Martin: Offensive line showing its worth through four games

Iowa State sophomore running back Breece Hall celebrates with redshirt senior offensive lineman Sean Foster in the game against Texas Tech on Oct. 10.

Zach Martin

If there was one glaring area where Iowa State would struggle in the 2020 college football season, a lot of fingers were pointed at the trenches.

And with good reason.

The Cyclones had to replace four consistent starters on the offensive line from last year’s 7-6 team including a pair of stalwarts in Julian Good-Jones and Collin Olson. Only Trevor Downing, Sean Foster and Colin Newell saw playing time in 2019.

Those worries have been put to bed.

That front-five has proven to be the most valuable aspect of No. 24 Iowa State’s 3-1 start following its 31-15 victory over Texas Tech Saturday afternoon at Jack Trice Stadium.

The Cyclones had a total of 516 yards on offense, 29 first downs, five yards per rush, 9.4 yards per pass and had the football for 40 minutes, 51 seconds.

All instrumental from the men who never show up on the box score that paved the path for the stars who consistently have their names all over the stat sheet.

“That group has been impressive since the start of the season,” Cyclones Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “I felt confident that this could be a really good group and one of the better offensive lines since we’ve been here.”

Its value comes without the services of Downing, who hasn’t suited up in all three wins after he was injured in the Louisiana game.


Well, maybe. But, that hasn’t been the only change in what seems like a revolving door of how that unit is being chucked out there.

Darrel Simmons Jr., a redshirt freshman, got the start at right guard against the Red Raiders while right tackle Joey Ramos left the game in the opening frame and was replaced by fellow redshirt freshman Jake Remsburg.

Foster (left tackle), Derek Schweiger (left guard) and Newell (center) have been the glue over the course of four games. Those three are at bigger importance since Campbell said post game Downing was going to be out for awhile.

“There’s lot of guys that are hungry for their opportunity,” Campbell said. “By no means are they perfect.”

Look at what the unit has done for Breece Hall and Brock Purdy since the 31-14 loss to Louisiana.

They have created holes for the Cyclones star running back to scamper for over 100 yards in all three Big 12 games. They won the trench battle against Oklahoma’s stout run defense. They have given Purdy enough time to throw to his stacked chest of offensive weapons.

In three Big 12 games, Iowa State’s rushing attack have averaged 188.7 yards per game while the passing game has found the form a lot of pundits predicted it would. Earning a grand total of 66 first downs over the last 12 quarters isn’t too shabby either.

“These past couple of weeks have shown that our offensive line holds everybody accountable,” Hall said. “Whether you’re a one, two, three, four, walk-on, it doesn’t matter. They expect you to come in and do your job.”

So, I’ve just laid out why these men who are way more muscular than me have been so important for Iowa State’s success so far, they can easily sustain it, right?

Not so fast.

Injuries happen all the time in football. Offensive linemen are the most prone to have their ankle rolled up on. You know it, I know it. The Cyclones are not very deep at that area. One more injury, especially to a key cog, will lead to disaster.

Plus, who’s to say once Downing returns, whenever that may be, he disrupts the chemistry that left side has established? I can’t say that is a certainty, but the thought has to be there.

If the Cyclones want to see those numbers by Hall, including the gaudy touchdown figure, and Purdy staying relatively clean (sacked just four times in four games) in the pocket and allow him to extend plays with his legs, health has to be of prominence.

As Iowa State enters its second bye week of the 10-game regular season, getting Downing and Ramos healthy is at upmost importance.

Since No. 10 Oklahoma State is right around the corner in what could be the decider on who gets to play a crucial 11th game for a conference championship, the Cyclones must rely on the line to continue its steady course.

Or it can all fall apart in the blink of an eye.