Cyclone linebackers adjust to new roles,
AMES (MCT) — By the numbers, Jeremiah George had a huge game Saturday against Oklahoma in a new, bigger role for Iowa State’s defense.
George piled up a career-high 17 tackles, with one tackle for loss and he tipped a Landry Jones second-quarter pass that was intercepted by safety Durrell Givens.
It was the type of production the Cyclones needed in their first game without all-conference linebacker Jake Knott, who is out for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.
“We understood it was time to move on,” ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said. “That’s what you do. Guys get hurt, and the next guy’s got to step up and play, and we did that.”
With Knott gone, the Cyclones (5-4, 2-4) moved reigning Big 12 defensive player of the year A.J. Klein to Knott’s old spot at the Will linebacker and promoted George from back-up to Klein to starter at Mike.
Deon Broomfield and C.J. Morgan saw the majority of the time at the Sam position as hybrid safeties/linebackers, with sophomore Jevohn Miller entering the game in obvious running situations.
The Cyclones were somewhat effective in slowing down the Sooners’ high-powered offense, but that was about it. Oklahoma still managed to rack up 593 yards and had a 9-for-14 third-down conversion rate in a 35-20 win. Additionally, ISU gave up 26 plays of 10 or more yards to the Sooners.
“He (George) graded out well productivity-wise,” Rhoads said. “But not as good with all of his execution ... being where he was supposed to be all the time. Same with A.J. playing a new position. Didn’t always grade from a percentage standpoint high, and by the nature of the game and where they were attacking, he didn’t have as many production points.
“So if you look at the two positions, the Mike and the Will, we were less productive than we were in other games this season.”
ISU’s linebackers felt they played alright against the Sooners, but feel they will be better Saturday when they travel to Texas (7-2, 4-2) to face the 19th-ranked Longhorns at 11 a.m.
Texas will hit the Cyclones with a balanced attack, averaging 441 yards per game. Behind quarterback David Ash, the Longhorns rank fifth in the FBS in third-down efficiency, converting 52.4 percent of their third downs (66 of 126).
Texas features a pair of running backs — Johnathan Gray (59.2 yards per game) and Joe Bergeron (51.6) — and wide receiver Mike Davis leads the Big 12 in yards per reception at 19.1.
“I think everybody will be a little more comfortable,” Miller said of the linebackers. “We all know where we are going to be, know there are going to be a few adjustments to what our game plan for Texas will be.
“What I like about our linebacker situation is we have multiple guys who can play multiple positions. A.J. can play all the positions. I’m playing the Mike and Will, and Jeremiah is playing Mike and Matt (Morton) can play Sam and Will.”
Rhoads has repeatedly said it takes 11 players to play good defense and while the Cyclones are going to miss Knott’s leadership and his playmaking ability, the head coach is confident he’s got the right guys to get the job done. He said as much when speaking about George.
“There was some holes in coverage that I thought our underneath people could have done a better job at, and he was a part of that mix,” Rhoads said. “We’re good with Jeremiah out there.”
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