AMES — It’s a time-honored design for a sound defense.
“We’re bend but don’t break, you know?” Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said.
But with a twist.
That largely conservative approach to limiting opposing offenses doesn’t always lend itself to creating turnovers.
For the Cyclones, it does.
And entering Saturday’s 11 a.m. ABC-televised Big 12 home game against BCS No. 12 Oklahoma (5-2, 3-1), ISU shares the conference lead in takeaways — 19 — with first-place Kansas State.
So bending does lead to breaks, albeit of a different kind.
“We’re going to have to win the turnover battle,” said Cyclone linebacker A.J. Klein, who won’t have injured Jake Knott alongside for the first time in three years. “And offense is going to have to hang onto the ball for us — to keep us off the field.”
The Sooners don’t make reaching complementary goals easy.
ISU (5-3, 2-3) must perfectly apply its mousetrap-style defense in order to curtail quarterback Landry Jones, his red zone accoutrement, Blake “Belldozer” Bell, and a deep receiving crops that features Kenny Stills and Jalen Saunders, among others.
Jones has thrown 105 career touchdowns.
“He’s to Oklahoma’s offense what Jake and A.J. are to our defense,” said Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads, whose team seeks to end a 13-game skid against the Sooners. “He’s been playing it for a long time. He knows it as well as the coaching staff and he goes out there and plays that way from week to week.”
Successfully executing bend, but don’t break with a twist requires a heavy dose of film study.
Klein said he’s gleaned valuable insights from scrutinizing tape of Oklahoma’s 30-13 loss last week to Notre Dame, as well as a 24-19 setback to Kansas State.
“One, because they run a similar type of defense as we do and they have the athletic ability just like we do,” said Klein, who ranks second to Knott on the team in tackles with 67. “I believe we have a great defense and I think we’ve proven that.”
Especially on their side of the scoreboard.
The Cyclones are one of three teams in the Big 12 allowing fewer than 20 points per game.
ISU yields 19.8 — a number that’s on pace to be the lowest since the 1980 Donnie Duncan-coached team gave up 16.7 points on average.
The combined average points per game for the Cyclones’ seven FBS foes this season?
“I think it says volumes about the plans that they’re putting together,” Rhoads said of his defensive coaches. “I looked out there at one time Saturday (in the Baylor win), on the film, and we had 11 seniors and juniors on the field. So that success is a by product of guys who’ve been in our system. They’ve been taught well by our coaches. It means a great deal to them.”
They’re enjoying it, too.
“(Against Baylor) we had a lot of fun — I’m talking about our kids, our kids had a lot of fun,” Burnham said. “The last thing I said to them at the hotel was, ‘Let’s go out have some fun. Let’s play loose. Communicate. Let’s talk. Let’s go out there and play one play at a time,’ all that jargon you say. It’s true.”
Simple, but effective.
“We don’t want to lose the game, we want them to have to beat us,” Burnham said. “So that’s what we try to do. It’s a goal.”
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