Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State vs. Louisiana Monroe: The Big Analysis

Cyclones look to bounce back against Warhawks

Iowa State hosts Louisiana Monroe Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. (The Gazette)
Iowa State hosts Louisiana Monroe Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. (The Gazette)
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AMES — Iowa State (1-1) closes out the non-conference portion of its schedule by hosting Louisiana Monroe (1-1) on Saturday at 11 a.m. (FS1) at Jack Trice Stadium.

Louisiana Monroe Warhawks

Louisiana Monroe is an opportunistic team.

The defense has forced four turnovers in two games, three in a 1-point overtime loss to Florida State.

And quarterback Caleb Evans has started 24 straight games for the Warhawks, providing consistent quarterback play.

“In terms of skill, probably the most talented team we’ve played so far,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “They have a senior quarterback who’s playing the best football of his career — he’s played really good in his first two football games. They have a tremendous tailback and an entire offensive line that’s coming back. You can see why they played so well two weeks ago (against Florida State). Defensively, they have almost their entire front seven coming back. They’re a team that can really run, and defensively, they create a lot of havoc.”

 

Evans has completed 67 percent of his passes for 424 yards and three touchdowns.

Running back Josh Johnson has run for 299 yards and three touchdowns on 36 attempts.

ULM doesn’t necessarily have a go-to receiver. Three guys have at least nine receptions and 95 yards.

Xavier Brown is currently the Warhawks’ leading receiver with 11 receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

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On defense, the Warhawks are led by middle linebacker Chase Day. Day leads the team with 11 tackles, three tackles for loss and two interceptions.

But it’s not just Day. The whole ULM defense causes problems.

“This is a totally different challenge,” Campbell said. “This is speed, quickness and explosiveness across the board in their front seven. Part of the success of their linebacking corps is the pressure they send with their linebackers. That’s one of the things we’re going to have to do a great job of in this football game. It almost reminds me of our defense. They’re moving, they come from different directions.

“We’re going to have to do a great job trying to control the tempo of the football game. If you let them dictate the pace of the game, they can create havoc and be explosive. They’ve done a great job creating turnovers.”

The problem with the pressure that ULM sends is it leads rushing lanes wide open.

Opponents have rushed for 231 yards per game against the Warhawks. Grambling State, ULM’s first opponent, averaged 6.6 yards per carry and rushed for 243 yards in a 31-9 loss.

Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock showed a new wrinkle to his defense.

Teams have been copying Iowa State’s defense for the better part of the year. ESPN analyst David Pollock said last week before College GameDay that he was watching Clemson play and noticed the top-ranked Tigers copied last season’s Iowa State defense to a “T.” The Tigers aren’t alone. Most of the Big 12 has copied Iowa State’s defense, and Clemson doing so wasn’t unexpected.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables spent a week in Ames studying from Heacock. In return, Campbell went down to Clemson to learn about the culture Dabo Swinney and company are cultivating.

But Heacock is always trying to evolve his defense to stay ahead of the curve.

He showed a 4-3 look at times last season against Iowa and other run-heavy teams, straying from his 3-3 front. But this year against Iowa, he not only incorporated the 4-3 in addition to the 3-3, he added a 3-4 look at times.

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“A lot of it is determined by what the offense does,” Heacock said. “When they present something, we have to try and find different avenues. Every team presents different stuff. People are studying every second of what we’re doing, so we have to be proactive, and we have been.”

Heacock, a former coach at Army, said opposing defenses changed their whole game plan to try to defend Army’s triple-option offense.

He said opposing offenses are starting to change from their usual game plan to try to keep Iowa State’s defense off balance. It’s almost a mirror of what teams have to do to prepare for Army’s offense.

That’s why Heacock is starting to add counters to opponents’ counters by adding a 4-3 and 3-4 look.

“I’m really excited because the stuff we substituted into the other night was really, really good for us,” Heacock said. “I feel really good about that stuff. It wasn’t stuff we just created, and it’s not like it wasn’t worth a darn. It worked pretty well for us.”

Not many teams can change fronts on command, unless it’s a goal-line or short-yardage situation. But Iowa State did it in the middle of drives.

“The defensive coaching staff has been together for a long time, so the communication is pretty controlled,” Heacock said. “’Here’s what’s going on. Here’s what we have to do, here’s how we can fix it.’ That’s the communication. We’re blessed that we’ve all been together, there’s no egos. I just want help. I want to know what’s the best thing we can be doing, and those guys all provide it by their position and overall picture for our defense. It has to be the same every game.”

If linebackers coach Tyson Veidt feels like his linebackers are getting over-matched in a situation, he can tell Heacock that, and Iowa State will send in a fourth linebacker to become a 3-4. If a team is airing it out, the Cyclones will stick to their 3-3 and have a third safety. If a team like Iowa likes running out of heavy packages, the Cyclones will put in a fourth defensive lineman.

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Iowa State will stay in its base 3-3 front most of the time, but if Heacock believes another front will give it an advantage, he’ll switch with no hesitation.

Prediction

Campbell teams rarely blow out opponents and ULM seems to be a salty Sun Belt Conference team. Iowa State will win, but it won’t be a 21-plus point margin.

Iowa State 27, Louisiana Monroe 10

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