By Chris Williams, CyconeFanatic.com Publisher
Over the past three weeks, CycloneFanatic.com has been taking you inside the Iowa State football program with interviews from the coaches themselves. Today, it’s part two of our question and answer session with offensive coordinator Tom Herman. In this piece, Herman talks about the wide receivers, running backs and his overall offensive philosophy.
In case you missed part one of this interview, CLICK HERE.
In case you missed our interview with Herman on the 2010 offensive skilled position recruits from Signing Day, CLICK HERE.
CF: Austen Arnaud turned the ball over more than you would have liked him to last year. Let’s talk to an amateur football mind here. How much of that had to do with your receivers not getting separation from the defender?
TH: Certainly, any kind of great wide receiver play is going to help the quarterback. It doesn’t need to be a crutch that we lean on or any kind of excuse per se. Us coaches and him as a quarterback need to be able to figure out ways around those deficiencies. In the 13 games that we played this year, that wasn’t going to change you know? They are who they are out there and that’s not going to change. Hopefully this year, with the influx of some new talent and some guys pushing some other guys and veterans who have had another year with Coach McKnight to get better and understand the system and getting better fundamentally, the wide out play will improve and in turn, help the quarterback play as well.
CF: Darius Darks and Sedrick Johnson essentially fell off the map last year for Iowa State. I know that they had some lingering injuries, but do you see them having a bounce back year in 2011?
TH: I think that was evident with Darks towards the end of the year. He led the team in catches for the last two or three games. I don’t know if it is a matter of grasping things but when you are injured, and especially in this offense where we like to keep the same guys on the field as much as we can being no huddle, using that to our advantage and we will always maintain that philosophy. In both Sedrick and Darius’ case, it as a matter of getting hurt at a bad time, right at the beginning of the season. With Darius, it was during two-a-days. With Sedrick, it was the third play of the North Dakota State game. Guys filling in for them and gaining that experience over the weeks that they were injured and then them never really being able to say that this guy merits jumping back ahead of this guy in the starting lineup. Darius did towards the end of the year and we have Sedrick penciled in to be a starter heading into spring ball. We will see how he responds to that.
CF: Exactly how much did losing Darius Reynolds for the season change the way you game planned offensively?
TH: It did (change game plans). Him not being there, we lacked a guy who could turn a screen into 20 yards or turn a bubble screen into 15 yards. I don’t know that it changed game planning other than, we knew that our success on offense was going to be determined by how well we could sustain drives and maybe manufacture some explosive plays, rather than just getting the ball into a “playmakers” hands and letting him handle the rest, where the Missouri’s of the world, when they throw a bubble out to a guy, he can turn it into an 80-yard touchdown. We knew that we didn’t have that guy this year who could do that. We had to either sustain long drives and be very consistent or try to manufacture ways to get some explosive plays.
CF: Let’s talk about running backs right now. Of the guys who are returning from last year’s team (James White, Beau Blankenship, Bo Williams, Jeff Woody), do any of them stand out to you as a front runner to be that number two back heading into next season.
TH: It is a cluster. Obviously, Bo Williams has some experience that maybe Blankenship may not. He has to prove to us that he can be counted on in every situation out there. I think that we are all interested to see what James White can do on a down-to-down basis. He has looked really good in the scrimmages that we had throughout bowl practice and things of that nature so we are excited to see with him. Even Jeff Woody. We have got to find a way to take some of the load off of A-Rob. It will be interested to see who separates themselves in this offseason and those 15 practices of spring ball.
CF: When you guys were hired, everybody expected this offense to be five wide outs, throwing it, throwing it, and throwing it some more. Running the football really turned out to be your bread and butter. Was that and expectation of yours?
TH: It was clear early on in the spring of what our strengths on offense were going to be. I think that our staff did a great job of not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We said that this is what we are good at. Our best player on offense is Alexander Robinson. Our best position group, from top to bottom, is our offensive line. We have a quarterback who can run the football pretty well and when either one plays, that needs to be the strength of our team this season. When we got into “shootouts,” we proved that we could throw the ball adequately I guess is the best way to phrase it. The Kansas game is a game that I think we threw is adequately. The Missouri game, I think we threw it adequately. You would have liked to have throw it better against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M under fairly unusual circumstances under both of those with A&M being only Jerome’s second start, coming off of the tough, grueling win against Nebraska. Then, Oklahoma State was Austen’s first start back after three weeks off. That might have had a little something to do with it. That is certainly something that we need to improve on as an offense, is being more efficient and effective throwing the football but, at the same time, understanding what our strengths are. Each year, figuring out what those are and improving our weaknesses and at the same time, making sure that we know our identity and what we are good at.
CF: Last question. What is your number one goal for this offense as a whole heading into the spring?
TH: We have to protect the football better. Our defense did a great job of creating turnovers for us this year. We did a poor job of holding onto the football for them. We have go to do a much better job of sustaining drives where I cannot tell you off the top of my head, how many eight or nine plus play drives that we had, that ended in zero points. We either shot ourselves in the foot or we’d cross midfield and turn the ball over. We aren’t good enough yet to overcome those inconsistencies. I think that the number one thing is going to be to protect the football better and also improve the consistency in sustaining drives.