Anthony Johnson’s move to safety has changed Iowa State’s defense in 2-0 start

The move from cornerback to safety in Anthony Johnson Jr.’s final season with Iowa State has played a big part in the program’s first 2-0 start since 2012.

Head coach Matt Campbell says that it’s changed the look of his team’s defense and allows them to play schematically like they were not able to before.

“It’s allowed us to be totally different on defense,” Campbell said. “(It’s allowed us) to be a lot more multiple in things we’ve wanted to do. It’s given us a guy that can cover, but man to be able to cover and to tackle the way he tackles – it’s really hard to find those guys.”

Through coverages that saw Johnson creeping up to the line of scrimmage and staring down the opposing team’s quarterback or others that see No. 1 used in more traditional ways, Iowa State is more diverse on the defensive side of the ball.

This helps keep any offense guessing, and when going up against one that doesn’t air the ball out very much, it allows the Cyclones to take advantage.

Albeit the offense they faced on Saturday may not be one comparable to the looks the Cyclones will see the rest of the way.

But, Johnson impressed, to say the least.

“Anthony Johnson’s game – what he’s done in two football games, and just go back and watch him – physicality, elite tackles, the ability to play man-to-man coverage,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if there’s anyone that’s playing as good as he is right now in terms of the collective whole on the defensive side of the football.”

The position change was thought up after last season’s Cheez-It Bowl loss to Clemson.

Iowa State had enough confidence elsewhere in the defensive backfield and needed to improve at the safety spot.

“I think the thought process was, we felt really good about T.J. Tampa, Myles Purchase, and Darien Porter,” Campbell said. “Obviously, we had some growth opportunities at safety. We felt like we want to be better and we need to be better at safety. I felt that the opportunity to put (Johnson) back there was a huge opportunity for us to solve an area that we felt was maybe a little bit of a weakness from a year ago.”

Not only has it solved that weakness for two games, but it’s given this staff a blueprint on the type of player that can thrive in the spot.

“I think it’s been a win-win for him, to show what he has the ability to do at a really high level, but equally for us, it’s allowed us to be a lot more multiple than we’d been in the past,” Campbell said.

When Ohio lines up on offense at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, look for No. 1 on the field. It won’t be as easy to find him as one might think.