Defensive notes: Staying the course, a ‘different’ air raid and stellar Minshew

Defensive back Brian Peavy falls with Drake University tight end Zach DeLeon during a rainy game at Jack Trice Stadium on Dec. 1. The Cyclones won 27-24.

Noah Rohlfing

Iowa State’s defense has been the team’s bellwether under coach Matt Campbell, with the team ranking in the top three of Big 12 defenses each of the past two seasons.

The Cyclones have faced their fair share of air-raid style attacks, mainly with the offenses of Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech adopting some of the concepts of Mike Leach. In fact, until the firing of former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury following the 2018 season, all three coaches were branches off of the Mike Leach coaching tree. The Cyclones take on Leach’s Washington State Cougars on Friday at 8 p.m.

On Wednesday, players and assistant coaches had their pre-bowl game press conferences. Here are some of the highlights on the defensive side of the ball.

Accountability crucial to Cyclones’ defensive consistency

Iowa State has sat in the top-35 in the country in total defense for most of the 2018 season and currently sits at 33rd, making the unit the third-highest ranked squad Washington State has faced all year, behind Utah and California (15th and 16th, respectively).

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said that a big reason for the team’s consistency and something he wants all of his players to show is accountability and perseverance.

“They really truly care about one another, they hold each other accountable,” Heacock said of the defense. “I think it’s built on trust among the players.”

Despite a youth movement in the secondary which has seen freshmen Datrone Young, Anthony Johnson and Arnold Azunna get an increased amount of playing time as the season wears on, the Cyclones have held opponents to 228.8 yards per game through the air.

Redshirt senior Brian Peavy has been a part of the growth of the Cyclones’ freshmen, according to Heacock.

Washington State wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., said the Cyclones have a fundamentally-sound unit.

“They play a three-man front and they mix it up in the secondary a good bit,” Spurrier Jr., said. “We’re going to have to play well and execute well to beat these guys.”

Cougars’ offense ‘different’ than other air raid attacks

In the Big 12, the air raid takes on a different form than it has in Pullman, Washington, with the Cougars.

Redshirt senior cornerback Brian Peavy described the offense as a mix between the West Virginia and Texas Tech attacks.

“It’s almost like you combine those together then you have an amazing team,” Peavy said. “Another air raid offense, but different personnel and guys who can make plays all over the field.”

Heacock said the Cougars “force you to do different things” on defense than many of the Cyclones’ Big 12 opponents. The Cougars offense is averaging 379.8 pass yards per game, the highest mark in the FBS and nearly 150 yards more than Iowa State’s average.

The Washington State run game is far less of an emphasis (as is the case with most Mike Leach-coached offenses), but rushing leader James Williams has gained over 1,000 yards in total offense, with 552 yards on the ground and 560 receiving yards on 76 receptions. The Cougars’ second-leading rusher, Max Borghi, has 67 carries and 47 receptions on the year.

The most receptions an Iowa State running back has ever had? Sixty-four, a record set by Jason Jacobs in 1983. The next-highest tally was 36 from David Montgomery in 2017.

Safe to say the Cyclones won’t see many similarities to their own offense on the other sideline.

Minshew a point of emphasis

From the Washington State point of view, senior grad transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew II will have to have a fruitful performance for the Cougars to cut through the Cyclones. Minshew has had a record-breaking season with Washington State after transferring from Virginia, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting and positioning himself as a potential first-round NFL Draft choice.

On the Cyclone side of things, mitigating Minshew’s effectiveness is key to keeping the Cougars off the scoreboard.

Redshirt senior linebacker Willie Harvey Jr. said the Cyclones wouldn’t be giving Minshew any special treatment.

“We’re going to take it like this is a regular game,” Harvey Jr. said.

Whoever wins the battle between the two units will likely win the game on Friday.