Iowa State defensive end Joey Petersen has come into his own on the Cyclones’ young defense

 Iowa State Cyclones defensive end Joey Petersen (52) celebrates with teammates after a quarterback sack against TCU during the first half in the Jack Trice Legacy Game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Ames, Iowa.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — “We’re going to need every guy in here.”

 Those words from Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock echoed through the Cyclones’ locker room early this season. And few of his players heeded that call more than junior defensive end Joey Petersen.

 “In past years, you always had players like Will (McDonald) and M.J. (Anderson) — Enyi (Uwazurike), Zach (Petersen), guys like that,” Joey Petersen said in advance of ISU’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl matchup with Memphis at 2:30 p.m. Friday. “When you’re young, you look at hose guys like, ‘Oh, well, if I mess up, they’re going to fix it. They’ll make it right.’ But this year, unlike any other years, it’s us making those (plays) — you’ve got to put it on you. So just kind of growing in that sense.”

 The youthful Cyclones (7-5) saw 23 underclassmen play in every game this season and that trend’s unlikely to change when they take the field against the hometown Tigers (9-3). If anything, more younger players will be called upon since senior All-American cornerback T.J. Tampa is sitting out and one starting safety, Malik Verdon, is questionable because of injury.

 “We’ve needed every guy there,” Heacock said. “All through the season, guys have played (and) you look out there sometimes and you’ve gotta do a double-take. Like, who’s out there playing? To our guys’ credit, man, they bought into that way back when. It gives you a jumpstart (to next season) if they approach it the right way. but if they don’t do anything between now and then, then this isn’t going to be worth a darn, so we’ll get to that point when we do, but there’s been a lot of guys playing defense for Iowa State this season and I’m really excited about it. I’m glad they have.”

 Petersen — whose brother, Zach, and father, Troy, both played on the defensive line for ISU — owns a team-best seven tackles for loss this season and is one of six Cyclones to record multiple sacks. So his productivity has spiked as his snap count’s risen.

 “He’s one of the guys that got better,” Heacock said. “All of a sudden, ‘Man, you’ve gotta grow up Joey. You’ve gotta grow up.’ And he did. It became really important to him and he became professional at what he was doing. Practices became really critical and walkthroughs became really critical, and the meetings became really critical. There (was) a real sense of urgency and I think that’s true — it’s what I’ve been saying, everybody bought into that. All of a sudden everybody was kind of a leader and he was on of those guys. He played great football for us down the stretch.”

 Now that final stretch squeezes into one last 60-minute window. Petersen won’t waste a second against Memphis’ powerful offense. He’s learned how each snippet of time matters, whether the game reflects that or not.

 “I think our mentality right now, it’s been the same for weeks,” Petersen said. “You’ve gotta get them into third and long and then you’ve gotta take advantage of that.”