AMES – Iowa State football’s defense staff sat down during the Cyclones’ bye week after the Akron game and discussed its defense.
The coaches decided to move away from a four-man front and into a three-man front where they could use more 3-3-5 and 3-2-6 defensive formations. The reasoning behind it was simple for coach Matt Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock.
“I think the neat thing for us is we’re always going to do ‘players, formation, plays,’” Campbell said. “What players do you have? That dictates what formations you get into, and then obviously what plays you end up calling. That’s always kind of been our philosophy. Let’s give our players, whoever those players are, the best opportunity to be successful.”
Heacock said they just took what their players could do, married with what they couldn’t do and then put that in with whoever are they playing this week. Iowa State has had success using this philosophy. The Cyclones have the No. 2 defense in the Big 12 and are coming off a game where they didn’t allow an offensive touchdown to then-No. 4 TCU.
No. 15 Iowa State (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) and its defense will be put to the test once again in Morgantown, West Virginia, at 2:30 when it plays West Virginia (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) and stand-out quarterback Will Grier.
Grier is No. 2 in the Big 12 in passing yards with 344 yards per game through the air and No. 1 in passing touchdowns with 28.
“This conference is crazy, we’re like the navy seals – we’re not because they’re real life – but it’s like our easiest day was yesterday,” Heacock said. “This next group coming up is fast and sharp and well coached and athletic and scramble ability and making plays. It just seems like it gets tougher and tougher every week. Will Grier is part of that problem for sure.”
Iowa State has had success facing the league’s other top quarterbacks. The Cyclones held Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield in check, allowing 304 passing yards and two touchdowns. Iowa State essentially shutdown Texas Tech’s Nik Shimonek and TCU’s Kenny Hill, allowing less than 210 yards to each player.
What’s allowed Iowa State to have that success against such potent quarterbacks?
“It’s not that we’re figuring out other people’s offenses, it’s that we’re trying to perfect our defense,” Linebacker Marcel Spears said.
It’s a team mentality that’s allowed the defense to grow as quickly as it has.
“You have to give credit to the coaches on the defensive side of the ball,” Campbell said. “All four of those guys are great teachers. I think the ability to adapt and to really understand what we’re trying to get accomplished. And then you have to give credit to our seniors. Each one of those position groups has a senior that’s really playing at a high level right now. Those guys, mixed in with our coaching staff, have allowed us to, week in and week out, grow this defense and be able to adapt to who we’re playing and have the ability to be multiple.”
Heacock said his defense better not be done growing, either. It’s the month of November now, and that’s when things start to get really tough. Especially when your team is tied for first in the Big 12.
“Now is when you better buckle all four chinstraps and go to work or it won’t last long,” Heacock said.