Jesse Smith Keys Defensive Effort

For a young unit that struggled mightily under Wayne Bolt last season, the defense of the ISU football team is a year older and a year wiser under former South Florida defensive coordinator Wally Burnham.

The Cyclones played several true and redshirt freshmen last season and the biggest problem may be to shore up tackling and build on the experience that the players gained last season.

"I'm looking forward to seeing the missed tackle count, because any time you get fatigued you are going to miss more tackles," coach Paul Rhoads said about his defense in the first timed game situation they have been in since November. "I think the defense did an average job of tackling and coming from where we were, I'm pleased with that."

The leaders in the tackle category were James Smith with nine and Kennard Banks with eight as both made some nice plays in both run support and pass coverage.

One of the biggest highlights of Saturday's spring game came from senior linebacker Jesse Smith, however. Smith picked off an Austen Arnaud pass and rumbled 39 yards into the endzone for the first touchdown of the game. That was one of three interceptions for the number one defense, who also was able to come up with four sacks in the game. Two of those sacks came from Devin McDowell from his defensive back spot and Rhoads said he was pleased with how the defense continues to progress as a team.

"I thought our number one defense played as well as a unit as they had in the first two scrimmages," Rhoads said. Those were parts of a steadily improving defensive performance that ranked in the bottom ten in the country last season in scoring defense. Whether that will translate to a game setting against a normal opponent or not remains to be seen, though.

"We have to climb above average if we are going to be a team that week in and week out is going to compete for victories," Rhoads said. One of the trends that were similar from last year to the spring game was the defense's ability to force turnovers, especially with Rhoads's emphasis on the turnover battle.

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