Aggies prepare to bring pressure

Dan Tracy

After starting the season 3-0 and then dropping the last three games, it is no secret that Iowa State is feeling pressure to get back to its winning ways.

When the Cyclones (3-0, 0-3 Big 12) try to end their three-game skid on Saturday against Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1), they will be feeling an additional type of pressure. Through six games, A&M leads all 120 teams in Division I football with 26 sacks on the season.

There will be no shortage of defensive pressure from the Aggies.

“It’s more than just the defensive line,” said coach Paul Rhoads. “About anybody on the field could come at any particular time as far as the pressure goes, linebackers coming, safeties coming, [the pressure] really creates challenges for you picking it up and your quarterback having the poise to deliver the ball.”

Led by the Big 12 leader in sacks linebacker Sean Porter with 7.5, 17 of the Aggies’ 26 sacks have come from linebackers and defensive backs.

Watching film this week, ISU offensive line coach Bill Bleil noted that the Aggies this season have brought pressure from linebackers and the secondary more than 50 percent of the time as they try to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.

Although the added pressure will make it tougher on the offensive line to protect the quarterback, Bleil is excited about the opportunity for the offensive line to help Iowa State make plays against the A&M defense.

“I tell you what, we’re excited about it because it’s a risk-reward type defense. There’s some yards out there if we protect and we do some good things,” Bleil said.

The ISU offensive line has been adjusting to the absence of starting right tackle Brayden Burris, who suffered a fractured bone in his lower left leg. In Burris’ absence, redshirt sophomore Kyle Lichtenberg and redshirt junior Carter Bykowski have been splitting time at the right tackle spot.

“I think the transition has been fine as far as guys playing together,” Rhoads said. “Brayden was playing well; I mean he was a second-year starter, and we miss his body on the field right now.”

Since Burris’ departure, ISU quarterback Steele Jantz has been sacked 11 times as opposed to only four times in the Cyclones’ first three games.

“People are really ragging on us but in some cases if you put us on the clock we’re giving him all right protection,” said redshirt freshman center Tom Farniok. “It’s not as bad as it seems, but it’s not as good as we’d like it obviously.”

The offensive line will be crucial to not only handling the Aggies’ defensive pressure but also opening up running lanes and trying to establish a rhythm for an offense that currently ranks last in the Big 12 in scoring.

“They bring blitzes, [and] it’s fairly complex, but we’ve done a good job of simplifying it and figuring out what to do and where they come from,” Farniok said. “We just have to get it right on the field.”

The Cyclones and Aggies face off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. The game can be broadcast nationally on ABC.