The Cyclones' offensive struggles often come at the expense of what has traditionally been a pretty salty defense. But, left on the field for too long, the Cyclones' depth can be exploited, especially now that Iowa State lost arguably the Big 12's top linebacker Jake Knott to shoulder surgery. That means Knott, a senior, has played his last game as a Cyclone.
Iowa State's formula isn't hard to figure out: play tough, disciplined football and stop the run. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry against the 'Clones, but have had more success in the passing game with 282.7 yards per game, though Iowa State has done a nice job of turning opposing passers over. They're bend-but-don't-break through the air.
Iowa State chooses to go with linebacker-sized defensive ends, though they haven't produced a big payoff in terms of rushing the passer. The Cyclones have just 14 sacks on the year, with ends Willie Scott (6-2 242) and Roosevelt Maggitt (6-3 244) combining for just 3.5 between them. Maggitt is one of the Cyclones' better defenders though, with 27 tackles and six stops for loss.
Jake McDonough (6-5 280) has been a mainstay in the Cyclone lineup, and he holds the line together from his nose guard position with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. Cleyon Laing (6-4 290) is nice partner at defensive tackle. He has 25 tackles and two sacks.
Even without Knott, the linebackers are probably the strength of the defense. A.J. Klein (6-2 248) is also in the conversation for top linebackers in the league. He has a team-leading 73 tackles and is seventh in the league in tackles per game. Jeremiah George (5-11 225) has 55 stops and made 17 tackles against Oklahoma. Deon Broomfield (6-0 196) is basically a safety at the SAM spot. He has nine passes broken up and two interceptions to go with his 33 tackles.
The Cyclone cornerbacks are undersized, but tough. Left cornerback Jeremy Reeves (5-7 176) plays bigger than his size. He has 46 tackles and nine passes broken up. Right cornerback Jansen Watson (5-9 185) has 39 tackles and six passes broken up.
The Cyclones are considerably bigger at safety. Strong safety Durrell Givens (6-0 210) leads the nation with eight takeaways. Givens has picked off three passes and recovered five fumbles, along with 62 tackles. Jacques Washington (6-1 213) has 59 tackles and three picks from his free safety spot.
Kirby Van Der Kamp (6-4 203) is one of the top punters in Iowa State history. He's averaging almost 43 yards per punt this year, but more importantly, he's proven vital at pinning teams deep, downing 24 of his 55 punts inside the 20 with just two touchbacks.