AMES — The Iowa State football team went 1-3 last November.
It played tough teams and lost close games, but the Cyclones were in contention for a Big 12 Championship game and fell well short.
This season, No. 24 Iowa State has found itself in nearly the exact same position — controlling its own destiny.
The difference from last November to this November is depth and the rotations Coach Matt Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock have established on defense.
Iowa State (4-3, 3-2 Big 12) travels to Lawrence, Kan., to play the Kansas Jayhawks (3-5, 1-4) Saturday at a 11 a.m.
“I don’t think we ever stepped backward last season, we just ran out of gas and part of it is able bodies and guys that you can trust that are able to go into the football game and play for you,” Campbell said. “That’s the difference right now to where we are as a football team from where we were a year ago. You see a lot more capable bodies and capable young men that are helping and impacting our team than what there was a year ago.
“A year ago, we started November and there were guys that had already played well over 1,000 snaps for our football team. We’re not even remotely close to that this year.”
Joel Lanning, Willie Harvey, Marcel Spears, Ray Lima, JaQuan Bailey and Brian Peavy seemingly played every snap on defense — and, in Lanning’s case, he played in all three phases to boot.
Now, middle linebackers Mike Rose and O’Rien Vance split snaps, Harvey and Spears have substitutes in Jake Hummel and Reggan Northrup that more than hold their own. The growth of Jamahl Johnson has helped Lima get some rest when he needs it, Spencer Benton fills in for Bailey and even Peavy can catch a breather when Datrone Young or Anthony Johnson step in.
“It’s certainly a credit to the multitude of guys who have stepped up and have been able to help us play,” Campbell said. “I think that’s probably the biggest difference. We also have more guys engaged, I’ve always been a big believer in that. The more guys that are impacting your team and are having success, are then more engaged in what’s happening day in and day out than a guy that’s not doing that. All those things are good, then that player leadership and that player ownership — those are all things that are key factors. Those are the biggest differences right now than where we were a year ago.”
The players can feel the difference, too.
“I feel way fresher,” Lima said. “That’s a credit to the staff in building depth and being more prepared. It’s great having a lot of guys out there and in the rotation. It’s definitely helped a lot in keeping a lot of guys healthy and keeping them ready to go.”
Harvey is a four-year starter, but he has no problem letting Hummel, a sophomore, come in and take some reps.
“I feel a lot better, just from my personal experience,” Harvey said. “Last year during this time, I was a little beat up, now I feel pretty good. Credit to the coaches for the rotations — it’s awesome.”
And now, if a guy does go down with an injury like defensive end Enyi Uwazurike did last week, his backup, Matt Leo, is more prepared to play because he already had been getting snaps in games.
“Teams are scheming us well now because we’re the best defense in the conference,” Leo said. “I have to come every week and try to give my best. I have to in order to fill the spot that Enyi left.”
In addition to the depth, Iowa State also has a more favorable schedule this November. Iowa State plays three of the bottom four teams in the Big 12 and No. 17 Texas this month.
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“Last year was what it was,” Campbell said. “But I think this is certainly a different football team than what we were a year ago in a lot of ways.”
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