Iowa State Cyclones

O'Rien Vance is piling up sacks for Iowa State football

Cedar Rapids Washington grad emerges as starting middle linebacker

Iowa State linebacker O’Rien Vance celebrates sacking Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)
Iowa State linebacker O’Rien Vance celebrates sacking Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018. (Matthew Putney/Freelance)

AMES — O’Rien Vance has been a revelation for Iowa State football in the early part of the 2019 season.

The redshirt sophomore middle linebacker from Cedar Rapids — and first-year starter — leads the Big 12 in sacks per game with 1.17.

Vance had two sacks against Northern Iowa, a sack against Iowa and a half sack against Louisiana Monroe.

Defensive end Jaquan Bailey has been Iowa State’s sack machine over the past three years. He’s currently tied for the school record but has yet to record a sack so far in 2019. Luckily, Vance has stepped up to fill in.

“O’Rien is our next defensive lineman,” Bailey said. “He’s our key to containing quarterbacks.”

Campbell often uses Vance as a spy against mobile quarterbacks. That’s how he got his sacks against Northern Iowa and ULM. It often looks like a delayed blitz, but it’s just Vance reading the offensive line, the quarterback and knowing when to go for it.

Overall, Vance is Iowa State’s fifth leading tackler with 17 through three games. He also has two quarterback hurries.

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“He’s getting what he’s deserved,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “He’s worked really, really hard. He was not the starter going into fall camp, and he earned the right to play because of the type of summer and fall camp he had. The reality for O’Rien is the successes, and small successes, that are coming early in the season for him are a direct result of how he’s practiced and how he’s prepared for this season.”

Interestingly, Vance was the leader to win the middle linebacker spot during the 2018 fall camp until the emergence of Mike Rose. Vance called that a learning experience and used it as an opportunity to get better. Many players would’ve transferred after losing a starting spot to a true freshman.

But Vance put his head down and kept working.

Vance played so well in fall camp that the coaching staff moved Rose to outside linebacker, where he’s flourishing as well. Rose is third on the team in tackles with 24, leads the team in tackles for loss with 4.5 and also has a half sack.

Vance’s production isn’t completely unexpected. He substituted in for Rose regularly last season to give Rose a breather.

Last season, in 11 games, he had 24 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Now, after the strong fall camp and impressive early part of the season, Campbell wants to see Vance continue to produce.

“You’re talking about a position where consistency is critical,” Campbell said. “He’s right in the heart of this defense. He’s done a great job of making the most of his opportunities, but for us to play great defense, he’s going to have to continue to get better and continue to play at that level that he’s playing at right now.”

What does Campbell want to see Vance improve on and continue to get better at?

“Just the consistency of play,” Campbell said. “That’s a huge piece in there. He’s a guy a lot of the defense gets funneled to and around. He has to have consistency in making those plays, and when the opportunities are there, the more consistent he is, the better this football team will be, for sure.”

So far he’s been consistent and has been up to the task as the centerpiece of one of the best defenses in the Big 12.

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“I go out there and play hard,” Vance said. “I flow to the football and do my job.”

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