AMES – Iowa State coach Matt Campbell doesn’t care what the depth chart says. He never has.
To him, it’s just something he has to do.
To him, it doesn’t matter who’s starting. It’s all about who’s playing in critical situations.
And he’s getting his team to buy into that mindset, too.
“(ISU spokesman Mike Green) comes in every Sunday," Campbell said. "I say, ‘I don’t care what you put on it.’ I know you guys care, but I don’t, because I know what happens on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday dictates who gets the most amount of reps — what happens in a game on Saturday. And our kids know that. We’ve built this on that foundation to say, ‘Hey, listen. You’re going to earn the right to play on Saturday. If you do it right, we’re going to get you into the game. That gives you that situation to be able to showcase what you can do and the more you do with it the better you’re going to be.’”
Campbell said the closer his team is able to get two players to play even snaps on the defensive side of the ball, the better his defense will be.
That’s happening at the middle linebacker position. Before the season, that spot was one of the most hotly contested positions, and it was also one with a sizable question mark.
Through five games, both Mike Rose and Cedar Rapids native O’Rien Vance have proven to be valuable pieces.
Rose burst onto the scene in Iowa State’s first game against Iowa. He recorded 11 tackles and one tackle for a loss, flying all over the field.
Since then, Vance has been getting more and more playing time. It’s not anything Rose has done wrong, but it’s what Vance has done right.
Against Akron, Vance recorded three tackles, a tackle for a loss and a sack. He recovered a fumble the next week against TCU.
Last week against Oklahoma State, Vance recorded five tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and two hurries.
In theory, he's battling for the starting spot, but Campbell doesn’t see it that way.
“The reality of it is, is I don’t even know if we look at it as, 'Who’s the starter?'" Campbell said. "We look at it as, ‘Man, we need two guys at each position on that side of the ball to be able to play for us.’ The closer we can get to even reps, the better football team we’re going to be, because those guys can be fresh against Big 12 opponents and offenses that are really going to force you to play.
“I don’t see it as a battle for who’s the starter. I see it as we’ve got two guys playing at a really high rate for us right now and giving us chances to be successful.”
Vance had an opportunity to put his head down and sulk after losing the starting battle to a true freshman. But instead, he kept trying to grow.
“Coach (Tyson) Veidt’s done a good job with him about staying the course," Campbell said. "Just keep getting better, control you, don’t control the situation, and he’s done a great job with that."