s four days out and he was able to really move it and do some things strength-wise that probably encouraged him.

“It will be day-to-day and as soon as the docs say go, we will be ready to go with him.”

BCS RANKING – The Cyclones were ranked 24th in the first BCS rankings released Sunday, but it didn’t come by total surprise.

“It was kind of like an ‘about time’ type thing,” Woody said. “We’ve played well all year for the most part as a team.

“The teams we’ve lost to have a combined one loss ... it is not a surprise. We know we are a good team. It is kind of a validation of what we think and what we believe we are in kind of on a national scale.”

COMING UP – Iowa State’s Homecoming game Oct. 27 against Baylor will kick off at 6 p.m. and be televised on Fox Sports Net.

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