AMES — Collin Olson had never played center in a game for Iowa State. He thinks he played there in high school a couple of times but doesn’t remember for sure.
On Saturday he played in place of the injured Colin Newell against Iowa, a team Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said might have the best defensive line in the country.
“The guy who would’ve been the player of the game for us had we won was Collin Olson moving to center,” Campbell said. “He was incredible. The pulling, the moving, being singled up inside a little bit. I thought he was tremendous.”
But it wasn’t just Olson. Iowa State didn’t allow a sack on the quarterback — the only sack came on an attempted double pass in which receiver Deshaunte Jones decided to run instead of throw. In the running game, the Cyclones gained 4.8 yards per rush.
“If we were going to have success in the game, we had to win that battle, or find a way to compete,” Campbell said. “In the past three years, we haven’t even been close, and I thought for the first time since we’ve played in this game, we’ve been able to go and really compete.”
It started on the outside with being able to limit Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa.
“Tackles (Julian) Good-Jones and (Bryce) Meeker played their best games in their career,” Campbell said. “Now the challenge is, can they continue to play at that level?”
With Olson sliding over to center from left guard, freshman Trevor Downing got the first start of his career.
“I thought he was really physical and played good football for us,” Campbell said. “And obviously (right guard Josh) Knipfel is the same guy every day.
“That group took a huge step forward in terms of confidence and continues to grow.”
Tight end production
When Campbell and his staff arrived at Iowa State, they didn’t have a single scholarship tight end on the team. They’ve had to build the position from the ground up, each year getting more productivity from the position group.
They seem to have taken another leap this season.
Through the first two games, Charlie Kolar has nine catches for 98 yards, Dylan Soehner has one catch for 11 yards and Chase Allen has one catch for four yards.
“We’re fortunate, we have really good players there,” Campbell said. “The world was coming down when we weren’t throwing it to them when we first got here, now the tight ends have caught more balls in two games than they caught all last year.
“You’re seeing the evolution of that group because they’re really good players that can create matchups for us.”
Campbell preaches the importance of turnover margin, and in the Campbell era, Iowa State’s defense has done a good job of getting turnovers. The Cyclones forced 16 last season and 20 the year before.
But in the first two games of the 2019 season, the Cyclones have yet to force a turnover.
“There are two plays in the Iowa game where the ball is sitting in our stomach and we don’t make the play,” Campbell said. “If either of those happen and maybe, it’s a different outcome.
“That’s football and we have to make the play. Those are the separating factors between winning and losing in Division I college football.”
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