2011 Iowa State Preview – Offense
Iowa State OT Kelechi Osemele
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Iowa State Cyclone Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense was supposed to hit its stride last year with all the pieces supposedly in place, but instead the attack fizzled and was way too inconsistent. The attack was way too reliant on QB Austen Arnaud and RB Alexander Robinson, but they're gone now and the offense has to start using more options. Justin Tiller is a veteran quarterback, but he's a runner; JUCO transfer Steele Jantz could be an interesting option to get the nation's 104th most efficient passing game going. There's plenty of speed and quickness in the backfield, and despite losing the top two pass catchers from last year, the receiving corps is full of veterans and should be fine, not great, if the quarterback play is a bit better. The line is big and should know what it's doing in the zone-blocking scheme, but it needs to be far better in pass protection.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Jerome Tiller
Passing: Jerome Tiller
39-82, 363 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Shontrelle Johnson
35 carries, 218 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: Darius Danks
29 catches, 201 yds, 1 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior WR Darius Reynolds
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Shontrelle Johnson
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Kelechi Osemele (as a guard)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Osemele, 2) Johnson, 3) WR Darius Darks
Strength of the offense: Running Back Quickness, QB Mobility
Weakness of the offense: Playmakers, Passing Efficiency
State of the Unit: The passing game was hit-or-miss last year with Austen Arnaud completing 59% of his throws for 1,703 yards and 13 touchdowns with ten picks. He was more of a do-it-all playmaker than a pure bomber, and now, even though he's done, it's not like the air show will start pushing it deep. There's experience and athleticism, and there are some decent options to work with.
Junior Jerome Tiller saw a little bit of time, mostly in mop-up work in blowouts, completing 48% of his throws for 363 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for 66 yards. His claim to fame came two years ago stepping in and being under center for a huge 9-7 win over Nebraska running for 65 yards and throwing for 102 yards and a score. At 6-3 and 200 pounds he has good size and he's as mobile as Austen Arnaud was, but now he has to prove he can be a more efficient passer. After a few years, he's still working on his passing fundamentals, but he's a dangerous playmaker who should make the job his over the next few seasons.
There was some thought that James Capello was going to be the future of the program, but the sophomore has to fight for the No. 2 job. The 6-0, 202-pound sophomore was the 2008 Pennsylvania Player of the Year with good passing skills and excellent mobility. He might not be all that big and he doesn't have the best of arms, but he's a baller who can step in and do a little of everything. He'll have to battle with top JUCO transfer Steele Jantz, a 6-3, 216-pound junior who started out his career at Hawaii, went to Cal, moved to City College of San Francisco, and now will try to bring more passing pop to the Cyclone passing game. He threw for 3,075 yards and 23 touchdowns for CCSF last year and ran for 601 yards and 14 scores.
Watch Out For … Jantz. Not only does he have a cool name, but he has excellent size and great mobility. He'll have to be tremendous to push harder for the starting job, but he should be the No. 2 man to start the season.
Strength: Mobility. Arnaud was second on the team in rushing with 287 yards and two touchdowns, and now the quarterbacks should bring even more rushing ability with Tiller dangerous and Jantz and Capello able to move.
Weakness: Passing. Arnaud might look like Tom Brady compared to Tiller. Jantz can throw, but he has to prove he can do it at a high level.
Outlook: Anything the Cyclones get out of their passing game will be a bonus. Tiller will be in charge of doing whatever he can to keep the offense moving, but after finishing 104th in the nation and 11th in the Big 12 in passing efficiency, more production would be nice. Jantz and Capello can throw, and they'll get their chances.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Alexander Robinson was a special runner over the last several seasons. The diminutive Cyclone star ran for 946 yards and nine touchdowns, and caught 26 passes for 201 yards and a score. Considering the No. 2 runner was quarterback Austen Arnaud, and the third most productive rusher came up with just 218 yards, there's a void for a ground game that only averaged 143 yards per game.
Sophomore Shontrelle Johnson came in as a true freshman and finished as the team's No. 3 back thanks to one game. The 5-9, 180-pound sophomore ran for 218 yards and two scores and caught five passes for 14 yards, but 102 of his yards came in the win over Texas Tech and 50 more came in garbage time against Utah. He also added a 33-yard scoring dash in the win over Kansas. Very, very quick, and very smart, he's a good prospect who should be more of a flash of lightning than a true workhorse. Good enough to get offers from Florida and Georgia Tech, the Florida native should be the key piece of the attack.
Bringing a little bit of power and experience is 6-0, 232-pound sophomore Jeff Woody, who finished fourth on the team with 191 yards and a touchdown averaging 4.1 yards per carry. A tough, talented Iowa high school rushing star with over 3,500 yards on the ground in his final two years, he's a good option who can barrel between the tackles better than Johnson.
5-8, 181-pound sophomore James White only ran five times for 12 yards, but he has the quickness and the ability to be a major factor in the rotation. Extremely quick, the Texan has been a scout team star, but he hasn't been able to get his way on the field enough to show what he can do. He'll combine with Duran "Duck" Hollis for time, but they'll have to fight to see the light of day. Hollis is a 5-9, 203-pound bowling ball who was a good enough basketball players to get D-I offers, and he's tough enough to potentially be moved to safety.
Watch Out For … More of a rotation. Robinson was a workhorse who ran 202 times, and he had the battle scars to show for it. Can Johnson hold up? He's not built to be a 20-carry back, but he'll get his chances to run as much as he can handle. Woody, though, will get more work.
Strength: Quickness. By design, ISU has a slew of short, smallish speedsters who can cut on a dime and make big things happen with a little bit of space. Johnson can hit the home run, and Woody, White, and Hollis can scoot.
Weakness: Proven production. Johnson had a few moments, but Robinson and Arnaud combined for 305 of 455 carries. There's plenty of potential and promise, but it's time for the backs to prove it.
Outlook: The Iowa State running game needs more production from the line and the passing game to help the cause, but combining with the quarterbacks the backs will have to carry the attack. Johnson has the athleticism and skills to be a star, but the more help he can get from the other options, the better.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: The Cyclone receivers have been along for the ride over the last few years, and now the hope is to find more pop even though three of the top four targets are gone. RB Alexander Robinson finished fourth on the team, while Collin Franklin and Jake Williams combined for 89 of the team's 211 catches seven of the 14 touchdowns. The receivers have to make the plays when it's their turn to shine, and they have to be consistent. With this group, the production might take a little while to come, and it'll probably be because the quarterback play needs to be stronger.
Senior Darius Darks becomes the No. 1 target almost by default with 106 career grabs. The team's third-leading receiver last year, he caught 29 passes for 355 yards and a score with the lone touchdown coming early on against Iowa. Staying healthy has been a problem with a hamstring injury being the main issue a few years ago, and now he has to be durable and has to start showing more explosion. While he led the team with a 12.2-yard average, he has to come up with more big plays on a regular basis.
Looking to make a bigger impact is veteran Darius Reynolds, a 6-2, 206-pound senior who made 25 catches for 283 yards and two scores as a steady producer. He was on his way to a special 2009 before suffering a broken leg, but last year he started to show off his skills as a good short-range receiver with great route running ability. Now he gets his chance to start, while 6-7, 216-pound sophomore Donnie Jennert has tremendous size and should combine with Reynolds to make things happen on the inside. Not only is he extremely tall, but he's a phenomenal leaper. Now he has to start catching a few passes.
6-0, 196-pound junior Josh Lenz might not be dynamic, but he's a steady veteran who caught 14 passes for 170 yards and two scores last year. Not only a solid receiver, he's one of the team's top returners with a good burst and great deep speed. Can he hit a few home runs now that he'll get more playing time? He'll get his opportunity, while dangerous redshirt freshman Jarvis West will bring his speed into the rotation. A great recruit who turned down Florida State for the Cyclones, he has the wheels finishing second in the 100-meter dash in the Florida high school championships.
Working somewhere in the mix should be JUCO transfer Aaron Horne, a smallish 5-9, 167-pound junior who came in from City College of San Francisco and was phenomenal in spring ball making plays all over the field. He generated the biggest buzz in the spring game catching eight passes for 124 yards, and he showed that he's ready to make a big impact somewhere in the receiving corps.
Junior Kurt Hammerschmidt is ready to step up as the team's starting tight end after catching five passes for 36 yards and a touchdown. A short-range target, the 6-6, 260-pounder's job will be to make key blocks for the ground game as a strong, aggressive blocker. He might not be a top receiver, but he can catch. 6-3, 248-pound senior Ricky Howard has been a special teamer and hasn't caught any passes, but he moves well and should see time in two tight end sets.
Watch Out For … Darks. If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be a true, dangerous weapon who makes secondaries worry. Now he has to show he can become a bit of a scorer.
Strength: Players ready to shine. Darks, Lenz, and Reynolds might not have been dynamic, but they've been around long enough to know what they're doing. They're not starting from scratch like most teams would be after losing their top targets.
Weakness: Scorers. The Cyclones only came up with 14 touchdown receptions, and eight of them are gone. In a league with so many great receivers, there isn't anyone on ISU who'll keep defensive coordinators up at night.
Outlook: The Iowa State receivers aren't going to be anything special, but there's enough returning experience and there are enough decent, reliable players to occasionally get things moving. The quarterbacks aren't bombers and the passing game isn't going to get the focus the ground attack will, but it would be nice if a receiver stepped up to become a No. 1 go-to guy.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The line was horrible in pass protection allowing 33 sacks, but it did a halfway decent job for the ground game paving the way for 2,042 yards, but just 1,718 net after taking away the sack totals. Three starters return with the right side set and the tackles fine, but it might be asking a bit much to make a big jump up in production after a disappointing season. It was all supposed to come together in the ISU zone-blocking scheme, and it didn't.
There might be some concerns on the line and a little bit of turnover, but the star is back in left tackle Kelechi Osemele, a solid pass blocker with great size. The 6-6, 354-pounder was better in 2009 than 2010, earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors two seasons ago, but he's a very big, very strong blocker who made the successful move from guard to tackle and now is the anchor everything will work around. Adding more athleticism to the outside is 6-7, 298-pound junior Carter Bykowski, a former tight end with backup experience.
Back on the other side is 6-6, 276-pound junior Brayden Burris at right tackle. While he's not all that huge, he moves well and he has just enough quickness to handle the speed rushers. An 11 game starter, he returned from a torn MCL and has settled into the spot over the last few seasons. He's a to-the-whistle blocker who's always moving and always hustling, but he doesn't pound over anyone. Working as a key backup will be sophomore Kyle Lichtenberg, a 6-6, 275-pounder who saw time in almost every game. He's quick with a good frame that's tough to get around.
6-3, 332-pound senior Hayworth Hicks came in from the JUCO ranks to start every game in 2008, redshirted in 2009, and was a key starter throughout 2010 establishing himself as a tough run blocker. The veteran right guard doesn't move all that well, but he's a big body with the ability to shove stronger interior linemen around. He'll combine with JUCO transfer Jon Caspers, a 6-5, 283-pound guard who's a perfect fit for the ISU scheme. He redshirted last season, but he's ready to take on a big role in the rotation.
The big key to the line will be replacing Ben Lamaak at center. 6-3, 270-pound redshirt freshman Tom Farniok isn't all that big and he wasn't a top recruit, but he's feisty and he'll get his chances to own the spot in the middle for the next four years. He'll have to battle with JUCO transfer Sam Tautolo, a 6-3, 303-pound junior who could move to guard if needed, but his worth will be as a big body for the middle.
6-4, 310-pound sophomore Ethan Tuftee has good size and tremendous upside as the team's best option at left guard. A good recruit, he's strong, tough, and has the bulk needed to grow into a key run blocker. He'll combine with 6-5, 298-pound redshirt freshman Shaban Dika, who has tackle size and the potential to move around where needed. A good recruit, he'll soon get his chances to show what he can do.
Watch Out For … Center. Can Farniok be the main man who's ready to be a quarterback for an intricate blocking scheme? He has the athleticism, but he doesn't have the size that Tautolo does. The JUCO transfer is ready to give it a go from Day One if needed.
Strength: Tackle. Osemele is a massive veteran who's good enough to revolve the entire blocking scheme around, while Burris has enough experience to come up with a solid season.
Weakness: Pass protection. A strength two years ago when the coaching staff made a special push to keep the quarterback upright, but the line struggled last year. Part of the problem was trying to block for a mobile quarterback in Austen Arnaud, who always tried to make things happen, but the line was also a disappointment.
Outlook: The ISU coaches know how to get all they can out of a line, but they need the starting five to jell early on and they need more star power. Osemele has to revert to 2009 form and he has to beat up more defenders, while Hicks and Burris have to rock on the right side. There's decent athleticism among the backups and there needs to be a good rotation throughout.
Unit Rating: 6
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