ISU must get better up front
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
AMES — For all the progress Iowa State has made under coach Matt Campbell, the offensive line remains a sore spot.
Iowa State (0-1), which had its Sept. 1 opener against South Dakota State canceled because of weather, got off to a sluggish start in last weekend’s 13-3 loss to Iowa. The Cyclones gained just 188 yards and never got inside Iowa’s 20-yard line after their opening drive, when they had to settle for a field goal despite getting within a yard of the end zone.
Iowa State’s line couldn’t get a consistent push against the Hawkeyes’ defensive front four, one of the best units in the country. The Cyclones also know their line play needs to get better in a hurry.
Iowa State’s challenge will only get tougher on Saturday when it hosts No. 5 Oklahoma (2-0).
“When you do (get behind on first downs) against a team like that … your offensive line has got the opportunity to get exposed if it’s not ready to roll,” Campbell said. “In some areas we did. We got ourselves exposed.”
When Campbell arrived ahead of the 2016 season, he inherited an offensive line that, due to attrition and a lack of size and ability, simply wasn’t on par with the rest of the Big 12.
The line improved greatly in 2017. But there were still times where it felt as though the Cyclones were able to move the ball in spite of their front, using quick passes, talented wide receivers and running back David Montgomery’s ability to make tacklers miss in space to move the chains.
Iowa State brought back three starters along the offensive line, led by junior tackle Julian Good-Jones. But they also have a redshirt freshman at center in Colin Newell, a new left guard in Josh Mueller and four freshmen overall on the depth chart.
According to Campbell, the competition for snaps has carried over into the season.
“Every practice is getting evaluated as if it’s game day right now, and I think a lot of that is in trying to settle in on what exactly is the right fit for that group,” Campbell said. “We have capable guys. It’s just, with their growth, they need the reps. They need to play under the lights. They need to make mistakes. That’s the only way to be a good offensive lineman, to grow that way. Sometimes, that’s painful to deal with. But I also think it will benefit us in the long run.”
The Cyclones could have used an opener against the likes of South Dakota State to find a rhythm. And while Campbell praised the play of his interior lineman last weekend, Montgomery managed just 44 yards on 17 carries.
Iowa State also went 4 of 14 on third downs, with many of those opportunities coming from long distance because the running game couldn’t get going.
“We had newbies playing in there, and they played well. But, I mean, at the same time you have to get reps with them,” lineman Bryce Meeker said. “I think that’s what the Iowa game helped with. I think we’ll see it on film where we just need to be in rhythm more and it will show.”