Campbell aware Cyclones must continue to evolve even as defensive scheme gains notoriety

Oct 27, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receiver Ja’Deion High (88) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Red Raiders 40-31. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Despite Iowa State’s defense rising to quietly become one of the nation’s best over the last two seasons, Matt Campbell is not afraid to continue evolving.

Ever since unveiling their modified 3-3-5 scheme in the program’s 17-7 loss to Texas in 2017, Jon Heacock’s defense has caught the eyes of coaches across the country. Now, it is being broken down as the starter of a new trend of college football defense.

Still, regardless of the scheme’s success, Campbell knows the program has not elevated itself enough to rely on scheme alone without constant evolution.

“A little bit of it for us is who are your players? We’re not at that place where we can say, ‘This is what we’re doing all the time. These are the players we’re going to go out and recruit all the time. This is who we are,'” Campbell said on Monday during the first Tailgate Tour stop in Audubon. “Defensively, we do have some new pieces. You know, a guy like Will McDonald, how do you find that scheme and what does he do that allows you to be successful? I think the one thing that we’ve done a good job of is matching our scheme to our personnel.”

The Cyclones’ defense has been historically good during the past two seasons, which should even further solidify the genius of Jon Heacock and this defensive staff. During the modern era of college football, which is pretty widely regarded as 1992 to the present, Iowa State has allowed less than 350 yards per game during an entire season four times.

The 1992 team, which is best remembered for its 19-10 upset of No. 7 Nebraska, did it. Dan McCarney’s back-to-back bowl teams in 2004 and 2005 did it. So did this past year’s team, which allowed 349 yards per game to place it No. 33 nationally in total defense.

In the 23 games since Heacock unveiled his three-man front against the Longhorns, the Cyclones have allowed 351.8 yards per game. For reference, in the 10 years previous, Iowa State’s defenses allowed an average of 443 yards per game and cracked the sub-400 average for an entire season only once (2007).

But still, despite all of this largely unprecedented success in the history of the program, Campbell realizes the Cyclones are not in a place where they can stick to their ways and not continue to evolve as the personnel dictates.

“That’s what we’ll continue to evolve to do and not try to be something we’re not or not do something just because this is what we’ve done the last couple years,” Campbell said. “This is what we’re trying to do or continue to do, I think continuing to evolve and continuing to put our players in a position to be successful.”

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.