AMES — Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s mantra is to show up when the team needs you the most.
The defense did that Saturday as No. 22 Iowa State beat Kansas 41-31 at Jack Trice Stadium.
While the defense was subpar most of the afternoon in surrendering 493 total yards — 328 through the air and 165 on the ground — it did come up big in the fourth quarter.
Kansas decided to go for it on fourth down with five minutes left. Iowa State sophomore cornerback Anthony Johnson read the play perfectly and broke up the potential first-down play on fourth-and-5.
“It was fourth-and-short and I knew all game on third-and-short that they were going to the sticks,” Johnson said. “I knew it was going to be a hitch or a slant.”
It was a slant and Johnson broke on the ball and deflected it away.
That’s something he’s been doing more and more of, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said.
“Anthony made the great pass breakup on the ball,” Campbell said. “I said this last week, Anthony Johnson was our defensive player of the game last week and there were some moments he broke on the football last week. I hadn’t seen that from our cornerbacks this season. We are so young in so many areas. And those corners, remember there were great cornerbacks here and now we’re playing with young guys.
“Anthony Johnson’s growth from game one to where he’s at now is incredible. It doesn’t surprise me that he makes an incredible play. Now he’s breaking on balls and Tayvonn Kyle is doing some of that at times, too.”
Two plays before that, Johnson broke up another pass to force a third down.
This time, he was coming off the edge on a cornerback blitz.
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“I knew from watching film that once I blitzed, the receiver would stop his route and the quarterback would try to get it out fast,” Johnson said. “I was able to make the play.”
Johnson batted that ball up in the air and O’Rien Vance was nearly able to dive and intercept it.
But outside of the fourth quarter, Iowa State’s defense played poorly.
The Cyclones let Kansas running back Pooka Williams rush for 154 yards.
Five Kansas receivers had at least 50 yards.
“What do we not do? We don’t usually give up big plays,” Campbell said. “And you know what we did (Saturday)? We gave up big plays. Whether it was the first half or the second half of the football game, they were abundant and we’re going to have to figure out why that happened.
“Some credit has to go to those guys. The tailback’s elite. The quarterback’s a really good football player. They’ve got good skill players. But our niche is not to give up the big play and really work ourselves to win situational football. We did some of that in the situational piece of it and, again, there’s some good, but honestly, it’s some of the things that are the fabric of who we are that we kind of went against what we do well.”
Big plays have plagued Iowa State in recent weeks. Oklahoma State had three plays of at least 50 yards, Oklahoma running back Kennedy Brooks had a 48-yard run against Iowa State and Oklahoma receiver CeeDee Lamb had a 63-yard reception.
“We still haven’t played our best football and a full four quarters,” Johnson said. “We have room for improvement.”
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