AMES — ISU rising star Cory Morrissey’s on a mission to slam, upend and crumple opposing quarterbacks at an elite rate.
So far, so good.
The senior defensive end is tied with Malcom Brown of Texas for the Big 12 lead in sacks through three games.
Both average 1.17 sacks per game.
And in Morrissey’s case, that number barely exceeds his general expectations.
“In my mind I kind of want to get one a game,” said Morrissey, who had two sacks last season. “Just to keep one a game going.”
Fair enough, but remarkable all the same.
Morrissey’s reaching toward rarefied territory, thus his backfield-disrupting goals are appropriately ambitious.
The 6-4, 260-pounder from Ames enters Saturday’s 7:20 p.m. (FOX) matchup with No. 7 and yet-to-be-sacked Baylor with 3.5 sacks this season.
To put that number — 3.5 — in perspective, consider that no ISU player has racked up more sacks than that over the course of a season since Jake Lattimer took a quarterback down four times in 2010.
So what’s behind Morrissey’s spike when it comes to perhaps the most celebrated statistical category for a D-end?
For one, he’s more mature.
He’s developed an array of pass-rushing moves, plus variations, changes of pace.
Morrissey’s the undisputed leader of the Cyclones’ front and worked hard in the offseason and fall camp to ensure all his line mates were doing the same.
As noted in a previous story, former end Mitchell Meyers’ successful recent move to 3-technique defensive tackle has helped other linemen such as Morrissey, Trent Taylor, Robby Garcia and Brandon Jensen excel in their respective roles.
“We’re starting to figure out who can do what and how we can do it as a front,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “And with that taking place, we’ve become more productive. Four sacks in (the 20-17 win at Iowa two weeks ago) for us is dang good — not only sacks but pressures back there. Then it’s not just sacks, it’s guys showing up on the tackle charts. We’ve had too many games here where you can look at that tackle position, especially, and not see any plays being made. One assist maybe, one tackle and that’s about it. Mitchell can play there. There was a need and we had to push him into action and he did well.”
So has the once-depleted line as a whole.
Notching four sacks against Iowa is impressive (the Hawks have allowed one in their other three games), but Baylor presents an entirely new, uniquely-spread challenge.
The Bears not only don’t give up sacks, they also rarely allow a tackle for loss.
They’ve run 253 offensive plays this season — most coming while building insurmountable first-half leads.
Wheezing (and overmatched) opponents have turned just seven of those plays into marginally negative yardage.
“They get the ball out quick, so it’s going to be really difficult,” Morrissey said of withstanding the Baylor onslaught. “They haven’t allowed a sack in their three games and we’re going to see what we can do about that but it’s hard. It’s hard to get pressure on the quarterback when it’s out so quick.”
Hard but not impossible.
As for Morrissey’s goal of a sack per game?
Also hard, but not quite impossible.
As of Wednesday, 52 players at the FBS level were averaging at least one sack.
By season’s end, that number will shrink dramatically.
Only five FBS players managed to maintain that rate of sack production throughout the 2013 season.
That’s elite company.
It’s the type of company Morrissey aims to keep this season, despite the challenge that looms Saturday night and beyond.
“Work on the play that’s happening,” Morrissey said of his approach to slowing the Bears. “Especially with Baylor — they snap the ball so quick. They want you to think about the last play. They want you to be feeling tired and disoriented, but you can’t. You’ve got to focus in on the play and just do your job.”