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Football

NOTEBOOK: ISU’s D-line play one of a handful of bright spots in 31-14 season-opening loss

Sep 12, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns running back Trey Ragas (9) is tackled by Iowa State Cyclones defensive lineman Joshua Bailey (90) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Ragin Cajuns beat the Cyclones 31 to 14. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Dissecting game video of Iowa State’s season-opening loss to Louisiana provided plenty of wince-worthy moments.

 Reliving the two special teams touchdowns given up. The long passing play for six. The disheveled offensive performance in general.

 But there were bright spots, particularly along the Cyclones’ deep defensive line — and ISU head coach Matt Campbell highlighted one play that provoked smiles, not a collective shaking of heads during Tuesday’s teleconference with the media.

 “There were some moments (in the Sept. 12 loss to the Ragin’ Cajuns) that brought me great joy,” said Campbell, whose team opens Big 12 play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday (FS1) at TCU in Fort Worth. “The one moment was, there was a third down play early in the game and Josh (Bailey) flushes the quarterback to the left and then JaQuan (Bailey) runs him out of bounds. Those two were making critical plays in critical moments. I sent them a snapshot after the game of that play.”

 The emergence of Josh Bailey on the interior of the D-line along with the return of JaQuan Bailey are two of the reasons the Cyclones’ defensive front remains elite. Now, the defensive line was obviously expected to be one of the key strengths of the team. But seeing little if any drop-off between the ones and twos proved especially encouraging.

 “You expect that group to be a really bright spot (and) very similar to what you see at the linebacking corps with (Mike) Rose and (O’Rien) Vance and (Jake) Hummel — guys that have played football,” Campbell said. “They’ve played a lot of football and they have a high standard for themselves. So I think those were things, the bright spots for me were our veterans. Our veterans were ready to roll. Our veterans played like veterans and I thought that was really big for us.”

 The offense’s struggles in week one were well-documented in real-time, not just in the post-mortem video review, but Rose said one of the few areas the defense hasn’t improved much on — getting off the field on third downs — also served to hamstring efforts on the other side of the ball.

The Ragin’ Cajuns converted 42.9 percent of their third-down chances a week and a half ago in Ames. 

 The Cyclones struggled in that area in 2019, as well, ranking 89th among FBS schools by allowing successful conversions 41.4 percent of the time.

“The biggest thing for us is, I feel like there’s just some third downs where they converted on that are just avoidable,” Rose said. “And a lot of those third downs really can put our offense in a bind. Let’s say there’s a third-down in their territory and they convert it. Then we don’t get as good field position (after) the punt. Just little stuff like that. Just trying to play as a team. I would say that’s the biggest thing I took away from the Louisiana film.”

 Learn from it, flush it and move on against the Horned Frogs.

 But some moments remain worthy of preservation, such as the play where both Bailey brothers made a big impact.

 And if they and the D-line as a whole can continue to amass video clips that impress, ISU’s Big 12 season could be a lot of fun to watch — most of the time, at least. 

 “I thought JaQuan played one of his best games of consistently playing the game of football that I’ve seen him play, which I was really proud of,” Campbell said. “I think you look at the game that we had from an interior standpoint and I thought those guys inside whether it was Isaiah Lee or Latrell Bankston makes a nice play, Josh Bailey does some really good things, but then you go on the other side of it, right, and you see Will McDonald has a great football game and then I think Enyi (Uwazurike) is continuing to improve and get where he needs to be dominating week in and week out.  Zach Petersen was consistent in what he needed to do. Tucker Robertson made some great plays. So I think the positive for us is there’s a lot of really good players there. There’s a lot of guys that have played a lot of football.”

 THE DAY-TO-DAY GUYS

 Campbell reiterated that tight end Charlie Kolar and offensive lineman Trevor Downing and Rob Hudson remain “day-to-day” as game prep for TCU continues this week.

 Kolar — quarterback Brock Purdy’s most consistent and explosive returning target from last season — didn’t play against Louisiana because of a lower-body injury. Downing was hurt late in the first half while Hudson sat out the opener along with Kolar.

 “I think there’s a really good expectation that (Kolar and Downing are) going to make the trip,” Campbell said. “I think Charlie has certainly made great progress over the last week and a half to two weeks, which is big, but I also wouldn’t say that (he’s) 100%. … I think Trevor’s made a lot of good progress as well, so you know we’ll kind of evaluate those two guys. Rob Hudson’s another guy that certainly (has) potential to help our football team in a really positive way and I think I would throw him in the same boat, a day-to-day guy. So we’ll kind of evaluate all three of those guys to see where they’re at by the time we get to Saturday.”

THE “WHO” AND THE “WHAT” of TCU

 Campbell was asked about playing a TCU team that has yet to play a game this season. The Gary Patterson-led Horned Frogs just announced redshirt sophomore Matthew Downing as their starter on Tuesday and traditionally lean on a salty defense to keep them in games.

 “One advantage a TCU team has is Gary Patterson has been there for 20 years,” Campbell said. “There is great continuity on the defensive staff, great continuity on the offensive staff. It’s not so much schematically what they’re doing, even though you know there will be some unique tweaks, but the other piece of it is, who (are) their personnel? I do think this is a team that has a lot coming back, so there is a lot of ‘veteranness’ to this football team. I think ‘the who’ is maybe the biggest unknown, more so than ‘the what.’ It’s a TCU team that’s prepared to handle it because they have a great coaching staff.”

 QUOTABLE

 “That injury showed me to never take anything in football, or life, for granted. Even with this COVID-19 pandemic that we’re going through, it was just so uncertain and having it taken away from you, it didn’t stop me from working over the quarantine or doing workouts or getting extra work in because everything that we do in life is uncertain. What happened in 2017 helped me realize that whatever you’re going to do, do it to the fullest extent.” — ISU senior running back/kick returner Kene Nwangwu on the torn Achilles injury he suffered in early 2018

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