Oct 3, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State defensive end Will McDonald IV (9) celebrates a sack during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to defeat Oklahoma 37-30. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
This piece is a continuation of our series previewing our media availability conversations with Iowa State’s coaching staff during fall camp with Eli Rasheed and Nate Scheelhaase.
Eli Rasheed, Defensive Line
1 – How do you replace Jaquan Bailey on the edge?
From a pure production standpoint, there are no bigger shoes to fill for Iowa State than those left behind by Jaquan Bailey. Bailey, who is now with the Philadelphia Eagles, left Iowa State as the program’s all-time leader in sacks and formed one of the nation’s most devastating pass rushing duos with Will McDonald last season.
Someone (or several someones) has to step up and become a guy opposing offenses are concerned about in order to prevent all attention from going towards McDonald on every snap.
Obviously, Enyi Uwazurike, a sixth-year senior and soon-to-be four-year starter, will play a factor in this, but Enyi’s always been more of a really great role player than a disruptor on the stat sheet. The same can be said for Zach Petersen, who is somehow already a senior even though it seems like he was a true freshman yesterday.
Iowa State has recruited well at this position with Corey Suttle, Blake Peterson and numerous others drawing praise at times for their play behind the scenes. Could one of them grow into the position as the Cyclones’ “other” dynamic pass-rushing threat?
2 – What’s the next step for Will McDonald?
Of course, the dynamic pass rushing threat on this roster is the man who wears No. 9. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Wisconsin native proved to be one of the best pure pass rushers in all of college football as a redshirt sophomore in 2020, posting a nation-leading 10.5 sacks to break the program’s all-time single-season record.
McDonald’s ability as a pass rusher has already put him on the radar of NFL evaluators, with some folks in the media going as far as to call him a potential first-round pick next April.
The question that remains is how impactful McDonald can become on non-passing plays to become an every-down defensive end. McDonald enters his junior season with 20.5 tackles for loss on his career ledger, but only three of them are of the non-sack variety.
Becoming just as disruptive in the run game as he is in the passing game could be the thing that pushes McDonald from a potential first-round pick to a sure-fire one.
3 – Who steps up at the nose guard position?
Three guys played the lion’s share of snaps at this spot for Iowa State last season, but only one of them, redshirt junior Isaiah Lee, returns in 2021. Lee appeared in 10 games for the Cyclones last season, posting 12 tackles and two quarterback hurries.
Uwazurike has the ability to slide into this spot as well, which gives the staff some flexibility along the defensive front. Redshirt senior Tucker Robertson is another veteran with some experience at the position.
The wild cards at this spot, though, are redshirt freshman JR Singleton and true freshman Howard Brown. Matt Campbell has raved about Singleton’s ability since he arrived on campus. The Gurnee, Ill. native posted 42 tackles for loss and 22 sacks during his last two seasons at the high school level, proving he’s shown the ability to be disruptive in the backfield.
Brown, who arrived on campus in January, might be the most tantalizing talent on Iowa State’s defense at this point when you consider his high school highlight film (which is largely populated by clips of him playing quarterback at 6-foot-2, 325 pounds) might be one of the most electric we’ve seen around here in some time. Could the youngster from Kansas City be ready for the bright lights of the Big 12 sooner rather than later?
Nate Scheelhaase, Running Backs/Wide Receivers
1 – Can Breece Hall be even better?
Hall already enters 2021 as the best tailback in college football, but the reality is the Wichita native was only a sophomore last season. He’s still a young pup in the grand scheme of the sport of football.
The nation’s leading rusher last season clearly has a grasp on all the big picture things that make a great running back, but now he can focus on the small things that mark the line between elite for Iowa State and elite for college football at large.
You can bet Hall spent his entire offseason focused on perfecting those little things in order to reach the next level in his development as a Heisman Trophy contender.
2 – Who can be a go-to deep threat?
We know what Xavier Hutchinson brings to the table after his Big 12 Newcomer of the Year breakout season last year. The senior from Jacksonville is one of the most reliable edge receivers in the Big 12, but we never really saw him put into deep-ball situations.
Finding someone who can be a big-time deep-threat for this team would unlock an entirely new corner of the offense and could relieve pressure off of everyone from Hall to Hutchinson to superstar tight end Charlie Kolar.
Has Joe Scates put the pieces of his dynamic potential together to become a consistent contributor in this area? What about other big-time speed guys like Darien Porter or Darren Wilson Jr.?
As efficient as Iowa State’s offense was last season, this seems to remain as the biggest missing piece and it is one that prevents the Cyclones from reaching their full potential as a truly dynamic high-octane offense.
3 – What’s the impact of a healthy Tarique Milton?
Maybe the answer to the last question lies in the answer to this one. Milton’s junior season was full of starts and stops as he seemed to be battling injury from the very start.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Florida native emerged as one of the best run-after-catch guys in the Big 12 as a sophomore in 2019 before he was held to appearing in just six games and starting only one in 2020. Getting Milton back gives this team another dynamic playmaker on the edge and in the slot that was missing at times last season.
He’ll get some help at his spot with true freshman Jaylin Noel drawing rave reviews from every person inside the program and redshirt freshman Daniel Jackson, who appeared in four games last season, set to return from injury, too.