Martin: Young is the one player that can make or break Iowa State’s defense

Iowa State’s Isheem Young and Gerry Vaughn tackle Oklahoma’s Charleston Rambo during the Cyclones and Sooners’ game Oct. 3 at Jack Trice Stadium.

Zach Martin

Isheem Young had to sit and watch. He didn’t have a choice.

And while playing in the Big 12 Championship game lasted about 30 seconds, it was the next contest that Young was looking towards.

That next contest, the one taking place on Saturday afternoon, will be the biggest one of his career.

The Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year of the Big 12 will look to have his fingers and his imprint on the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl often when No. 12 Iowa State and No. 25 Oregon clash helmets inside State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

It was a clash of a helmet that knocked Young out of the conference title game against Oklahoma, called for targeting on the second play of the game.

Teammates, ones that are in that defensive back room, had a full understanding of what that call meant.

“I was sick for him, man,” senior corner Lawrence White IV said.

The past is the past. Nothing about what transpired a handful of weeks ago can change that. So, what have coaches and teammates seen from the safety since that day in Texas?

The same Isheem Young he has been since he entered Ames.

“He’s been hungry every day in practice. He’s been like that all year,” Anthony Johnson Jr. said. “So I would say he’s the same; best version of himself.”

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock even was able to crack a bit of a joke about the whole ordeal.

“I was actually joking with him the other day. He’s fresh and ready to go,” Heacock said. “It was a tough scenario. It always is with that penalty.”

More so than anyone, Heacock knows the challenges that come with playing defense in today’s era of making sure the offensive players are protected at all costs.

Young’s targeting call was viewed by many analysts and writers as to why the rule needs to be changed. Or at least have a better understanding of the rule.

I know the referees aren’t going to be 100 percent correct. They are humans, too. Everyone makes mistakes. That just seemed like a mistake — before 60 seconds came off the clock — that should’ve been avoided.

“I think there should be some protection also of defensive players at times. I always joke with our guys, at some point in time, some of the things that happen to a defensive player, getting cut in the line of scrimmage, being cut back on, there’s a lot of things I think that happen that are not safe in our game,” Heacock said. “That would be my fault for not ever bringing those things up… I would like them to define it and refine it, maybe, again, to keep players safe.”

Young has been entrusted with playing the star position for the Cyclones, a position that Heacock had Greg Eisworth in last season. It’s a position that requires the individual to do a lot.

Not only be in coverage, but on occasion come on a blitz or be a corner. Heacock called that spot a “hybrid” in his 3-3-5 odd stack defense.

Young has excelled in that role in his first year as a starter.

“We recruited him for that position. We felt like his high school talent tape, good plays, low plays, all those things, we felt like he was a guy that we recruited to play that position because of the techniques and things that he was really asked to do in high school,” Heacock said. “He’s been able to refine it since he’s been here, been in the system for a year already, and able to learn some of those things, the intricacies of it. And he’s fit into it with his talent level and skill level.”

The play that will most likely be remembered is his game-sealing interception in the back of the end zone in the regular season meeting against Oklahoma. It was clear the second time that defense came across the Sooners looked far, far different.

Young has been the glue back there. While Mason Chambers and Arnold Azunna did what they could dealing with the rocket arm of Spencer Rattler, it’s nothing like what Young can bring to the table.

It was evident once Young departed that Rattler didn’t waste time throwing down the area of the field to where the former would be occupying. It was big play after big play.

And if Iowa State wants to leave the dessert with a victory, Young is going to have to be quick on his heels, technically sound and doing his best to avoid those situations where the men in zebra stripes have to make a call.

“Just try to be smart with the tackles. That’s something he’s been working on,” White said. “I think he’ll be just fine in this upcoming game.”

Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead had Young on his list of players that can alter the outcome of the game.

“Isheem plays with incredible downhill physicality. He does a great job in the run too,” Moorhead said. “They do a great job of fitting him in there.”

While Mike Rose has gotten the majority of accolades, and deservedly so, paired with JaQuan Bailey and Will McDonald being forces on the passing rush, those three I expect will deliver a play that can swing the momentum towards Iowa State’s favor.

I know Young will do that. He’s been too consistent and too good for the Cyclones to not have that kind of impact in the biggest game in the history of this program.

By the time the clock hits zero, Young will have hopefully played a full 60 minute game. And end his redshirt freshman season the right way.