Heacock praises veterans, previews UNLV’s quarterback situation

Iowa State’s defense walks back to the sideline after a play against No.10 Iowa on Sept. 11.

James Powell

Iowa State’s defense has picked up right where it left off in 2020. It has given the offense lots of opportunities with how stingy they are, particularly in the second half of the first two games.

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock spoke with the media Wednesday and attributed that success in part to veteran defenders continuing to make strides. He also discussed the possibility of seeing multiple quarterbacks play for the University of Nevada Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels and how his team is preparing for that potential challenge.

Leaders on defense continuing to build on their game

Iowa State knew coming into this 2021 campaign that they would be able to lean a tremendous amount on their veterans that they have at every level of the defense.

Will McDonald, Jake Hummel and Enyi Uwazurike have all seen action in every year since 2018, with Hummel and Uwazurike’s tenures dating back to 2017. What’s impressed Heacock and his staff the most, however, is how they have continued to evolve their respective games, even after all these years.

“In order to be successful, your veteran guys have to play the best football of their career, and I feel like Jake’s really on a path to do that,” he said. 

The senior linebacker has totaled 19 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, one of those being a sack against Iowa last Saturday. Hummel averaged 6.4 tackles per contest in 2020 and he is currently on pace for 9.5 a game in 2021.

Another player that Heacock mentioned is continuing to make strides is Will McDonald.

“He’s made great strides, its like a different guy out there,” Heacock said when asked about what McDonald has been able to do in stopping the run.

That was a point of emphasis for Iowa State’s star edge rusher coming into the 2021 season, in part because he’s been so good against the pass. McDonald led the nation in sacks last year, with 10.5. So far in 2021, he already has 2.5 sacks, showing that edge rushing prowess has continued into this season.

Uwazurike, out of the three defenders mentioned, has the most career starts with 35. He has been with the Cyclones since 2016, when he redshirted. Uwazurike was fourth on the team last year in tackles for loss, with 8.0. 

“He’s an old guy that came back for a reason,” Heacock said about Uwazurike. “You see it every day in practice, no nonsense before games, during the game he’s locked in.”

Heacock also noted that his redshirt senior defensive lineman played both edge rush and nose tackle in the game against Iowa, which speaks to Uwazurike’s versatility.

UNLV presents multiple QB options

So far this season, the Runnin’ Rebels have featured two quarterbacks in Doug Brumfield and Justin Rogers. While their team has been unable to get their first win, utilizing two quarterbacks in any system would present challenges in preparing.

UNLV also has Tate Martell in their quarterback room, a former four-star commit to Ohio State. Martell transferred initially to Miami after Justin Fields won the starting job at Ohio State, but eventually sat out the 2020 season before transferring to UNLV.

While Martell has yet to appear in a game for UNLV, he was a highly-recruited talent that could certainly make some plays.

So how does an opposing defense prepare for the possibility of seeing multiple quarterbacks? Heacock isn’t worried and says they’ve been watching film on all three.

“We’ve kinda prepared for all of them, we’ve watched film and studied them all in the offseason,” Heacock said. When asked about whether that presents any issues for his defense, Heacock added “I think you try to sort out the plays and the formations and the studies and all that stuff we did in the offseason for the last five months…hopefully we’re prepared for all of it.”

So far this season, Brumfield has completed 11 of his 26 passes for 177 yards. Rogers has only thrown the ball 16 times, completing eight of those passes. Neither quarterback has thrown for a touchdown yet and Iowa State will hope to make that trend continue in their game Saturday.