AMES — Two weeks ago, Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein pronounced his team’s third down percentage defense “terrible.”
That was after Landry Jones-led Oklahoma converted nine of 14 third downs en route to a 35-20 win at Jack Trice Stadium.
Saturday, Texas made good on eight of 14 third-down situations, marking the fourth straight game opponents had enjoyed a 50 percent or better rate of success on what Cyclone safety Durrell Givens terms “the money down.”
So what gives?
“Not getting any rush, not getting great coverage,” said ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who hopes to lead a resurgent unit onto the field for Saturday’s 6 p.m. game at Kansas. “That’s the best way I can explain it.”
The Cyclones (5-5, 2-5) will face an improving Jayhawks team (1-9, 0-7) that nearly snapped a 19-game FBS losing streak last week at Texas Tech, but fell in double overtime.
ISU has lost four of five games, including its most lopsided defeat of the season (33-7) Saturday at Austin.
In those losses, opponents have turned 54 percent of their third downs into a fresh series.
“We’ve been having them where we want them on third downs,” nickelback Deon Broomfield said. “It’s just a matter of tackling them. It really came down to tackling (against Texas). That was our biggest letdown.”
Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said the bulk of the missed tackles were ill-timed, as well.
“We had a number of opportunities on third down to get off the field, whether it be tackling the quarterback in the backfield or tackling the ball carrier two or three yards short and we failed to do that,” Rhoads said. “An unusually high number of missed tackles in those situations.”
Missing all-Big 12 linebacker Jake Knott, who suffered a college career-ending shoulder injury, and cornerback Jansen Watson, who remains day-to-day with an MCL strain, also helps explain recent struggles.
Knott’s injury forced Klein — the 2011 Big 12 co-defensive player of the year — to switch from the strong side to the weak side.
It’s been an adjustment, the senior said.
What hasn’t changed is his faith in the defense, or the team.
ISU continues to hang in there in points allowed (34th nationally, 22.6 per game) in a high-flying league.
And the Cyclones stand one win from bowl eligibility, with two regular season games to go.
“We’re excited, just put it that way,” Klein said. “We’re excited to play in the last two games of my college career, hopefully three, coming up. So I know all the seniors are ready to play. Ready to go get this victory.
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