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Iowa State hopes its penchant for forcing turnovers continues against Kansas State
Cyclones have 9 takeaways this season but face a tough-running tandem Saturday night
AMES — Iowa State linebacker O’Rien Vance smiled and shook his head adamantly.
He’d just been asked if he enjoys playing in night games — and his body language, as well as his words — provided an emphatic answer.
“No,” said the Cyclones’ top turnover producer this season. “But the atmosphere of it is amazing.”
Clear, dark skies will frame that fan-fueled ambience under the lights Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium, where No. 20 Kansas State (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) will try to subdue ISU (3-2, 0-2) for the first time since 2016.
Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU. And the active hands, as well as the bruising hits, of players such as Vance will have a major impact on the game’s outcome.
Vance, a sixth-year senior, leads the Big 12 in forced fumbles with three. He recovered one that he poked loose in the fourth quarter of last week’s 14-11 loss at No. 19 Kansas, giving the Cyclones a chance to win the football game. They didn’t, of course, but the defense must continue to pry away takeaways against the Wildcats and everyone else in the league if ISU is to forge its first conference victory.
“We’ve worked really hard at it,” said ISU defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, whose unit is tied for sixth nationally in forced fumbles with seven. “It comes in certain situations and opportunities when they present themselves. You don’t really know when they’re coming. That’s the hard thing about takeaways. They don’t just happen. You have to get it ingrained into your game.”
That’s clearly happened for the Cyclones, who have nine total takeaways this season, but face a tough-running tandem this week. Kansas State features one of the nation’s top running backs in Deuce Vaughn, as well as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in Adrian Martinez.
“(He’s) a guy that’s really confident,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said of Martinez. “A guy that certainly knows and understands what his role is.”
Vaughn leads the Big 12 with 638 rushing yards and Martinez ranks third with 469. Vaughn has lost just one fumble in 110 carries this season. Martinez has played turnover-free football — which is remarkable given his track record the past four seasons at Nebraska.
Martinez entered this season with a 45-to-30 career touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also lost 16 fumbles as a Cornhusker, so at some point, he’s likely to do it again.
That’s where Vance and his ISU teammates come in.
“When I see an opportunity, (I) try to take it and I feel like with my strength, I’m able to get the ball out and if I see it’s loose, I go for it,” said the former Cedar Rapids Washington standout, who forced one fumble as a Cyclone before this season. “If I get it, I get it. If I don’t, I don’t. But my whole objective is to try to give our offense another chance.”
So far, he’s delivered on that mission. Continuing that trend this week will be difficult, as the Wildcats are plus-nine in turnover margin, which is tied for second nationally. Kansas State has historically been adept at taking care of the ball and ranks third among Power Five schools in fewest turnovers per game (1.19) since 2012.
Perhaps that’s rubbing off on Martinez, but it’s more likely he’s surrounded by well-drilled teammates who don’t allow him to be placed into highly vulnerable situations.
Either way, ISU’s defense must find a way to tack onto its takeaway tally yet again.
That’s true day or night. With the lights on or off. But especially in a rivalry game where a possible first win in conference play hangs in the balance.
“It’s extremely intense,” Vance said. “This is going to be an extremely physical game. It’s one of those rivalries that’s a fun rivalry. It just brings out the best in each team.”