AMES — Without exaggerating, Iowa State football’s offense hinges on the play of the offensive line in 2018.
The Cyclones have a star running back in David Montgomery, a consistent, proven quarterback in Kyle Kempt and talent on the outside with the receivers.
The offensive line needs to step up its play in 2018.
Iowa State’s line was a force in pass protection, allowing only 19 sacks last season.
But the line provided little push in the run game. Montgomery ran for 1,198 yards; 828 of those yards came after contact — according to Pro Football Focus — because Montgomery was often met at the line of scrimmage, but used his near-super-human strength and balance to keep the play alive.
In 2018, the success of the line depends on a leader stepping up and changing the culture, Coach Matt Campbell said. The two frontrunners to lead the change are Cedar Rapids natives Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker.
“Those two have a very unique opportunity, in my opinion,” Campbell said. “When I challenge the offensive line, it starts with those two. One of the hard parts about the early part of their career is there wasn’t much around them to challenge them to be the best versions they could be.
“You talk about changing the culture of the team, change happens in small groups. That group is still trying to get to that point. Who’s going to be the one to finally draw the line in the sand? I think that’s a really unique challenge for those two. We talked about it, those two know that.”
Good-Jones might be the key to Iowa State’s offense. Good-Jones has been on a conveyor belt at Iowa State. He started at right tackle as a freshman, moved to center last season and now seems poised to start at left tackle for the Cyclones. His versatility is vital to Campbell.
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“Athleticism is the first thing you talk about when you talk about Julian Good-Jones,” Campbell said. “He has very high-end athleticism, which has allowed him to have position flexibility among the offensive line. The one nice thing for us, is we’re trying to figure out who are the five best linemen and putting everybody in position to be successful, he gives us that ability to do it.”
If Good-Jones is at left tackle, that allows Campbell and offensive line coach Jeff Myers to insert freshman Collin Newell, who has impressed the staff since the spring, at center.
“He works really, really hard all the time,” Myers said. “For him, and the whole offensive line, we’ve said we’re going to play the five best players, and that kind of put heat on everybody and pushed everyone to get better.”
Next to Newell, Josh Knipfel will be at right guard for the second consecutive season and redshirt sophomore Josh Mueller has emerged as the left guard.
For the first time in the Matt era, the offensive line has depth. Tackle Sean Foster has started games for the Cyclones and left guard Oge Udeogo has dealt with injuries, but has the ability to make an impact on the line.
If Good-Jones’ shift to the left side of the line works as well as Campbell hopes and if Newell and Mueller can make the impact Myers thinks, the line has a chance to provide a solid push.
But that’s a lot of “ifs” and “chances” for a group the Cyclones need to perform at a high level.
“(Run blocking) has been a short-coming here for two years,” Campbell said. “The offensive line has to take pride in that. Our team will make great movement if our offensive line can take a step forward. That’s a huge challenge for this year’s football team. I think that group made really good headway this summer, but until the lights come on and the ball is in play, you’re not going to find out where that group really is.”
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