Oct 13, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back D’Andre Payne (1) celebrates with defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) after intercepting a pass in the second half against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State beat West Virginia 30-14. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — JaQuan Bailey did a double-take. A reporter had just told Iowa State’s star defensive end West Virginia’s offensive yardage total in the Cyclones’ 30-14 upset of the No. 6 team in the country.
One-hundred and fifty-two yards. Also known as 374.8 yards below the Mountaineers’ season average.
“Can I cuss? Wow,” Bailey said. “You said how many now?”
One-hundred and fifty-two yards.
“Can you say that one more time? You said 152?”
What does that make him think?
It was one of the most dominant defensive performances in the history of Iowa State football. One of the nation’s most high-powered offenses, a group ranked ninth-nationally averaging 7.0 yards per play entering the day, was held to merely 3.6 yards per snap. Oh, and they did it without perhaps the unit’s leader, defensive tackle Ray Lima, who missed the game due to a concussion.
The Cyclones matched the school record of seven sacks in a game, something they did in last week’s upset win over Oklahoma State as well. They held the Mountaineers to just 1-of-10 on third downs. West Virginia compiled a measly nine first down and 52 rushing yards.
Heisman candidate quarterback Will Grier was held to just 11-of-15 passing for 100 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He spent the majority of the night trying to escape Iowa State pass rushers and searching for openings that simply did not exist in the Cyclones’ coverage.
“We knew if we just showed the same thing coverage wise, he’s so good and talented that he’s got the ability to spread the football around,” said Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. “I think our defensive staff did a great job of having a plan to constantly switch up the looks and be as multiple as we could. I think that’s the most multiple we’ve been. Grier’s one of those quarterbacks that if you’re in one thing too long, he knows the offense and he’s going to make great adjustments. Certainly, credit our defense. They did a great job all night.”
Every week during this season, we have sung the praises of this Iowa State defense. Week after week during the team’s 1-3 start, the gave the Cyclones a chance while the offense sputtered.
Last week, they took their lumps while allowing 42 points to Oklahoma State. It would have been easy to get down on themselves or for someone on the outside to write them off as not really being that good.
Saturday night, they proved they truly are that good. They are elite. They very well may be the best defense in the Big 12 conference.
“Honestly, not a whole lot,” said safety Greg Eisworth, who finished tied for a team-high with eight tackles while adding a sack, when asked what he thought about holding West Virginia’s offense to such a low number of yards. “It’s just something as a defense we pride ourselves on. We expect that out of ourselves and more. I think that starts with Coach (Jon) Heacock.”
Heacock has proven again and again he is worth every single penny it took to lure him away from Toledo when Campbell was hired at Iowa State in late 2015. Every week, he puts together gameplans that hold some of the nation’s best offenses well below their season averages.
Every week, Iowa State’s defense is challenged. Every week, they prove some teams do play defense in the Big 12 conference — and at least one does it pretty dang well.
“It is definitely impressive,” said the Cyclones’ star tailback David Montgomery. “For them to hold a guy like (Grier) and an offense like that down, it’s awesome. It is very impressive, but those guys work for that. They deserved every minute and every bit of it. Being able to see those guys have a little bit of success is awesome.”