AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell doesn’t care what the depth chart says. He never has.
To him, it’s just something he has to do.
To him, it doesn’t matter who’s starting. It’s all about who’s playing in critical situations.
And he’s getting his team to buy into that mindset, too.
“(ISU spokesman Mike Green) comes in every Sunday, I say, ‘I don’t care what you put on it.’ I know you guys care, but I don’t, because I know what happens on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday dictates who gets the most amount of reps — what happens in a game on Saturday,” Campbell said during his weekly news conference Tuesday. “And our kids know that. We’ve built this on that foundation to say, ‘Hey, listen, you’re going to earn the right to play on Saturday. If you do it right, we’re going to get you into the game. That gives you that situation to be able to showcase what you can do and the more you do with it the better you’re going to be.’”
Campbell said the closer his team gets to having two players play even snaps on the defensive side of the ball, the better his defense will be.
That’s happening at the middle linebacker position. Before the season, that spot was one of the most hotly contested spots and also one with a pretty big question mark.
Through five games, Mike Rose and Cedar Rapids’ O’Rien Vance have proved to be valuable pieces.
Rose burst onto the scene in Iowa State’s first game against Iowa. He recorded 11 tackles and one tackle for loss, flying all over the field.
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Since, Vance has been getting more and more playing time. It’s not anything Rose has done wrong, but it’s what Vance has done right.
Against Akron, Vance recorded three tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. The next week against TCU he recovered a fumble.
Last week against Oklahoma State, Vance recorded five tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and two hurries.
In theory, Vance is battling for the starting spot, but Campbell doesn’t see it that way.
“I think that’s where perception out there and reality within our walls is so different,” Campbell said. “The reality of it is, is I don’t even know if we look at it as who’s the starter. We look at it as, ‘Man, we need two guys at each position on that side of the ball to be able to play for us.’ The closer we can get to even reps, the better football team we’re going to be, because those guys can be fresh against Big 12 opponents and offenses that are really going to force you to play.
“I don’t see it as a battle for who’s the starter. I see it as we’ve got two guys playing at a really high rate for us right now and giving us chances to be successful.”
Vance had an opportunity to put his head down and sulk after losing the starting battle to a true freshman. But instead, he kept trying to grow.
“I’m really proud of O’Rien because I think his growth has been outstanding,” Campbell said. “He was kind of dinged up a little bit in fall camp. It would have really been hard on a lot of guys especially when a (true) freshman like Mike steps up and plays really well early in the season, to be discouraged. But we had some really good conversations.
“Coach (Tyson) Veidt’s done a good job with him about staying the course. Just keep getting better, control you, don’t control the situation and he’s done a great job with that. I think one of the products you’ve seen is you’ve seen two guys that are really playing great there.”
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