Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State football Big 12 media day notes: Defense can be 'as good as we want it to be' in 2019

Cyclones starting to win close games, have continuity on offensive line

Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley (4) gets the ball away as Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. (42) hangs onto him during the second quarter of their CyHawk series college football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 8, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley (4) gets the ball away as Iowa State Cyclones linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. (42) hangs onto him during the second quarter of their CyHawk series college football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 8, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Sometimes numbers speak for themselves. Iowa State’s 2018 defensive statistics form tell an inspiring tale.

Last fall, the Cyclones led the Big 12 Conference by allowing 22.9 points per game, ranked second with 349.2 yards allowed per game and tied for third with 32 sacks.

And for fourth-year head coach Matt Campbell, those categories are among what he considers telling barometers of a defense’s effectiveness.

“I do think points per game is still really important and I think third-down conversion rate and fourth-down conversion rate (are also),” Campbell said Tuesday at Big 12 football media days at AT&T Stadium. “Certainly, in the red zone, the ability to force teams to kick field goals rather than touchdowns. Those are real (good metrics) today in college football and obviously, turnovers. Those are probably the areas that great defenses are winning in and those metrics.”

As effective as the Cyclone defense was last fall, senior linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. feels the 2019 version can be even better.

“(We can be) as good as we want it to be,” Spears said. “It’s up to us. It’s up to how bad do we want it? Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. It’s a sacrifice. What are you willing to give to be the best?”

Better in Close Calls

In 2016, Campbell’s first season, Iowa State went 1-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less. However, in the past two seasons, the Cyclones are 6-6 in those contests, including a 3-2 mark in 2018.

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For one veteran Cyclone on defense, that improved record in close calls comes down to the strong culture Campbell has instilled and players being comfortable playing together and believing in one another.

“Absolutely, it’s the culture,” Spears said. “Finally, the bond between us has gotten to that point where now we’re seeing the results. It’s second nature now.”

O-Line Continuity a Great Thing

Offensively, the Cyclones return eight starters, including five on the offensive line in left tackle Julian Good-Jones, left guard Collin Olson, center Colin Newell, right guard Josh Knipfel and right tackle Bryce Meeker according to ISU’s pre-fall camp depth chart.

“I’d saying having us five back is good,” Knipfel said. “We’ve learned a lot about each other. We’ve gone through a lot with each other. We tell guys it doesn’t matter where you’re at on the depth chart, we have to make each other better. It’s like iron sharpens iron.”

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