By Rob Gray
AMES — Every time Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads sees one, he seethes.
It’s a missed tackle — and whether framed by poor technique, timidity, or lack of practice repetitions, his reaction remains the same.
“I hate it, can’t stand it,” Rhoads said during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “That’s why I demand that our guys teach the fundamentals of being a great tackler so much.”
There was good news on the tackling front, too.
After a poor performance in that key category in the season-opening loss to Northern Iowa, ISU’s defense vastly improved in Saturday’s 27-21 setback to Iowa.
Yes, that was fully necessary — and the Cyclones still gave up 218 yards on the ground and fell to 0-2, but progress is progress.
Case in point: Rhoads counted eight missed tackles on two big UNI plays alone in the season opener.
After viewing Saturday’s film, he discerned that same number of failures-to-wrap in 83 plays run by the Hawkeyes.
“Watching it right now, got the clicker in my hand, as a matter of fact,” Rhoads said. “Much improved from game one. This was a very stout offensive line and we held the point of attack pretty good. … I thought we made great progress on defense from game one to game two. We started to show more of our speed in this game and look forward to a similar type of improvement.”
A growing defense can help the struggling and injury-riddled offense find its elusive rhythm.
And several statistical signs pointed to the former occurring, at least:
*Senior linebacker Jeremiah George went from a career-low two tackles against UNI to 13 stops.
*Senior free safety Jacques Washington posted a career-best 13 tackles, as well.
*The 218 yards given up on the ground was the least ISU has allowed in its past six games. Still too much, but Iowa entered the game averaging 250 yards rushing.
“Stopping the run is the biggest thing,” Washington said.
*The defensive line was far more active. Starters Willie Scott, David Irving, Brandon Jensen and Cory Morrissey combined for seven tackles and one for loss against the Panthers. The same quartet totaled 16 tackles versus the Hawkeyes, including three tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.
“The first piece of that is just flat-out effort,” Rhoads said. “Guys really playing hard and Cory’s at the very top of the list and Willie can certainly run. I think we all agree that David Irving showed as a three technique and Brandon didn’t as much as a nose guard, but he was doing his job, executing his responsibilities while at the same time taking on a lot of double teams.”
And only eight missed tackles.
A start, as the Cyclones chip at a four-game losing skid dating back to last November.
“Proud of how our guys improved in that particular area,” Rhoads said.
INJURY UPDATE: Rhoads reiterated his belief that starting center Tom Farniok (MCL strain) will be back for the Sept. 26 game at Tulsa. He said they won’t hold back dinged up quarterback Sam Richardson (ankle), but he will focus more on pocket passing in practice. “We’ll try to get him back involved in the running game by next Thursday,” Rhoads said. Injured starting guard and backup center Jamison Lalk (MCL strain) will face the same type of three- to four-week rehab Farniok did, he added.