116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen pranced out of the pocket, under duress and out of options.
Iowa State defensive end MJ Anderson provided the hot pursuit, finally reaching Shapen, wrapping up his legs and recording an apparent sack.
Then he saw the flag, but his heart didn’t sink. He happily lined up to play on.
“It is what it is, I feel like,” said Anderson, who saw his first career sack as a Cyclone swept away by one of several costly penalties last Saturday in a 31-24 setback. “I’m just having fun, man. This is probably the best time in my life right about now.”
Anderson’s ability to rush the passer and wrap up running backs has been crucial as ISU (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) continues to find ways to thwart opposing offenses that double-team all-time sacks leader Will McDonald and scheme to run plays to his opposite side.
And the Minnesota transfer’s effort will need to ratchet up a notch this Saturday as the Cyclones seek to topple rejuvenated Kansas (4-0, 1-0) at 2:30 p.m. in Lawrence.
“You’ve got to play ‘A’ football to win football games,” said ISU football coach Matt Campbell, whose team owns a seven-game win streak against the Jayhawks. “And maybe you can play ‘B-plus’ football and still get beat right now, so credit to everybody in this conference.”
Especially Kansas, which has given up just one sack through four games while rushing for an average of 245.3 yards per game. That’s where Anderson comes in, along with McDonald and other teammates who will be deployed in blitz packages and/or as spies to try to curtail the production of Jayhawks quarterback Jalon Daniels, who’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and rushed for a team high-tying four more.
“A really good offense, a really good team,” said Cyclone safety Malik Verdon, who notched a career-high six tackles in the Baylor loss. “Just need to be able to prepare right mentally, physically; play our defense and do what we do.”
Anderson’s emergence as a disruptive bookend to McDonald on the edge has helped ISU continue to be very good at what it does. He’s made seven tackles this season and narrowly missed out on at least two sacks. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound junior overcame elbow surgery in the spring and progressed steadily through summer workouts, setting the stage for early-season production — with more to possibly come.
“One of the things I have enjoyed about M.J. is he loves football,” Campbell said. “And he really goes to work at it. Even through that journey of getting back healthy, it’s been a real joy to watch his process. ... He’s got a chance to be really special and who he is on top of it has fit us greatly.”
Anderson’s approach to football and life mirrors Campbell’s.
Love the game. Play hard. Project greatness on and off the field. Those, of course, are universally-prized attributes in all programs, but Campbell’s emphasis on those bare-bones core principles enlivens Anderson as he seeks to make a broader impact every game, not just a play here or there.
“I honestly feel like every Saturday you can just get an opportunity to get on that grass with the boys and just get dirty, you know what I’m saying?” Anderson said. “It’s just fun.”