Notebook: Cyclones gear up for season opener

Matt Campbell talks to the media following the announcement of the Cyclones playing in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Saturday, December 30. The Cyclones will travel to Memphis, Tennessee to face the Memphis Tigers. 

Aaron Marner

Iowa State may not be playing in the national spotlight this Saturday against South Dakota State, but everyone from fans to players are eager to get the season underway.

Coach Matt Campbell participated in the first Big 12 teleconference of the 2018 season on Monday. While there wasn’t any major breaking news, Campbell shared some thoughts on the third linebacker spot, the offensive line and some other news.

Team captains announced

Iowa State announced Sunday the four team captains for the 2018 season.

In an evening press release, Iowa State said redshirt senior cornerback Brian Peavy, redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Kempt, redshirt junior Ray Lima and junior David Montgomery will be captains.

Peavy is entering his fifth year in the program. He was named All-Big 12 First Team by ESPN and Second Team by the coaches and Associated Press in 2017. He was also a captain a year ago.

Kempt made national headlines with his first collegiate start at No. 3 Oklahoma last year when he led the Cyclones to a huge win over the Sooners.

Teammates rave about Lima, who frequently draws double teams from the offensive line, allowing room for the rest of the defense to swarm to the ball. He will start on the defensive line again this season.

Montgomery led the Cyclones in rushing each of the last two years and earned First Team All-America honors from Pro Football Focus last season. He was First Team All-Big 12 by the AP, ESPN and coaches in his sophomore season.

MIKE linebacker still up for grabs

Iowa State returns starting linebackers Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey from last year’s defense. Those two combined for 25 starts in 2017 out of a possible 26.

But with Joel Lanning graduated and gone from the program, the third spot is still in the air, Campbell said.

All of fall camp, Campbell and linebackers coach Tyson Veidt have said they are still narrowing the list.

“We’re starting to narrow it down,” Veidt said. “There’s certainly not a bonafide starter in there.”

Veidt said redshirt freshman O’Rien Vance, true freshman Mike Rose and redshirt junior Bobby McMillen are the three in contention for the job.

“We’re still in the same position of who’s gonna be the first guy out there on Saturday night,” Campbell said in the teleconference. “The reality… is that we still see all three of those guys in competition and I think you’ll see all three come Saturday night.”

McMillen is the only one of the three with college experience. He played in all 13 games last year, mostly on special teams. He registered nine tackles and a sack.

Playing close games

Iowa State played in a number of tight games last year. Out of the 13 games played, seven were decided by one possession (eight points or less). Iowa State went 3-4 in those seven games.

This year looks like it could shape up the same way. Iowa State could be in a number of close games once again, so winning those battles could make or break the season.

“The reality at Iowa State is, we’re gonna live in those games,” Campbell said. “Those are situations for us where it does become about the detail. It becomes about winning in the margins, doing the little things right.”

Campbell said “those aren’t things guys see on Sportscenter,” meaning it’s not always about flash or about looking good. Campbell has repeatedly pointed toward turnover margin as a factor in close games, which has been a key point in some of Iowa State’s recent losses.

When Iowa State lost to Texas last year, Jacob Park threw three interceptions. Even though Iowa State’s defense held Texas to only 17 points, the inability to hold onto the ball may have cost them the game.

Campbell has preached about being detail-oriented ever since he arrived in Ames, and it appears that isn’t changing in 2018.

Iowa State opens its season at 7 p.m. on Saturday against South Dakota State.