Defense, special teams carry Cyclones to second-straight 3-0 start


Justin Coleman downs a punt at the 1-yard line against the WIU Leathernecks, Saturday, Sept. 15, at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones won 37-3.

Stephen Koenigsfeld

The week leading up to the ISU football team’s game against Western Illinois, coach Paul Rhoads said the caliber of the FCS team it was facing didn’t matter; the team was going to treat its opponent like any other.

And that’s what it did.

The Cyclones (3-0) set out to play a Western Illinois team that was 6-23 all time against FBS teams — four of those wins came against Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference.

With offensive sputters here and there, Iowa State utilized its defense to keep Western Illinois (2-1) at bay.

“We’re really controlling things thus far,” Rhoads said. “Limiting big plays, tackling well and playing good team defense.”

Rhoads said he had a strong definition of what that meant to him and the defense.

“When I say that, I’m talking about 11 guys working to do their job and not more than that,” Rhoads said. “And I think we’re doing that right now.”

The Leathernecks were held to just 178 yards of total offense, including 103 yards rushing and 75 yards passing — the first time since 2004 that Iowa State held a team to fewer than 200 total yards (99 yards in a 23-0 win against Northern Iowa).

Senior linebacker Jake Knott prided not only the starting defense on this accomplishment but the second-string defense as well.

“Our [second-string] got in there and got a lot of reps and still held their own and still did a fantastic job,” Knott said. “It’s the credit to them and practicing hard every day, not knowing when they’re going to go in.”

One statistic that stood out Saturday evening was the turnover margin. Iowa State gave up three turnovers without forcing one.

Rhoads said the turnover phase of the game is something with which the team has been struggling.

“We win more games losing the turnover battle than anybody in America,” Rhoads said. “I don’t like that, and we’re going to try not to continue it.”

There were only five situations when the offense couldn’t make the full trip into the end zone. One of those five led to a 49-yard field goal from Edwin Arceo while the other four led to punts by punter Kirby Van Der Kamp.

The win became not only the third win for the Cyclones this season but the third consecutive game without a return against a Van Der Kamp punt.

Van Der Kamp set his high success on being comfortable while punting.

“Emotions are a problem,” Van Der Kamp said. “You’ve got to put them behind you and focus on the task at hand.”

Three of Van Der Kamp’s four punts were inside the 20-yard line, driving his total to a conference-best 13.

“That could be a difference-maker right there, because if they get just one block, they could be gone,” Van Der Kamp said. “If they don’t even have that opportunity, then they’ll be pinned deep.

Van Der Kamp, Knott and the rest of the Cyclones head into a bye week where they will recuperate and prepare for the start of conference play.

The next Cyclone kickoff, against Texas Tech, is at home Saturday, Sept. 29.