When the ball came out of Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock’s hand early in the third quarter Saturday, strong safety T.J. Mutcherson had little doubt.
“I knew I was going to intercept it,” Mutcherson said. “I should have taken it back to the house, but things happen.”
The redshirt sophomore, in his first season as a starting defensive back for the Cyclones, fulfilled his thought, catching the pass on third-and-10 before returning it eight yards to set up a 32-yard field for the Iowa State offense, which eventually scored a touchdown to draw within one score of Iowa.
Iowa State entered this season with question marks abound regarding its secondary. Mutcherson had appeared in eight games but hadn’t started and free safety Kamari Cotton-Moya redshirted during his freshman year last season. The depth behind them is just as young.
Through the first two games, that youth at times showed, but coaches have seen steady improvement since Week 1. Mutcherson’s interception Saturday marked the defense’s first turnover.
“The first game we didn’t have any turnovers and the second game we didn’t have any turnovers and you can see as we had a turnover this past weekend, it gave the team life and [we] capitalize on turnovers,” Mutcherson said. “We always preach the more that we turn the ball over it gives our offense more chances to score.”
Mutcherson, not one to shy away despite his inexperience, is confident that those numbers will begin to increase in the coming weeks.
“We have a bunch of guys out there that love to compete and we have a whole bunch of playmakers out there,” Mutcherson said. “We’re a young defense right now, we’re still learning. We just take it day by day, so I believe that by the end of the year the turnover chart will be fairly large.”
The next challenge for the secondary is stopping a Baylor offense that has appeared unstoppable. The Bears’ offense leads the nation in yard per game (654.3) as well as points per game (59.3). Last season Baylor ran away with a victory in Waco, Texas, dispatching the Cyclones 70-7.
“We’re going to compete with them. We’re not scared of them,” Mutcherson said. “They put on their pants just like we put on our pants, one leg at a time. We’re just going to go out there and compete with them.”
This season, Iowa State is taking full advantage of the extra week of preparation.
“Nobody is really comparable to Baylor and what they do from a tempo standpoint, from a scheme standpoint, from a width standpoint,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’re taking advantage of the two weeks.”