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Have Whiskey, Will Travel: A Q&A with WRNL

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We sat down with Fitz of the excellent Iowa State blog Wide Right and Natty Light to find out just what’s happening in Ames.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

If your (second) favorite Big 12 blog isn’t Wide Right and Natty Light, it should be. No one can blame the boys in Ames for losing their minds a bit over the last decade plus of football mediocrity, and it’s led to a blog that is funny, irreverent, and downright entertaining. Fitz was kind enough to answer a few questions as Iowa State travels to Fort Worth to kick off both team’s Big 12 seasons.

So, my first question is... are you okay? Because we aren't okay. And the Big 12 probably isn't okay. Maybe Texas is okay. I don't even know anymore.

Iowa State is not okay. But that's okay, because Iowa State is used to be not okay. Being not okay is part of who we are... We live and breathe being not okay. Okay?

(editor’s note: k.)

Iowa State made what was universally regarded as an excellent hire in former Toledo coach Matt Campbell. While two games is a completely unfair sample size to judge a new coach on, let's do it anyway. What are your early impressions of Coach Campbell?

My early judgment of Coach Campbell doesn't hinge much on the results of our first two games. The one aspect of those games that I might hold against him is that the Cyclones are averaging 9.5 penalties per outing so far, and many of those are procedural (I think we had 3-4 illegal formation calls against Iowa). Beyond penalties though, the ugly results of ISU's young season can't be pinned on Campbell too much. Play calling has been questionable at times, but I think that's been marred by a lack of execution by players more than anything.

Paul Rhoads didn't exactly leave us with a team full of all-stars, and offseason attrition, especially on the offensive line, has left this team as thin as ever. The things that are legitimately in Campbell's control, including recruiting and culture, he's taken by the balls so far. Right now, Iowa State has the 33rd best recruiting class in the country lined up for 2017 according to 247Sports. Of course, a big reason for that is because we already have 19 commitments and there are a lot of dominoes still to fall, but he's already proven in just under a year of being ISU's head coach that he can be more effective on the recruiting trail than Rhoads ever was.

If Campbell and staff can get kids to hold their commitments through what should be a rough 2016 season, things will start to look up in 2017 and beyond.

After watching their team drop the first two contests on the season, how are Iowa State fans feeling about their team? Do you wait for game three to bust out the corn whisky or did you go into the season knowing it was going to be a hard liquor kind of year?

Lots of fans are bummed out because the ISU football marketing department really fired up the hype train during the offseason with some sweet media. The coaches were optimistic on Twitter (after a Rhoads staff that hardly used social media at all) and about every week saw a new image or hype video with the new #AStormIsBrewing campaign.

Unfortunately, after the first two games of the season, many fans deemed the storm that was supposedly brewing to be a "shit storm," and they're technically not wrong. The Cyclones have looked pretty bad through two weeks. However, the rational fans knew this was likely to be a rough season, especially with a really green offensive line. The light sprinkles going on right now on the field are hopefully just the leading edge of what will soon turn into a full-fledged Cyclone. Our fans are extremely patient, but we're definitely overdue for some quality football success.

What is the ceiling for this Iowa State team this year? Can they pull off a few upsets and get to bowl eligibility?

Iowa State would have needed to beat UNI to have any shot at getting to a bowl game this year, in my opinion. I'd say the ceiling at this point is about 4 wins based on what I've seen so far. For as much as ISU was known for being "giant slayers" back at the beginning of the Rhoads era, they haven't beaten a ranked team since TCU in 2012. (But it WAS fun beating an unranked Texas team 24-0 last year...)

Of the remaining teams on our schedule, only 5 aren't currently receiving votes in the most recent AP poll. San Jose State SHOULD be a win next week, but beyond that, every game left (including Kansas, gah) will likely be a toss-up.

The three-headed monster of Allen Lazard, Mike Warren, and Joel Lanning was expected to carry the Cyclone offense this season, but Lanning has been bad (to the point of being benched) and Warren is averaging 3.1 yards per carry. Lazard has been phenomenal, but has no help from the rest of the receiving corp. Is there one or two things you can point to to explain why the offense just hasn't gotten off the ground so far?

I'll give you two things: the offensive line, and the offensive line.

Joking aside, Lanning's accuracy has been really bad at times and that's part of why he was benched late against Iowa (being down 30+ points being the other part). There were some designed rollouts where no defender was applying pressure to Lanning and he had open receivers in front of him, but his throws were a good 1-3 yards wide of their targets. That's not something you want a quarterback at the FBS level doing.

But about that whole offensive line thing... To give you some perspective, here are the classes Iowa State's scholarship linemen currently on the roster are from:

2012: 1 (Nick Fett was a walk-on until he was given a scholarship in the most recent off-season)

2013: 2 (Jake Campos is out with a broken leg, Shawn Curtis is backup right tackle)

2014: 2 (Will Windham is backup center, Kory Kodanko isn't on the depth chart)

2015: 4

2016: 6

As you can see, Iowa State's starters on the offensive line, minus former walk-on Fett, are guys who were brought in during 2015 or 2016. That means either JUCO recruits (can be hit or miss), grad transfers, or freshmen/sophomores who have little to no experience. This unit hasn't been on the field together much at all and, combine that with a new coaching staff and system/playbook, that equals a long season in the trenches.

Speaking of Lazard... he has to be licking his chops after watching the TCU secondary through two games. It doesn't seem to matter who the Cyclones line up under center, he finds a way to accumulate stats. So, my question is, what's the single game receiving record and will he break it before halftime?

According to the always-credible Wikipedia, Tracy Henderson holds Iowa State's single game receiving record with 217 yards against Texas A&M in 1984. Lazard's single game-high for yards was 147 last season against... TCU.

I don't expect Lazard to get anywhere close to Henderson's record on Saturday, but my guess is he'll have another good day catching passes against the Horned Frogs.

Historically, the Cyclones have played the Frogs tough on that side of the defensive side of ball, and with the Cyclones getting their best secondary player back this week, they could give a Frog O that doesn't show up until after halftime anyway, problems. How do you think the ISU defense stacks up against Kenny "it wasn't a throat slash" Hill and the new look TCU O?

Despite what you might expect looking at box scores, Iowa State's defense has been surprisingly solid the first two games. The fatal mistakes that have been made are an occasional blown coverage and tackles that should have been made, but weren't... So, things that can be corrected against TCU.

ISU's secondary is the strength of its defense. Going against the 7th-ranked passing offense of the Horned Frogs is going to be a huge challenge. Last week, Iowa's CJ Beathard looked like an NFL quarterback against the Cyclones, but that wasn't due to many faults by the defense. If you watch that game, you'll see Beathard make some gorgeous throws that dropped right into the hands of receivers who were actually covered pretty well. Throws like those are virtually impossible to cover.

After switching to a base 3-4 last year, Campbell came in and has implemented a 4-2-5 defense that should contend against the passing offenses of the Big 12 much better. Getting more players from our deep secondary on the field was definitely a good call. TCU will be the first true test Iowa State gets this year against a pass-first team.

Prediction time: How do you see the game playing out, what will be the final score, and which ISU offensive and defensive players will need to be difference makers in order to pull off their first win of the season?

I expect the Cyclones to play their best game of the year (shouldn't be too hard), but TCU will have too much firepower for ISU to keep up. I'll say TCU jumps out to an early 2 TD lead, maintains that for most of the game, then adds an extra 1 or 2 scores at the end. So let's say a final score of 42-17.

Iowa State HAS to get their run game going to be competent on offense. That means Mike Warren or one of the two true freshmen, David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu, need to find holes despite the patchwork offensive line. If the Cyclones are stuffed on the ground again and forced to pass all day, it's gonna get ugly.

On the defensive side of things, the secondary obviously has to have a good day, but getting pressure on Hill is going to be key as well. For that reason, I'll say Demond Tucker needs to have a good day on the defensive line. Forcing some errant throws will go a long way for the Cyclones' odds in this one.

Good luck Frogs! Try not to be too abusive this year.

Thanks again to Fitz, and you can check out my Q&A with them over at Wide Right Natty Light.