Notebook: Rebounding from a rough outing, getting Mike Rose back

Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose walks off the field after the Cyclones’ 30-20 win over Kansas State on Oct. 16.

Sam Stuve

Heading into Saturday’s game against Texas, Iowa State’s defense is coming off its worst performance of the season. But they aren’t hiding from it.

In the 38-31 loss to West Virginia, Iowa State gave up not only a season-high in points but also a season-high 492 yards. That number was their worst since 2019.

There’s no time to dwell on it as the Iowa State defense has a tough task ahead facing a dangerous Texas offense that’s averaging 437 yards and 39.4 points a game. 

Getting back on track

According to defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, Iowa State had its worst defensive performance of the year against West Virginia, and it’s certainly not something to be ignored. 

“It’s on the front-burner, that wasn’t the standard at which we’ve come to play at Iowa State defense,” Heacock said Wednesday. “And our guys, again, I think they recognize it. It’s been a long time since, you know, that’s what our defense has looked like in a game and give credit to West Virginia for sure. Their plan was good.” 

Last week’s defensive performance could be considered an outlier, given their recent history on that side of the ball. 

Iowa State as a defensive unit hadn’t allowed more than 30 points in any game this season until last Saturday. Baylor did score 31 points on Iowa State, but seven of those points were scored on a kick return touchdown. 

To get back on track, it’s more about the ‘how’ as opposed to the ‘what.’

“It all starts with how, and that’s what we focused on this week,” Heacock said. “How we prepare, how we practice, how we go to meetings; the how is way more important than the what.”

What are some of the things that Iowa State will need to prepare for Saturday?

One of the biggest has to be Bijan Robinson.

Stopping Bijan Robinson

The Longhorns have a plethora of offensive talent, including running back Bijan Robinson, who is second in the Big 12 in rushing yards behind Iowa State’s Breece Hall and eighth in the nation with 967 yards.

“Boy, he is really talented, fast, has great vision, he is a tough tackle out there,” Heacock said. “And, you know, it takes more than one guy to bring him down.”

The sophomore from Tucson, Ariz., has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground and is averaging 5.9 yards a carry, which is better than Hall’s 5.5 average. 

Heacock said Robinson doesn’t really compare to any running back that he’s seen before, but that he also isn’t one to compare running backs.

“I don’t like comparing guys, I think every guy individually is an excellent player, he’s probably as good as we’ve played against at this point,” Heacock said. “You have to literally tackle him and usually it takes  a couple guys.”

Robinson may be a hard guy to bring down, and he’s also a hard guy to force into a mistake. 

In the 17 games he’s played for the Longhorns, he has yet to cause a turnover. Technically, he fumbled once in the Longhorns’ game against West Virginia in 2020, but Texas recovered the fumble, so possession wasn’t lost.

While Robinson has had success in his young career, that success has yet to come against the Cyclones. The only matchup he’s had against the Cyclones was Nov. 27, 2020; he was limited to 54 yards on the ground, zero touchdowns and just three receiving yards. 

But you know who had success in that game on the Cyclones defense?

A man who the Cyclones defense missed tremendously last week, Mike Rose.

Heacock optimistic about Rose’s availability Saturday

In the loss to the Mountaineers, the Cyclones were without one of their key defensive pieces, that being Mike Rose.

There is a sense of optimism in regards to the possibility of him playing Saturday. Then again, there was that confidence last week as well when coaches were asked about it.

Rose is tied with fellow linebacker Jake Hummel in total tackles with 51 and is third on the team in tackles for loss for 6.5.

And oh yeah, he was an All-Big 12 player and an All-American last season as well.

“Well, anytime we get a veteran back who’s a starter and has played as many games as Mike has, it’s very helpful,” Heacock said. “Again, it’s going to take everybody. We got to find a way to run and tackle and do the things that it takes, but whenever you can get a starter back, it certainly helps your group.”

Having a guy like Rose back can do wonders for the Cyclone defense, especially considering the task they have ahead with the Longhorns.

A bonus on top of that is Rose played well in last year’s game at Texas.

The Brecksville, Ohio, native had a career-high 13 tackles (1.5 for loss), which led all Cyclones in the 23-21 win over the Longhorns last year.