Tag:Iowa State
Posted on: February 10, 2012 12:50 pm
 

Friday Mailbag: The state of Penn St recruiting

Here is this week's mailbag. As always, you can send questions to me via Twitter at BFeldmanCBS.

From @Philly_Sak Given all the circumstances, how do you feel Bill O'Brien did salvaging the PSU recruiting class?

As you mentioned, the circumstances around this class were so catastrophic, relatively speaking, people couldn't have expected too much after all that has been happening around State College of late. On top of all of that, you also had a new head coach without any head coaching track record having spent most of his time away from his new program while he finishes up with in the NFL. That is A LOT to overcome.


Recruiting analysts ranked the class around No. 50 nationally and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. That's actually better than what I would've expected given the circumstances. Of course, we try not to read too much into the team rankings especially. After all, a few years ago, Stanford signed a class that was ranked around No. 50 nationally and in retrospect the group with Andrew Luck, David DeCastro and others should've been no lower than No. 2 overall. 
 
  The downside is six prospects who had verbaled to PSU opted to go some place else. Many of them will play in the Big Ten but for Ohio State. They did hang on to touted WR Eugene Lewis, a local kid who all the recruiting sites are very high on. DL Jamil Pollard and Brian Gaia, an offensive lineman from Maryland, are two other coveted recruits bound for Penn State. 

While it helped that O'Brien immediately retained Larry Johnson who had been the program's best recruiter, I really think due to all of the above this was about as close to a lost class as a big-time program will ever have. 

On the bright side, there have been reports this week that many top 2013 recruits, including one of the top-ranked tight ends, Adam Breneman are high on PSU and O'Brien. You'd have to think O'Brien's work in New England with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will help sell guys like Breneman, and if he can reel in a highly touted 2013 recruit early that will stir some much-needed momentum with the next wave of kids. But recruiting is going to be an uphill battle there for quite some time and Meyer and Brady Hoke having as much momentum as they do now is only going to make it that much harder. Beyond that, Wisconsin has never been stronger coming off consecutive Rose Bowl trips.

  From @ClintonOftedahl After USC/Barkley, which schools made out the best with players postponing the NFL Draft?

I agree that no program made out any better than USC sorting out which underclassmen stayed/left for the NFL. The Trojans did lose their best lineman in LT Matt Kalil and their top pass rusher, DE Nick Perry, but it was Barkley, who will be a four-year starter and has been the leader of this team the past two seasons, that was the pivotal guy. They also retained T.J. McDonald, one of the nation's top safeties, who is the leader of the defense. If Barkley bolted, I expect the Trojans would be an eight or nine-win team. With him, they are a legit national title contender.

At No. 2 in terms of schools that benefitted the most from the stay/go status, I'd put Notre Dame. Brian Kelly has to feel good about having LB Manti Te'o for another season and they also keep Tyler Eifert, one of the country's better tight ends. Eifert is a big plus for a team that lost its best weapon, WR Michael Floyd and has issues at quarterback. Having a legit go-to guy like Eifert for 2012 will be huge for whoever becomes the starting QB.

Right after them, I'd put Oklahoma, which retains Landry Jones, who three months ago, most observers figured was a lock to leave. Another fan base that should be breathing a big sigh of relief is Arkansas. The Hogs QB Tyler Wilson gave a lot of consideration to bolting for the NFL in the days leading up to the deadline, but he's going to be back as is RB Knile Davis.

For the fifth spot, I'd list Georgia. The Dawgs lost gifted tight end Orson Charles but didn't lose LB Jarvis Jones or DB Baccari Rambo. The last big "winner" here I'll mention is Wisconsin. Most top young running backs tend to jump to the NFL when they get the chance. Montee Ball, who just capped off a magnificent season, didn't jump, and that's surprising.

From @Falb7 Does Urban Meyer have a right to be upset with Bret Bielema's comments about his recruiting tactics?

As I said last week, it's hard to sift though much of the finger-pointing and backtalk we had in the aftermath of signing day. None of the guys involved ever come out looking better for being a part of that, although selfishly I do think it does spice up subplots to the games in the fall and sweeten potential rivalries or, in some cases, foster new ones. 

  No coach ever likes to get accused by a peer especially for shady business on the recruiting trail. The perception-is-reality stuff has to be frustrating but as long as it doesn't turn off recruits, and that sure doesn't seem to be the case with Ohio State, I doubt Meyer will lose any sleep over it. Rival coaches only tend to grouse about people's success. They never seem to pay much attention to anyone that isn't impacting their own success. Or the guy who is going 3-9 and signing all of the "two-star" kids. 

 

The one thing that doesn't sit well, and this was something a lot of Florida fans pointed out was that Meyer had been very outspoken as he left coaching for what he deemed unethical recruiting methods that had been increasing in recent years. Some of Meyer's critics, such as Mike Bianchi, have called him out on that.


"What I've seen the last five years is a complete turn in the integrity of the college coaching profession," Meyer said in one radio interview last year. "It's completely turned the other way. Right now, it's not good because the risk-reward is 'have at it, do what you've got to do to get the great player, go win games and at the end of the day we'll find out what happens down the road.' "


From @jgeer92376  A CFB question - which team of Stanford, Baylor, Oregon, Michigan State or Wisconsin will suffer the most for losing their QB?
 

It's a toss-up between Stanford and Baylor. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were as close to "Franchise QBs" or program-elevators as we've seen in the last 20 years. Even though both programs are in much better positions now than when before both QBs signed with them out of high school, there is going to be significant drop-off in 2012. After that, I'd put Michigan State next because of all Kirk Cousins meant to his program on and off-the-field the past four years. The program that loses the least: Oregon. Darron Thomas was a good QB, especially in that system, but Bryan Bennett was already nipping at his heels and redshirt Marcus Mariota is right there pushing him.

From @MR_SOUTH_BEACH where do you see mich being ranked in the preseason poll and can they beat alabama ?

I had them No. 11 in my early rankings for 2012. The program has some nice momentum coming off an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win in Brady Hoke's first year. And, the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State, which is huge for their psyche in Ann Arbor. 

For the Wolverines to take the next step and be a national title contender, which is where they'd need to be to knock off Alabama this year, Denard Robinson needs to be much sharper as a passer. He actually seemed to regress in 2011. His completion percentage was way down (from 63 percent to 55 percent) and he threw four more INTs despite quite a few less attempts. He also got away with some jump balls that could've turned into more picks. You'd think the off-season with time to review his work in his first season with OC Al Borges would be a good thing in that regard. We'll see. There is plenty of talent around him (especially RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, who after Montee Ball is near the top for running backs in the Big Ten), but they are going to miss center David Molk, who was solid anchoring the line.


They also need to find a way to get tougher on defense, which isn't going to be easy considering they have to replace NG Mike Martin. But there are a lot of very promising young players who got settled in last fall and should thrive with another off-season with Greg Mattison. Keep an eye on Jake Ryan, a budding star there.

Alabama is losing a lot of great players on both sides of the ball. However, they still may have the best O-line in the country and the back-ups Nick Saban had on D probably were better than anyone else's, save for maybe LSU. That Tide group also is better than most people's starters.  Hoke has his share of playmakers, starting with Robinson, and Mattison is one of the brightest defensive minds around. Bama also is going to be young in most spots, so it's not unrealistic to think Michigan could pull off the upset. Still, to see a Big Ten team beat the defending national champs, especially one that is NOT breaking in a new QB definitely would be a head-turner of major proportions.

From @cbhenn What's your pre-spring SEC East 1-7 predictions for 2012?

I have Georgia winning the East. The Dawgs have a very good, experienced D returning and a savvy QB in Aaron Murray. After that, I have South Carolina. I could see Tennessee coming in third as my surprise team. The Vols will no longer be a young team. They'll have a lot of three-year starters on what figures to be a potent offense. They will be counting on a lot of unproven guys on the D-line but my hunch is they have a shot to win nine this year. I slotted UF fourth ahead of Mizzou because they have a much deeper group of athletes on defense. After that, I have Vandy and UK rounding out the division.

From @Tavon4Heisman Does Geno Smith have a better shot at a Heisman now that WVU will be in the Big 12 as opposed to playing in the Big East?

No doubt. He and WVU finished the year with a strong statement, scoring 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl. All of the key skill guys are back and should be even better with another off-season to fine-tune the timing of Dana Holgorsen's system. And now, Smith moves to a bigger stage in a much more high-profile league. Four of the past 10 Heisman winners came from Big 12 schools. That's more than any other conference can claim. If Smith has a big season, and he should, he will be right in the mix to get to New York and perhaps with the trophy. He is going to need some help though from his team's defense because no matter how eye-popping his stats are, if WVU is no better than 8-4, he won't win it.


From Matthew Parten in Auburn, AL: What, in your opinion will end up being the most important off season development for Auburn this year - the premature departures of Gus Malzahn, Barrett Trotter, and Michael Dyer, the hire of Brian Van Gorder, the decisions by Onterio McCalebb and Philip Lutzenkirken to remain at school for their Senior seasons, or the upcoming hire of an offensive coordinator?  

The hire of Van Gorder, who had so much success at Georgia, was a good move. His experience in the league will help a lot, but I'd say the most important development was the departure of Malzahn. Even though things dropped off dramatically in 2011, and much of that can be traced to Cam Newton and most of the O-line being gone, Malzahn is still one of the brightest offensive minds in college football. He's proven in recent years to be a very savvy play-caller and game-planner. Plus, you can also tie in the departure of a stud running back/workhorse such as Dyer and it makes it sting that much more.

From @cnichollHays  You've brought up a lot of interesting stats in the "Stats that Matter" feature...what is the most interesting stat uve seen


There have been a lot of them that I was really intrigued by the more we discussed them. Tom Herman, the new offensive coordinator at Ohio State, had a really interesting one called the "double positive"that was fun to track and Texas DC Manny Diaz willingness to embrace the Moneyball mind set was cool to write about as well.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:04 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:51 pm
 

Tuesday Top 10: Best coaching jobs of 2011


As we get close to the end of the regular season, it's time to get into our year-end awards. This week's Top 10: the best coaching jobs of 2011.

1. Bill Snyder, K-State: If the Wildcats beat Iowa State at home, they'll finish 10-2, which would be remarkable given there were such modest expectations for this team every place outside the KSU football complex. K-State was, after all, predicted to finish eighth in the 10-team Big 12 before the season began. Snyder's team had only two starters back on the O-line and uncertainty at QB, yet here they are in the Top 15. The Cats have had an absurd number of tight games and they've won a head-turning amount, going 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less. Before this year, the KSU program hadn't won more than seven games since 2003 when Snyder led them to an 11-3 record.

2. Les Miles, LSU: Yeah, I know his team may have more talent than any other squad in the country. But to make it through a season without a stumble, especially one with as many formidable opponents as they had is very, very impressive. Nothing seems to deter this guy or his damnfineteam. Lose the best defensive player in college football (Patrick Peterson)? No worries. Suspensions to key players? No big deal. Hostile road environments? No problem. Potential QB controversy? Who cares? The Tigers are steam-rolling their way to the BCS title game. They faced seven teams that were ranked in the top 25 when they played -- and only two of those games were in Baton Rouge -- and they won all seven with an averaging victory margin of 19 ppg.


Fans, you can voice your opinion for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year by voting HERE


3. Kevin Sumlin, Houston: This is the hottest coach in the country with a bunch of intriguing jobs coming open. Sumlin should be their first call. He has done a terrific job elevating this program. The Cougars, who only had 12 starters back, are 12-0 and in the top 10. He has made some brilliant coaching hires that are paying off in a big way on both sides of the ball. They are averaging over 53 ppg, but also are playing pretty solid defense, ranking No. 30 in scoring D and No. 3 in TFLs. The knock (because there almost always has to be some knock) is their schedule featured no ranked opponents, but the Cougars could only play who was on their schedule, and no one has been able to catch them.

4. Hugh Freeze, Arkansas State: On the eve of this season, a member of Freeze's staff predicted this team would win the Sun Belt. Bold talk for a program that went 4-8 last year and hadn't had a winning season since 1995. The Red Wolves also only returned one starting O-lineman. But the assistant, D-line coach Chris Kiffin, had that much confidence in Freeze and what he was doing there. Monte Kiffin's younger son knew what he was talking about. ASU is 9-2 and 7-0 in Sun Belt play and Freeze's name is hot. He's either going to be the next head coach at Ole Miss, Southern Miss or Memphis. This is good offensive team and also only one of two squads that kept Va. Tech's great David Wilson under 5.0 yards per carry or under the 100-yard mark this season.

5. James Franklin, Vandy: I wrote in more detail about the transformation job the first-year head coach has done in Nashville in the Big Picture Sunday. In a nutshell, here's his case: A program that had won two games each of the past two years and then loses its best player to injury before the season (Warren Norman) yet still finds a way to go 6-6 in the SEC, and came very close to going 10-2. They lost games against Arkansas, Georgia, and at Florida and at Tennessee by a combined 19 points. If the Commodores win two of those, Franklin's No. 1 on this list.

6. Brady Hoke, Michigan: The Wolverines finally beat Ohio State after almost a 3,000-day stretch, and they won 10 games this season. Hoke deserves plenty of credit, although he did inherit a good situation with an explosive offense led by a dynamic QB and an experienced O-line. The biggest change came on defense where the Wolverines were lacking. His hire of Greg Mattison as DC is why Hoke's on this list. Mattison sparked a metamorphosis in this bunch, taking a unit that was No. 108 in scoring defense last season and turning it into the No. 9 D in the nation.


7. Willie Taggart, WKU: The former Jim Harbaugh assistant has transformed arguably the worst program in FBS to a respectable one this season. WKU, which had gone 4-32 the previous three years, looked like it was headed for more misery after the first month of the 2011 season. The Hilltoppers opened 0-4, even getting blown out by an average FCS team, Indiana State. But then they got rolling, winning seven of their last eight, which included wins over ULL and FIU, a couple of 8-4 teams.

8. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: A cult hero for his locker room speeches, Rhoads is emerging as a hot commodity, thanks in large part to his ability to contain potent offenses in big games and pull huge upsets. He was the architect behind the Pitt Panthers' stunning upset as a four-TD underdog of WVU when the Mountaineers were on the cusp of going to the BCS title game a few years ago. Earlier this month Rhoads' team did something similar by sparking the victory of another four-TD fav, Oklahoma State. In reality, it's a stunner this team is even bowl eligible if you asked Vegas experts before the season. Almost as impressive is his team's 5-0 record in games decided by six points or less.

9. Lane Kiffin, USC: At the mid-year point of this season, the people in Kiffin's corner seemed to be dwindling. The Trojans had looked shaky against some lowly opponents (Minnesota, Syracuse and Arizona) and got blown out at ASU. A road trip to Notre Dame was coming. ND played it up big. Outsiders talked about how Brian Kelly would out-coach Kiffin and the Irish would maul the Trojans. The opposite happened. Despite the shadow of the NCAA sanctions and no post-season bowl hopes, USC's been rolling ever since, picking up momentum. They ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak, which had been the longest in the country. The Trojans finished the season hammering UCLA 50-0, meaning they beat their two archrivals by a combined score of 81-17.


10. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina: I was close to putting UVA's Mike London in this spot but opted for Spurrier, who led the school to only its second 10-win season in Gamecocks history, despite losing his most valuable player, RB Marcus Lattimore early in the season, and on top of that had issues with his starting QB Stephen Garcia.





Posted on: November 22, 2011 10:11 am
Edited on: November 22, 2011 10:45 am
 

Tuesday Top 10: Fastest-rising assistant coaches

As we reported Monday afternoon with the report about Rich Rodriguez getting the Arizona job, tis the season for coaching changes. Expect a lot more vacancies to spring up in the next few weeks. A few of them will get filled by first-time head coaches. This week's Top 10 list examines some of the best up-and-comers to keep an eye on:

1. Gus Malzahn, Auburn, OC: The former Arkansas high school coach's rep sky-rocketed last season as Auburn rode Cam Newton to the BCS title. Things have been much, much tougher this year without Newton or most of last year's offensive line. The offense that was fifth nationally in scoring and sixth in total offense has plummeted to 78th and 93rd, respectively. But things should get a lot better next year as almost all of their key guys figure to be back. But will Malzahn? He is paid very, very well at Auburn, getting a reported $1.3 mil per year, and won't leave for just any coaching job, but word is that UNC's vacancy could be tempting.

2. Kirby Smart, Alabama, DC: Nick Saban's program has spawned a handful of future head coaches (FSU's Jimbo Fisher, UF's Will Muschamp and Tennessee's Derek Dooley among them), and Smart figures to be the next one up. Then again, Bama OC Jim McElwain, who could've also been on this list, will likely get some looks this winter too. Bama's defensive prowess will be quite a selling point for Smart. The Tide leads the nation in: rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense and scoring defense. That's quite a mouthful. The one downside for the former Georgia DB is that Saban is so hands-on with Alabama's defense it's perceived that the head coach is more responsible for the unit's success than most head coaches.

3. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin, OC: One of the more anonymous "top" assistants in college football, the 46-year-old Chryst, a former Mike Riley assistant, has done a terrific job for the Badgers for years. This season, he's put together an offense that has produced two Heisman candidates in QB Russell Wilson and RB Montee Ball. The Badgers are fifth in the country in scoring and 10th in rushing under the former Wisconsin QB.

4. Manny Diaz, Texas, DC: A first-year UT assistant, Diaz has proven to be the most effective of all of Mack Brown's new on-field coaches, turning a defense that had to replace most of the secondary into one that is 11th in pass efficiency D and 26th in scoring D. Last year, the Horns were 46th and 49th in both of those categories. Texas also has jumped from 31st against the run all the way up to No. 8. Diaz provided a similar boost at his previous stop, Mississippi State in 2010. The Miami native would be even higher on this list if his team was doing better than a 6-4 mark. But don't blame the defense. It's only a matter of time before Diaz is running his own program.

5. Chad Morris, Clemson, OC: Like Malzahn, Morris is a former high school coach who is cashing in on an up-tempo offense that has pumped life into a big, previously underachieving college program. As I detailed in a Stats That Matter a few weeks back, Morris learned a lot from Malzahn and has done wonders for young QB Tajh Boyd. Morris also has done wonders for Dabo Swinney's job security. The Tigers are 12th in the nation in passing, 18th in total offense and 21st in scoring. A year ago, before Morris arrived, they were 78th, 88th and 86th in those carries. With a handful of openings likely to come this winter in his native state of Texas, expect Morris' phone to be ringing.

6. Garrick McGee, Ark. OC: The Hogs are hot, having scored at least 44 points in their past three SEC games. McGee, a former OU QB, has learned well under Bobby Petrino, one of the game's sharpest offensive minds. Arkansas is No. 3 in the nation led by its potent offense, which had to deal with the loss of record-setting QB Ryan Mallett, a great tight end D.J. Williams and then, on the eve of the season, RB Knile Davis yet the Hogs still pile up the points. If McGee and the Hogs can light up the vaunted LSU defense on Friday, the young coach's stock will really rise.

7. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State, DC: Yet another Youngstown guy making it big in college coaching. Narduzzi and his boss Mark Dantonio have done another great job producing a ferocious defense. MSU is No. 3 in the country in total defense; No. 5 in scoring; No. 5 in pass efficiency defense and No. 10 against the run. Impressive? No doubt. But what really is amazing is that coming into this season, the Spartans lost four of their top five tackles from last year, including star LB Greg Jones.

8. Bud Foster, Va. Tech, DC: The Hokies again have a top-10 defense. Yawn. Foster seems to do this on an annual basis. This season, Tech has had to overcome a bunch of injuries to key guys in its front seven, but regardless of that, the Hokies are 10-1 and leaning on Foster's stifling defense. Trouble is, for all of Foster's success and the respect he has, the 52-year-old has been passed over many times for head coaching jobs and you have to wonder if he'll ever get his shot to run his own program.

9. Tony Levine, Houston, Special Teams Coordinator: Even though most head coaches get hired after being offensive or defensive coordinators, keep an eye on the 39-year-old Levine, a former wideout at Minnesota, who has proven to be one of the country's best special teams coaches and has learned under Kevin Sumlin, John Fox, Bobby Petrino and Tommy Tuberville in his time in college and the NFL. Since he got to UH in 2008, his teams have returned eight kickoffs for TDs and blocked 18 kicks. That's fourth-most in the country in that time. He's also been Sumlin's assistant head coach for what has become a very hot program these days. Having also been UH's inside receivers coach for the Cougars' record-breaking offense the past four seasons or exhibiting the organizational experience of being a director of football operation (Louisville) also won't hurt his cause either.

10. (tie) Frank Wilson, LSU, RB coach/recruiting coordinator: A New Orleans native, Wilson has emerged as arguably the nation's top recruiter. He has found and reeled in studs at Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Tennessee and now at LSU, but the guy has proven to be a lot more than just a recruiter. No assistant may be more respected by his players. And he has proven he knows how to run a program and be a leader. Back when he was 27, he took over a downtrodden high school program in New Orleans and turned the place upside down. In one year, the team GPA jumped from 1.5 to 2.5 and his team knocked off Louisiana powerhouse John Curtis HS with its first district loss in 25 years. By Wilson's third season at the school, they were playing in the state title game.

10. (tie) Tom Herman, Iowa State, OC:  The Mensa guy I wrote about last week had a big Friday night helping lead the Cyclones to the biggest win in school history, upsetting No. 2 Oklahoma State in double-overtime, 37-31 boosting ISU to 6-4. Iowa State's numbers on offense this season are far from head-turning: 44th in total offense and 75th in scoring, but remember this is a guy who produced top 10 offenses at Rice just a few years back and helped that program get to its first bowl game in over a half-century. Like Morris and Levine, if he gets a long look when a few of these jobs in the Southwest open up.
Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 17, 2011 1:33 pm
 

Stats That Matter: The Mensa man making things go

For the latest Stats That Matter I caught up with a guy who is arguably the "smartest" coach in college football. Hyperbole? We'll get back to that later in the article.

In his third year as Iowa State's offensive coordinator Tom Herman's O is hardly wracking up gaudy numbers. The Cyclones are 59th in total offense and 85th in scoring, but they are 5-4. Not bad for a team that had only five starters back on offense and was picked to come in second-to-last in the preseason Big 12 media poll.

  Herman's big on preaching to his players about trying to win "the double positive," he explains of his biggest stat barometer.

"If you win the turnover battle and the 'explosive' game, stats say you win the game 97 percent of the time. We preach that to our kids daily. I think I read a study a few years ago about it and it's certainly held up in all of my years as a coordinator. I think there's maybe been one game where we lost them both and still won the game and that happened this year against Northern Iowa."

In that game, the Cyclones had three more turnovers and less explosive plays than UNI. They needed to score a TD in the final minute to beat the FCS team, 20-19. (Herman, by the way, defines "explosive plays" as any running play over 12 yards and any pass over 16.) 

Their four losses this season all came in games where ISU had less explosive plays than its opponent this year: Texas (5-12); Baylor (8-13); Mizzou (8-15) andTexas A&M (6-12). They had the same number of explosive plays against Iowa (6-6) and lost the turnover battle (3-1) but still managed to eek out a 44-41 win in overtime.

It is always interesting to talk with coaches such as Herman who work at the smaller programs (relatively speaking in terms of conference worth), especially when it comes to things like the explosive play component. The challenge at a place like Iowa State is that your often lining up against teams with better athletes, which means your margin for error shrinks because the defense can win more one-on-one battles, pursue better, close faster and turn plays that figure to be 20- and 30-yard gains into eight-yard and six-yard pick-ups.

  "Last year, I read a stat where we were the only team in 1-A not to have a pass over 40 yards," Herman said. "This year we've made an effort, not only as a play-caller and game-planning to say 'Hey, we've got to find a way as coaches to manufacture these things, whether that means through 'trick' plays or formations or whatever the case may be. We've got manufacture them as coaches but at the same time we've to preach to our guys, especially since the perimeter guys, the wide receivers are so involved in the pass aspect but also in the explosive runs where a great block by a wide receiver can turn an eight-yard run into a 20-yard run.' We really preach our downfield blocking.

"I talked ad nauseam during two-a-days about it. If you look at the teams that are getting 40-yard pass plays or more, they're not always chucking the ball 50 yards downfield. They're throwing the intermediate passes and getting the ball to their great athletes and they're making a guy miss or getting a great block. In our second game against Iowa, we had a 57-yard pass. I think it was the longest pass at Iowa State since 2004, and it came on a tunnel screen. We caught the ball one yard from the line of scrimmage. At Iowa State, the more you can recruit kids that can be dynamic with the ball in their hands, the more of those plays you're gonna get."

That 57-yard pass play came thanks in large part to the skills of Aaron Horne, a 5-9, 175-pound JC transfer from City College of San Francisco, who followed his QB Steele Jantz and arrived in Ames last off-season. "It was blocked great at the point, the two O-linemen did a great job of getting out and getting the play started," explained Herman. "I think (Horne) made one guy miss and took the play exactly where it was designed to go and was off to the races."

The turnover component of the Double Positive has been even more vexing for Herman and his colleagues. ISU is 110th in the country in turnover margin. Last year they were 30th, losing just seven fumbles and throwing 10 INTs. Through nine games, they're closing in on twice as many fumbles (12) as they had in 2010.

"The fumbles have been absolutely frustrating," he said. "We have 3rd-and-12 and we convert it against Kansas and our wide receiver fumbles going across the 50. Another time, we're on the 8-yard line going in. It's the 17th play of our drive that started at our minus-4 and we fumble it. I never once felt like we weren't in control against Kansas yet the score said different because we turned the ball over three times and all three were on the plus side of the 50 going in. 

"The crazy thing is we do ball-security drills every day. On the back of our shorts--and I got this from the Houston Texans--it says 'Protect the Ball.' In every meeting room there is a sign that says 'Protect the Ball.' Two years ago, we were doing the exact same ball security drills (when Herman was the OC at Rice) and I think we finished in the (top 10) in the country in turnover margin. (The Owls were seventh nationally.) But this year we've had an issue with fumbling. We've pulled our hair out trying to figure new improved ways to drill ball-security. It sounds like a cop-out answer, but it just happens. And you don't want to engrain it too much because you don't want to paralyze the kids so that they play scared. You don't want it to become a self-fulfilling prophecy either. It's a line we have to walk but it's our job as coaches to get it rectified."

If there is a way to find that solution, there's a good chance Herman would be the guy to figure it out. And, this gets us back to that "smartest" guy in coaching thing. Herman is literally a member of Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. O.K., technically, Herman might not be a member any more. He doesn't remember the last time he paid the organization's dues. And truth be told, he was pretty sheepish when I brought it up.

"That and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee," he said of the Mensa membership, which he explained he qualified for after taking a test right around the time he was graduating from college at Cal Lutheran in 1997 at his mom's prodding. She said 'Take the test. If anything else it'll look good on a resume.' 

To qualify he had to score high enough on it to grade out in the top 2 percent of humans on the planet, he said. Herman likened the Mensa test to more like the LSAT than the SAT, saying it's heavy on "logic" questions. "There is a difference between intelligence and knowledge. These [IQ-type tests are trying to gauge your] ability to think and ability to learn and logically deduce answers from problems."

Herman, who grew up in Simi Valley, Calif., said he did get accepted into some Ivy League schools but since he was the only child of a single mom and didn't want to be a few hundred thousand dollars in debt after graduated. Instead, he opted for UC Davis and later transferred to Cal-Lutheran, where he was an all-league wide receiver.

His education as a coach has been on-going. He credits his time as a graduate assistant at Texas, working for Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis for a big role in his learning the game.

  "The best thing that ever happened to me was as a GA I worked with the offensive line for two years," Herman says. "I got to learn protections and how things are blocked. Everybody can draw up routes to get people open, but how does that tie-in to the protection and where the QB is hot? We've changed quite dramatically from what Coach Davis was simply because we didn't have the players of a what Texas can have." Herman's also picked up a lot from his time visiting with other coaches and is a big fan of Brian Billick's book, Developing an Offensive Game Plan. "That book changed my life in terms of quantifying everything you do offensively and putting a number and a goal to it."

The numbers Herman's offenses put up while at Rice caught a lot of people's attention in coaching circles. As the Owls emerged as an unlikely offensive juggernaut, setting almost 50 school records in his two years in Houston. Herman helped Rice win 10 games in 2008. That season the Owls went to their first bowl game in 54 years. Since coming to ISU, he's had to shift his scheme around quite a bit. At Rice he had a potent triggerman (Chase Clement), a record-setting receiver (Jarrett Dillard) and a dangerous tight end/H-back (James Casey), so they threw the heck out of the ball. At Iowa State, he inherited a gifted running back (Alexander Robinson, who ran for over 2,100 in two season with Herman before graduating) and a good Big 12 O-line.

"We were light years different at Rice," he said. "Here, we didn't try to fit a square peg into a round hole. While we have never wavered from being spread, no huddle and shotgun, we're going to have to run the ball. We became a run-first team as we slowly improve at the wide receiver position."

Even though Herman is goals-driven when it comes to numbers, he maintain he's tries to keep it in context:

"Our job is to score more one point than the defense allows," he says. "If our defense is playing great, then we're going to manage the game to the point where we don't screw it up on offense, so we don't lose the game. If our defense is struggling or the other offense is on a roll and it looks this could be a high-scoring game, then the playbook opens up a little bit. You start adjusting your mindset. We don't get hung up a whole bunch on rush yards, pass yards or even points per game. We've got five wins and that's probably three more than the guys in Vegas would've told you we'd probably have before the start of the year.

  "I think at a place like Iowa State it's important to just really manage the game and see how the game is unfolding and then tweak your play-calling to what you need."

So far, that seems to be working out pretty well for the Cyclones.
Category: NCAAF
 
 
 
 
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