Through four-plus years of Paul Rhoads-coached football at Iowa State, the Cyclones have developed a reputation for stingy defense in an explosive offensive league.
Facing high-powered, quick-strike Big 12 offenses, ISU has fielded one of the more dependable defenses week in and week out.
Since 2009, the Cyclones have surrendered more than 40 points in a conference game just four times. That’s the fewest of any school (other than TCU, which has been a league member just one year).
One of the attributes of Rhoads’ defenses has been stellar linebacker play. Jesse Smith, A.J. Klein and Jake Knott have earned most of the headlines from that position group.
The linebacker units have had good size in past years. The Cyclone linebackers’ average weight was 230 pounds (in 2009), 239 (2010), 243 (2011) and 236 (2012).
That’s not the case this season.
Starters Jeremiah George (219), Luke Knott (216) and Jared Brackens (210) average just 215 pounds per man. Knott and Brackens, in fact, are former safeties.
In the Big 12 Conference, speed might be as (maybe more) important than size on defense.
Texas Tech (3rd nationally in passing yards per game at 470.6) is on deck for the Cyclones. Trying to stay with its collection of receivers and their emphasis on throwing (TT has 106 more passes than runs this fall) will be a challenge.
“When you’re undersized, you’d better be quick and fast,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said of facing the pass-heavy attacks.
We’ll find out Saturday if the smaller, but faster Cyclones can slow down TT. They might be better built than some others to do so.