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Football

NOTEBOOK: Uptick in takeaways fueling needed opportunism in ISU’s defense

Oct 24, 2020; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Mike Rose (23) catches a deflected pass for an interception against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Eisworth’s nimble fingers altered the football’s trajectory.

Mike Rose’s capable hands corralled it.

The twice-touched interception early in No. 23 Iowa State’s 24-21 loss at sixth-ranked Oklahoma State led to the game’s first turnover — and expect more takeaway opportunities to come for the Cyclones’ star safety and SAM linebacker.

 “I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Eisworth said of ISU’s rate of takeaways this season, which could tick higher in Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup with winless Kansas in Lawrence. “I think it’s some scheme. I think it’s everybody just hustling to the ball. I think it’s us playing with really great technique and it’s something that we just discussed a lot. We practice it in practice, just getting the ball out, getting hands on the ball, all that stuff, but I think it’s a combination of everything with just scheme (and) us playing with effort. Everybody sprinting to the ball and playing with great technique. You play with great technique and you anticipate things (then) you can start to create some turnovers.”

 Still, Saturday that wasn’t enough. Lawrence White added an athletic and clutch interception in the third quarter that set up the Cyclones’ (3-2, 3-1 Big 12) game-tying touchdown, but the overall defense — solid most of the day — immediately gave up a touchdown to force ISU into comeback mode again.

 “I think our biggest thing for us, if you look at who we’ve been, in all, honesty, I think the only areas that I would say maybe we’ve missed opportunities, is to control momentum of the game,” said ISU head coach Campbell, whose team has six takeaways in five games — all coming in Big 12 play. “Even going back to last week, there were opportunities to really take the momentum and I think in a year like this momentum is so important. And you as a team have to create and sustain the momentum. And we have certainly had opportunities. We’re up 7-0, have a chance to go up two scores, we don’t. Instantaneous(ly), they go down (and score), now it’s 7-7. We get the momentum again — we get Lawrence White’s (interception), we go down and score and make it 14-14 and we’ve got the momentum. Four plays later, they go down and score again. So, to me … it’s way more about momentum than it has been about the turnover piece of it. I think if you look at the turnovers we’ve gotten and then the score after, maybe it’s as good as we’ve ever been since we’ve been here.”

 The key is getting more of them. Rose has two diving interceptions in conference play. Eisworth has the one big pass breakup. More are required for an ISU defense that — if you take away four non-offensive touchdowns the Cyclones have allowed this season — are allowing opponents to score an average of just 21.4 points per game.

 ISU has been on the plus side of turnover margin just once (2017) in Campbell’s four-plus seasons at the helm. The Cyclones are even (six takeaways, six giveaways) this season, which ranks 47th nationally.

 “I think the biggest thing is you’ve got to have great players and when you look at who has created those turnovers, I think it’s those really good players playing at a really high level. Obviously the play from last week with Greg (Eisworth) having the ability to tip the ball and Mike Rose’s effort to make a huge play, which you’ve seen now — that’s the second time that’s occurred this year. Lawrence White’s play is a phenomenal play coming off the hash, making a great play. So I think if you go back to that, (it’s) two really good players making really big plays in really critical moments.”

 Again, more are needed. And it’s in critical moments against the Cowboys the Cyclones seemed to falter most dramatically.

“Yeah, when you go back to that game last week, there are some inches that were left out there and in all phases of the game,” Campbell said. “I just think holistically, as you look at us continuing to move forward, it’s those inches that we have to continue to pound at. That’s every single practice, every single game, that’s pounding away at those things. I think we have — being relative and relativity over the last couple games, I thought we have caught the ball well. In the moments, a couple of times on Saturday — critical moments — we didn’t catch the ball well, or we didn’t make that play. And the only way to do it is to do it and continue to pound away at it in practice and continue to put yourself in those positions; when you get the opportunity to give yourself the confidence to make it when it happens again. So. I think, fortunate for us, is we’ve got a lot of really competitive kids. We’ve got a lot of kids that understand where we’re at in the season and also understand the value of getting better every day. I look forward to kind of getting back to practice today and really attacking some of those areas.”

 One area Rose, Eisworth and their cohorts on the defensive side will continue to focus on is upping that takeaway count. It didn’t prove to be a difference-maker last Saturday, but it usually is. And being opportunistic early and often against a Kansas team that ranks a distant last in the Big 12 in total offense, total defense, offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency will go a long way toward establishing that “momentum” Campbell spoke of earlier.

 The Cyclones haven’t lost to the Jayhawks (0-4, 0-3) in the Campbell era, but last season’s 41-31 win in Ames was much closer than oddsmakers predicted it would be.

 Translation: Best to ignore the point spread. Hone in on execution and eliminating mistakes and the scoreboard takes care of itself.

 “Every team has players that are doing good things,” said Rose, who is tied with fellow linebacker Jake Hummel for the team lead in tackles with 40. We can’t treat them any differently.”

 “MR. CONSISTENCY”

 Campbell affixed that monicker to Hummel while offering glowing praise for the senior linebacker from West Des Moines Dowling Catholic.

“When you say Jake’s name, I just think of the ultimate professional,” Campbell said. “He is who he says he is. He’s as consistent as anybody in our football program in terms of what you get, day to day from Jake Hummel. You’re talking about a guy that’s played a ton of snaps for us on the defensive side of the football, a guy that also continues to start on our punt team (and) has played a lot of snaps on our kickoff coverage and kickoff return team just because he’s so talented at those skill sets that he’s kind of acquired over the last four years. So he’s just he’s kind of been our Mr. Consistency and the ultimate pro. (I) just really appreciate who he is, because I think he’s made a lot of people around him much better.”

 HARD KNOCKS, VALUABLE EXPERIENCE

 ISU’s largely young and inexperienced offensive line faced the best front seven it has all season in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State. That led to disappointment last weekend but could bode well for the Cyclones in weeks to come.

 “I mean, just the experience, literally that those two guys (Darrell Simmons and Jake Remsburg) are getting right now: Big-time games, big-time opportunities, that experience is everything,” Campbell said. “And not only are they getting experience but they’re actually doing some really, really good things. I think that’s what I would even say about what I witnessed on Saturday last week: very veteran defense, very aggressive defense, and yet some really, really good things from those guys and really from the entirety of that group at times. That was a battle in there and I thought it wasn’t one-sided. It was a battle for 60 minutes. Those are things that I think are huge building blocks for those guys because I think those are things you can take, you can understand, ‘What did I do well? What didn’t I do well?’ And then, ‘How do I continue to move myself forward?’ But those two young guys for, man, being asked to get their number called as a redshirt freshman stepping in like they’ve stepped in and played — I’m really proud of what those two have done and I’m encouraged and excited to continue to see what their development looks like right now.”

 VEGAS SAYS …

 Iowa State, as of late Tuesday afternoon, was a 28.5-point favorite against the Jayhawks, according to VegasInsider.com.