In a 48-3 victory over UNLV last week, No. 14 Iowa State had its best defensive showing of the year, keeping UNLV out of the end zone and limiting the home team to just one field goal.
Where the defense was especially good against UNLV was against the run, holding it to less than 50 yards.
The Cyclone defense has to be feeling good heading into Saturday’s Big 12 opener, but will have a bit of a challenge with the Baylor Bears' running backs.
However, the Cyclones have a strong defensive line and a linebacker core, including senior linebacker Jake Hummel, who should be up for the task ahead on Saturday.
Heacock previews Baylor’s running backs
Through three games thus far, Baylor has been dominant on the ground, rushing for 971 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
This appears to be one of the reasons that Baylor is off to a 3-0 start this season, with a home win over Texas Southern (66-7) and road wins over Texas State (29-20) and Kansas (45-7).
Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock credits Baylor’s ability to run the ball to a mix of quality running backs and a good offensive line.
“I think the guys up front have done a great job, they've got a good group that are back and they also have a couple transfers in there. I think those guys have done a tremendous job,” Heacock said Wednesday. “I think they're doing things that they can do. The running backs themselves, they work really hard at the game, you can tell they run hard and they're hard to tackle."
Baylor’s rushing attack has been balanced so far this season. It has two rushers that have over 300 yards, seniors Abner Smith with 366 and Trestan Ebner with 317.
Smith leads Baylor in rushing touchdowns as well with five.
In last year’s 38-31 loss to Iowa State, Smith had a 52 yard receiving touchdown that trimmed Baylor’s deficit from 14 to seven.
Because of the success on the ground, the Baylor offensive line has been able to prevent their starting quarterback, senior Gerry Bohanon, from being sacked once this year.
Baylor’s offensive line
In addition to rushing for 76 yards and three touchdowns, Bohanon has yet to be sacked this season, has completed 72.9 percent of his passes and has thrown five touchdown passes, all while throwing zero interceptions.
Heacock says the Bears offensive line’s ability to give him that time to throw and find the open receiver is a product of the quality running game.
“I think it's a product of running the football, that's allowed them to have success in the pass game. They're staying ahead of the sticks. They're throwing it when they want to, and that allows for the play action pass the first down pass and the second down pass. Those are the things that allow them to be good,” Heacock said.
He said that a reason that the Bears are having success through the air is because they’re throwing the ball at unexpected times.
“All the passes look like runs, so everybody's stuck at the line of scrimmage. They're throwing the ball when you don't expect them to because they're running it so well,” he said.
While the Bears have had success running the ball in the first three games, they haven’t faced a highly-touted defense like the Cyclones, who have some strong linebackers such as Hummel.
The play of Jake Hummel
While senior linebacker Mike Rose gets a lot of the accolades and attention, Hummel is another linebacker who has proven to be a quality starter for Iowa State and he’s off to a strong start in this young season.
Hummel is the leader on the Iowa State defense so far in total tackles with 26 (14 solo and 12 assisted). According to Heacock, it's hard to throw something at Hummel he hasn't seen.
“He's trained with a lot of purpose, he's a veteran who has got more experience playing, nothing surprises him anymore,” Heacock said. “The game comes to him, it's slowed down for him and it's allowed him to make the plays that he's supposed to make.”
Heacock said opposing offenses have gone at Hummel more this season than last.
“Teams for whatever reason are challenging the boundary a little bit more and he's making a lot of plays over there,” Heacock said.
Hummel’s best game so far this season came against Northern Iowa in the season opener when he had 11 total tackles.
While he had only one solo tackle against UNLV, he did have six assists for a total of seven tackles.
In addition to having 26 total tackles, he’s registered two-and-a-half tackles for a loss and one sack.