AMES — Zach Petersen’s name got tossed around like a hot potato before last season as a player who could break out for the Iowa State football team.
Petersen played in eight games as a true freshman in 2018. While he was undersized at 230 pounds, he played well enough to impress his coaches and teammates.
“What I loved about Zach was I loved the motor that you saw and that we’re seeing now,” Coach Matt Campbell said last season. “I thought, ‘Man, if this guy grows into his body, he’s going to have a chance to be a great player.’”
Well, Petersen did grow into his body and added 32 pounds to get up to 262.
“Zach Petersen has a lot of power,” then-senior defensive tackle Jamahl Johnson said before last season. “He’s a very powerful, really stout defensive lineman. He’s going to be great for us this year.”
Petersen earned second-team Al-Big 12 honors last season for the Cyclones. He recorded 41 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles. He played in all 13 games, starting the last nine.
He got his opportunity by filling in for JaQuan Bailey, who suffered a leg injury early in the season.
But even before Bailey’s injury, Petersen was playing well.
“To be honest with you, Zach’s played like that all year,” Campbell said after ISU’s 49-24 win over TCU on Oct. 5, when Petersen recorded six tackles and a forced fumble. “There really hasn’t been a drop-off when Zach Petersen comes in. I think I said on Tuesday that he’s played the best of all of our defensive linemen. He showed everybody else today how good of a football player he is and certainly the effect and impact he has in a football game for us.”
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Petersen broke through last season even when all but one player on the defensive line returned. This season, the Cyclones have to replace Ray Lima, Johnson in the middle and Matt Leo on the outside.
Young players will have their opportunity to be “the next Zach Petersen.”
Two young defensive ends already caught Campbell’s attention at the beginning of last year’s fall camp.
Those two were Corey Suttle and Blake Peterson, who are both redshirt freshmen in 2020.
Neither one saw the field last season because the line was stacked but they still impressed the coaches in practice.
“Blake is a talented pass rusher,” defensive line coach Eli Rasheed said last season. “He needs to learn how to play against guys who are as big as him and as fast as him but he can rush the passer. He’s talented. He’s already 255 pounds as a freshman and he’s soaking up all the information he can soak up.
“You’re going to see great things from him in the future.”
The biggest area of need for the Cyclones, and the place with the most opportunity, is filling in for Lima and Johnson at defensive tackle.
The Cyclones brought in junior college transfer Latrell Bankston who is expected to compete for the starting spot immediately.
Along with Bankston, Iowa State has players who have waited in the wings.
Josh Bailey and Isiah Lee are two names Campbell mentioned after the season as guys who could step in.
Josh Bailey is fifth-year senior and is the twin brother of JaQuan Bailey and Lee is a sophomore. They’ll battle with Bankston and true freshman J.R. Singleton — who Campbell called the most talented player the Cyclones signed in this recruiting class — for playing time.
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“I think (defensive tackle) is an area of high-end competition right now,” Campbell said. “There is not a name on there that I don’t think has the ability to be a starter. But who plays, how much will they play?”
“Baileys” and “Peterson/ens” dominate the Iowa State defensive line, and Cordarrius Bailey (no relation to Josh and JaQuan) hasn’t even been mentioned yet.
Cordarrius Bailey is a junior who was out last season with an injury but in 2018 he played on special teams.
An outside chance exists where Campbell rolls with a (JaQuan) Bailey, Peterson, (Josh) Bailey, Petersen, (Cordarrius) Bailey defensive line at the goal line.
Selfishly, I need that to happen just to see what will happen to all of the statisticians, scorekeepers and announcers while they try to keep that straight.
Selfish desires aside, the Cyclones have proven pieces along the line but young players will have opportunities to show they belong.