AMES — To sack, or not to sack?
That has been, in recent years, the Iowa State defense’s most nettlesome question.
“Not” has usually won out, though pressures and hurries are up.
The Cyclones have also steadily improved in terms of getting off the field on third down, climbing from 11th in the Big 12 in 2008 to third last season.
It’s also not enough for ISU’s lone returning regular D-line starter, Jake McDonough.
“I’ve been through enough two-a-days, I’ve been through a lot,” said McDonough, a defensive tackle and fifth-year senior who recorded his first two career sacks last season. “I feel almost like a big brother to a lot of these guys. I can help them out any way I can; just be there for them if they need me and guide them along the way. To show then how to do it around this program.”
McDonough epitomizes all three of those terms and boasts the bent and blistered fingers and limbs to prove it.
“You can’t be selfish at all,” said the 6-5, 290-pound former West Des Moines Valley star. “I can be good on the field, but if the other guy next to me’s not doing his job, that hurts us as a whole. You’ve got to bring the other guys with you and that’s huge. That’s what we focused on a lot this summer: Making sure everyone’s accountable. Making sure everyone’s there and getting better so we can perform our best this fall.”
Sacks play a significant part in that appraisal and the Cyclones have ranked 94th or lower in that category the past four seasons.
In 2011, ISU took an opposing quarterback down 17 times, which was tied for 106th out of 120 teams ranked in the FBS.
And that’s progress, because in 2010 the Cyclones registered 11 sacks, tied for 115th.
Credit strength and conditioning for the incremental improvement, which continues in full force.
“It’s crazy because the whole team got stronger,” said defensive end Roosevelt Maggitt, who’s coming off an ACL injury. “The numbers (in the weight room) increased dramatically over the past few years. I feel like this should be one of our best teams. A lot of guys coming along; we have a lot of experience.”
That starts with McDonough, who’s pleased ISU has advanced in a number of areas, but still yearns to see more quarterbacks running, then torn asunder, in fear.
“I think we’ve had 44 sacks or something like that in the past three years,” he said. “And Texas A & M had 51 last year. So it’s kind of a chip on our shoulder to improve and definitely become a better defensive line and produce more, instead of just holding up blocks for (all-Big 12 linebackers) Jake (Knott) and A.J. (Klein).”
McDonough and fellow linemen Cleyon Laing, Maggitt, Willie Scott and David Irving, among others, want to be standard bearers, not scene setters.
Whatever the sack total.
Success has it’s intangibles — from tipped passes to altered sight lines.
“I think there are things happening up front, we’re making progress, but people maybe don’t see it as a casual fan,” defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham said. “We’ve gotten better and I think the numbers bear that out.”
The depth chart
No. 1s — LE: Willie Scott, jr., 6-2, 231; DT: Cleyon Laing, sr., 6-4, 290; NG: Jake McDonough, sr., 6-5, 290; RE: Roosevelt Maggitt, sr., 6-3, 246. No. 2s — LE: David Irving, soph., 6-7, 262; DT: Brandon Jensen, soph., 6-5, 280; NG: Walter Woods III, jr., 6-0, 308; RE: Nick Kron, fr., 6-2, 237. Other notables — Devin Lemke, fr., 6-4, 225; Henry Simon, sr., 6-3, 289; Ben Durbin, sr., 6-3, 272; Corey Morrissey, jr., 6-4, 242.
The first four
McDonough’s the only returning full-time starter and has seen many twists and turns as a fifth-year senior. He scored two of ISU’s 17 sacks last season and said this season’s deep crop of D-lineman could be “special.” Scott and Maggitt bring speed from the edge. Maggitt’s coming off an ACL injury suffered in the 2011 season opener. Rhoads said this defensive line his his deepest. “It’s more of a front 10, or a front 11 when you look at the numbers and that’s an improvement,” he said. “We’ve got a number of guys that can go out and play hard for as many snaps as we can get out of them. Then we can get them off the field.”
Irving, Jensen, Lemke and Kron, have impressed Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads with their athleticism and/or grit. Irving still needs to grow, maturity-wise, into his big body. His physical gifts put him on the field for important snaps in nine games last season. Coaches hope to see more student-of-the-game development from him. Then he becomes a sky’s-the-limit type.
NewbiesDurbin and Morrissey were Gilbert High School teammates and transferred to ISU. Rhoads’ family lives in Gilbert. Coincidence? Yes. But Durbin has D-I experience at Wyoming, where he already obtained a degree, making it possible for him to use his senior season of eligibility to play for the Cyclones. He totaled 28 tackles, with 3.5 for loss, for the Cowboys last season. Morrissey transferred from Iowa Western Community College. Both former Tigers were mentioned by Rhoads as players who have progressed a lot in fall camp.