Defensive secondary finding groove, winning turnover battle


Tiffany Herring/Iowa State Daily

Redshirt sophomore defensive back TJ Mutcherson runs the ball after an interception versus No. 7 Baylor on Sept. 27 at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones fell to the Bears 49-28.

Beau Berkley

It took a few games, but ISU football’s secondary might be hitting their stride midway through the season. 

After failing to surrender a turnover in the first two games against North Dakota State and Kansas State, ISU defensive backs have picked off opposing quarterbacks in three straight games, including two last Saturday against Oklahoma State. 

And the guys they’re picking off aren’t exactly slouches. 

Against Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and the then-third-ranked passing offense in the country, ISU defensive back T.J. Mutcherson registered one of two interceptions against Baylor this season. 

And last weekend, against Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman, who was ranked 11th in the nation in passing efficiency, ISU defensive backs Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson both got their first picks of the year in the first half.

ISU coach Paul Rhoads has said it before, but he credits the secondary’s improvement to maturity gained throughout the season.

“As I stated after the North Dakota State game, was that this team will improve…and the defense is showing that with their improved performance,” Rhoads said.

Rhoads also said he can see his secondary gaining confidence as they have gone up against some of the best the Big 12 has to offer. 

“The cornerbacks with two interceptions are stepping up and gaining more confidence in their abilities against a very good pass-throwing Oklahoma State team.”

What might be more telling of the turnover improvements is the turnover differential, which comes from comparing the amount of turnovers a defense forces to the amount of turnovers the offense gives away.

Iowa State’s turnover differential is currently a plus three since playing Iowa on Sept. 13. The ISU offense’s only turnover since playing Iowa was against Baylor on an errant left-handed throw from quarterback Sam B. Richardson. 

For cornerback Sam E. Richardson, getting his first pick of the season against Oklahoma State was something of a relief, especially after letting an easy one go against Iowa.

“I had one against Iowa and I kind of let it get away, so when I saw the opportunity [against Oklahoma State] I said ‘just bring it in, bring it in’ and I finally got it in and I started running with it,” Richardson said. 

Rhoads said he looks forward to more improvement out of the secondary, especially this weekend against a Toledo passing attack that averages 273.3 yards per game and has only been picked off four times. 

Turnovers are always big for momentum, especially in college football, but turning that turnover into six points is a different story.

“Defensive scores are huge momentum changers and we’ll keep working to turn the ball over and win the turnover battle, arguably one of the top three statistics in every football game,” Rhoads said.