Notebook: One last ride for the Cyclones and this senior class

Iowa State senior defensive back Greg Eisworth gets ready to make a tackle at the 2020 Dr Pepper Big 12 Football Championship on Dec. 19 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Stephen Mcdaniel

With the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl rapidly approaching, the Iowa State defense rounded out a two-day media day session Wednesday, with the Cyclone offense talking to the media on Tuesday.

Key members of the Cyclone defense along with Iowa State Defensive Coordinator Jon Heacock, spoke to the media about the upcoming PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the reigning Pac-12 champions Oregon Ducks.

The final chapter for the seniors

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell hasn’t been shy about praising the senior class that’s helped ascend the Iowa State football program to where it has gotten this season.

The 16 seniors on Iowa State’s roster have played essential roles on all sides of the ball for the success that the Cyclones have seen this season and have helped lay the foundation for success in future seasons after they leave.

“We’ve always talked about really laying a foundation here, and just keep adding players to that foundation,” said Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth II. “And something Coach Campbell has talked about recently has been the process of growing bamboo tree and how you water the roots faithfully every day for however many years.

“And then eventually, within a couple of weeks, it will sprout out of the ground, almost seems like out of nowhere.”

The Fiesta Bowl provides the seniors on Iowa State with one more chance to close out the 2020 season and the seniors’ illustrious careers on a high note after the sour taste of a Big 12 Championship defeat from Oklahoma.

With it potentially being the last time the seniors will walk out onto the field with Iowa State jerseys on, barring any potential return with extra eligibility granted by the NCAA, emotions ran high with members of Iowa State’s most winningest class in school history.

“But, man, I just hope I did a good job, being a good teammate, and just being the best player I could be this year,” Iowa State defensive back Lawrence White IV said. “Potentially be my last game, I just want to go out in a good way and go out — I’m glad I get one more opportunity with this team to play in the Fiesta Bowl.”

Excitement builds with Fiesta Bowl anticipation

Saturday marks the final football game that Iowa State will play in its historic 2020 season that saw its first ever eight conference win season, made its first appearance in the Big 12 Championship game and is now playing in its first ever New Year’s Six bowl game.

In what may be the biggest football game in school history, the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, much excitement has been shown from the Cyclone defense that played a significant role in guiding Iowa State to the Fiesta Bowl.

“The first thing I’d say is that I think our team and our defense and staff are really excited for the opportunity to play in the Fiesta Bowl,” Heacock said. “I think that’s first and foremost.”

There’s excitement all around the defense to be able to play in Iowa State’s first ever New Year’s Six bowl game, especially after a long, difficult year that had the fate of college football in question.

At first, it seemed like no college football was going to happen when the Pac-12 and Big Ten initially opted out of playing football before ultimately reversing that decision.

Then, Big 12 teams had to limit their non conference schedule to only one non conference team, in which some Big 12 teams didn’t get to play, before starting conference play.

Now the Cyclones go from potentially not having college football in 2020 to playing in one of the most prestigious bowl games in college football.

“Yeah, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to this program,” Eisworth said. “Just thinking back to kind of when all this COVID stuff started, we were all sitting home and really unsure of what the future would look like, even if we would have a season.”

The importance of the secondary

Two of the threats that Oregon poses on offense is speed and its ability to make big plays through the air, which are two issues Iowa State’s secondary will be tasked with limiting.

“They’re explosive,” White said. “They have a lot of fast receivers and they make big plays, so that’s our job as the defense to minimize the big plays and force them to drive down the field.”

The Ducks are able to spread the ball around through the air, with Oregon’s back field of C.J. Verdell and Travis Dye catching passes.

As a team, Oregon is averaging nearly 15 yards per reception through six games as opposed to Iowa State’s 12 yards per reception average through 11 games.

The Cyclone defense will get back another key piece that they missed for nearly all of the Big 12 Championship game in freshman defensive back Isheem Young, who got disqualified from a targeting call on Oklahoma’s first drive of the game.

The return of Isheem and the amount of veteran presence in the secondary will lead the defensive charge for the Cyclones against another talented team on offense.

“I think the skill level there is very equivalent to what we see in our conference,” Heacock said. “It’s a big challenge for us. I think our guys are very aware of those folks and the abilities that they have.”