Above: Iowa State sophomore defensive tackle Ray Lima. Photo courtesy of Iowa State athletics communications.
Before the season, I wrote that for Iowa State to be in bowl contention in year two of the Matt Campbell era, it would have to average 30 or more points per game. We’re six games in and Iowa State is not only in bowl contention, but almost ranked in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones currently rank an impressive 29th nationally in scoring offense at 35.67 points per game.
It’s fantastic growth and is important to note that Iowa State hasn’t averaged 30 or more points per game since 1976,
If we dig a little deeper, there are all sorts of fun little offensive statistics to gloat about like:
— Iowa State is ranked sixth nationally in yards per point at 11.30.
— The Cyclones are averaging 2.55 points per possession, good for 37th nationally.
— Iowa State has been absolutely lights out in the redzone. The Cyclones have scored touchdowns 72 percent of the time they’ve gotten inside the 20, which ranks 25th nationally.
Even so, I severely missed on one major preseason prediction, when I pondered that Jacob Park would be the most important player on this football team. This isn’t a commentary on the 2-0 start to Kyle Kempt’s career either.
Overwhelmingly, the largest difference between these Cyclones and last year’s group is on defense, specifically up front and in the middle.
In the first six games of last season, opponents were averaging 235.5 rushing yards per game against Iowa State. Six games into 2017, that number is at 119.
When you combine the last five seasons of Iowa State football, the Cyclones have given up an average of 210.4 rushing yards per game and have been ranked 101st nationally.
Here’s a friendly reminder that there are only 124 teams in FBS football.
Iowa State has been bad at a lot of things for a while now, but I suspect nothing has been worse than rush defense.
Here’s a tip of the cap to veteran Vernell Trent and newcomer Ray Lima. These guys have been unbelievable up the middle. Iowa State currently sits 23rd nationally in rush defense! Behind TCU (elite defensive coach in Gary Patterson) and Texas (elite talent on the defensive line), that’s good for third in the Big 12.
It’s been immense improvement in the middle that has allowed inexperienced guys like Joel Lanning and Marcel Spears to thrive at linebacker. It’s allowed young defensive ends JaQuan Bailey and Enyi Uwazurike to show off their true potential. It’s allowed veteran stalwart J.D. Waggoner to finally shine.
There’s nothing more frustrating to me as a fan than watching the opposition carve up your defense for 7 or 8 yards per carry. It’s maddening to watch your team simply be outmanned while there is nothing schematically you can do about it.
Up front, the days of Iowa State being outmanned appear to be behind us.
And by the way, Kamilo Tongamoa has barely played and Lima is just a sophomore.