Unbeaten Cyclones' defense has tall task with TTU

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AMES — React.


Stay calm.

Iowa State’s defense has become a team strength entering Saturday’s 6 p.m. Big 12 Conference season home opener against Texas Tech largely because of strict adherence to that even-measured formula.

It’s based on maturity, steeped in confidence and capped by keen awareness.

“They don’t panic,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “Or they haven’t yet.”

Deep and broad-spanning experience is a prime reason why.

Every ISU defensive starter is a junior or senior — and major contributors to their team’s second consecutive 3-0 mark in nonconference games.

“We’ve got a lot of players on our team that are veteran guys,” said veteran cornerback Jeremy Reeves, who will make his 25th career start. “A lot of seniors, a lot of guys that have been playing football in the Big 12 the last couple years, so we know what we’re getting into.”

That would be the meat of it.

Big 12 teams enter Saturday collectively leading the nation with 503.5 yards of total offense per game.

Texas Tech (3-0) is averaging a robust 597.6 yards and 50.3 points behind quarterback Seth Doege.

It’s 60 minutes of high-flying hell for defenses, which either rise up or wear out.

Sometimes both.

“They’re a very explosive football team,” said Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads, whose team hopes to win its conference opener for the first time since 2002. “Without a doubt, it’s the best offense they’ve had since (Coach Tommy Tuberville’s) arrival. They have their best offensive line. They have multiple players at running back that are really running the ball well. They’ve got, potentially, an all-league type of quarterback in a league that has the best quarterbacks in the country. And they’ve got a number of receivers they can spread the ball around to.”

That’s quite an arsenal.

But ISU silenced it last season in a 41-7 win by adding fresh wrinkles to defensive sets.

Maturity made that possible — and anther year of experience means more options for Cyclone defenders.

“I think we have a deeper playbook this year (on defense),” said celebrated ISU linebacker A.J. Klein. “It makes the defense dynamic. We can switch things up and teams won’t know what we’re trying to throw at them every week.”

It’s a natural progression.

Klein, a reigning Big 12 co-defensive player of the year, recalls the amped up speed and tempo he faced as a freshman in league play — and how much he needed to scramble to adjust.

“A big memory in my mind was going into Norman (to play Oklahoma) my freshman year and they ran — they even did it to (Kansas) State a little bit, but didn’t come up with the win (last week) — but they were averaging something like 21 seconds per play,” Klein said. “And that’s not just one team. That’s the whole, entire league.”

The pace of the Big 12 game no longer serves as a lung-burning surprise.

Klein’s used to it.

So are his teammates.

And they aim to prove they can consistently thrive, rather than occasionally shock, amid the spread-based mayhem.

“That’s the big thing,” Klein said. “Just being ready, not getting flustered and having urgency instead of panic. Getting everybody set and making sure everybody’s in the right position.”

Tall order?

Maybe not for this group.

“We never get too high on the high end and we never get too low on the low end,” Cyclone nose guard Jake McDonough said. “When they make big plays, we can’t give up on (them). And when we get ahead, never get too comfortable. We have to have that edge.”

TV TIME: The game will be broadcast by Fox College Sports, which is available to DirecTV and Mediacom Cable subscribers who also purchase an extra sports package.

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