In Part One of our five-week series “Enemy At The Gates,” which breaks down the toughest units TCU will face all year, we took a look at the Purdue receiving corps that are poised to have an electric season with a capable quarterback and a brilliant head coach giving an assist.
Now it’s time to flip to the other side of the ball, and travel to a magical, far-away place known as Ames, Iowa. Iowa State’s defensive line is mean, fast, and experienced, and the Cyclones are going to test the Horned Frog offensive line.
(A note before we begin: I had planned to kick this article off with a quote from the classic Baby Bash hit “Cyclone,” featuring T-Pain, but I couldn’t find a single set of lyrics that were a) remotely applicable to football or b) remotely appropriate for a family website. Sometimes it’s hard being a writer, folks.)
Do you know who had the best rush defense in the Big 12 last year? It was Iowa State, allowing an average of 3.3 yards per attempt and 115 yards per game.
Do you know who had the best pass defense in the Big 12 last year? Well, okay, that was TCU. But Iowa State was second! The Cyclones gave up an extremely nice 6.9 yards per attempt and 234.2 yards per game. Iowa State also had the best scoring defense in the Big 12 last year, allowing 22.9 points per game and edging TCU for the honor.
A large part of Iowa State’s success came from its defensive line. The front four — though it was often a front three, especially if Iowa State played a spread team — stuffed the run and piled up the third most sacks in the Big 12 last year with 33. And when they did sack the quarterback, it was for big losses. The Cyclones had 258 yards’ worth of sacks, the most in the conference.
The scary part is that much of the Iowa State line returns for the 2019 season. Senior JaQuan Bailey and redshirt senior Ray Lima were both second-team All-Big 12 last season. The two have opposite builds; Bailey is a slight 6-2, 255 pounds, while Lima is a stout 6-3, 305 pounds. Bailey is an end, Lima is a tackle, and both will raise hell against opposing lines. Bailey had eight sacks last year, and is tied for the school’s career sack record with 18.5.
Those two will be joined by a host of talented reserves from last year, many of which saw extensive playing time. Jamahl Johnson played in all 13 games, starting one, and the senior had 13 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He’s a big body at 6-0 and 300 pounds. Eyioma Uwazurike (6-6, 285 pounds) started eight games last year at defensive end as a redshirt sophomore despite missing time with a groin injury and had 27 tackles.
Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is entering his fourth year with Iowa State after a journeyman career that included a stint as the head coach of Youngstown State. He told the Associated Press that he plans on doing more of the same with the Cyclones this year, even with the experienced lineup.
“Treat it the same,” he said. “Start from ground zero and build up and just hope that everybody keeps continuing to get better. I’ve never been a guy who’s like ‘Hey, we’ve got a bunch of guys back so we can do different things.’”
That could mean one of two things. TCU could be able to study the film from last year and develop a gameplan to neutralize the Iowa State defensive line by running outside the big guys up front and using quick passes to neutralize the pass rush.
Or, Iowa State could just get become great at what it’s already exceedingly good at and swarm the TCU backfield on every play. I know which one I’d pick!
TCU plays Iowa State in Ames on Saturday, Oct. 5. Last year against the Cyclones, TCU managed just 299 yards of total offense, winning 17-14 in one of the weirdest games of the season. Darius Anderson was the leading rusher for the Frogs with 66 yards.