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Iowa State: Beyond the Box Score Preseason Defensive Preview

Yesterday we looked at an Iowa State offense that has shown glimpses of potential...but nearly enough of them to keep up in the Big 12 arms race.  Now to the defense, which has shown...well...much less potential.



Overall Stats

S&P+: 89.6 (#93)
Success Rate+: 92.1 (#90)
PPP+: 86.8 (#96)

Standard Downs S&P+: 91.0 (#94)
Passing Downs S&P+: 82.3 (#103)

Redzone S&P+: 85.8 (#105)

Q1 S&P+: 102.2 (#56)
Q2 S&P+: 80.1 (#112)
Q3 S&P+: 93.9 (#80)
Q4 S&P+: 81.3 (#118)

1st Down S&P+: 94.5 (#79)
2nd Down S&P+: 84.1 (#104)
3rd Down S&P+: 81.5 (#109)

Rushing Stats

Rushing S&P+: 96.6 (#76)
Rushing SR+: 99.6 (#63)
Rushing PPP+: 92.6 (#81)

Standard Downs: 97.1 (#75)
Passing Downs: 85.3 (#92)

Redzone: 80.8 (#112)

Line Yards+: 99.9 (#55)

Passing Stats

Passing S&P+: 81.8 (#109)
Passing SR+: 84.0 (#115)
Passing PPP+: 79.7 (#102)

Standard Downs: 83.2 (#113)
Passing Downs: 80.6 (#104)

Redzone: 88.7 (#86)

Adj. Sack Rate: 85.1 (#79)

Where Iowa State was good (or at least decent):

  • Line Yards+ (i.e. defensive line run support)
  • Q1 Defense

End of list.  Despite being a smidge undersized, the defensive line did stand up well to run blocking, and they were on par with Kansas in terms of pass rushing, so we'll call the D-line a relative strength.  And from their first-quarter success, we'll derive that they, in general, had decent enough game plans but not the talent/in-game adjustments to survive over 60 minutes.

Beyond that?  Pretty much all bad.  I make general assumptions sometimes with the data, assumptions like "Teams coached by prodigies who were previously strong defensive coordinators will tend to be pretty good on Passing Downs."  No dice here.  The 'Clones were bad on Standard Downs and REALLY bad on Passing Downs.  And despite the presence of a seemingly very good freshman cornerback, it does appear that their secondary was about as bad as bad gets.

Defensive Line

Nate Frere...way better than his brother, Nick.

2008 Unit Ranking: #76 in the nation (#10 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
DT Nate Frere (6'1, 283, Sr.)
DE Christopher Lyle (6'4, 252, Sr.)
DE Rashawn Parker (6'0, 260, Sr.)
DT Austin Alburtis (6'2, 267, Jr.)
DT Stephen Ruempolhamer (6'3, 290, So.)
DT Bailey Johnson (6'3, 272, Jr.)
DE Roosevelt Maggitt (6'2, 237, RSFr.)
DE Cleyon Laing (6'3, 268, RSFr.)

As mentioned above, I consider the line a relative strength of the defense even though only two starters return.  There's good experience at tackle, with 9th-year senior Nate Frere (9.5 sacks/TFL) leading the way and upperclassmen Austin Alburtis and Bailey Johnson filling in.  I like Stephen Ruempolhamer quite a bit, though that's either because a) his name is awesome, or b) he somehow managed two fumble recoveries and eight tackles.  Needless to say, a 1-to-4 FR-to-tackle ratio is...rare.  For Sean Weatherspoon to have pulled that off last year, he'd have recovered about 40 fumbles.  Which would have been awesome.

At end, Rashawn Parker (2.0 sacks/TFL, 5 QBH) has shown potential over the years, but he was pretty terrible in 2008.  Though he's a "returning starter" he was far outplayed by Christopher Lyle (13.0 sacks/TFL, 2 QBH, 2 forced fumbles).  Unfortunately, both are seniors, so it's likely that they've done whatever developing they're going to do.  Best-case scenario here is that one of the RSFr ends breaks into the rotation pretty well and gives them a little continuity for 2010, as they're losing their top three (projected) linemen to graduation (or at least exhausted eligibility) after this year.


What a great picture this is.  I bet Jesse Smith's mom has a few copies of this one.

2008 Unit Ranking: #94 in the nation (#12 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Jesse Smith (6'0, 231, Sr.)
Fred Garrin (6'2, 230, Sr.)
Justin Rumple (6'3, 212, Jr.)
Josh Raven (5'11, 230, Sr.)
Matt Taufoou (6'1, 235, Jr.)
Derec Schmidgall (6'2, 230, Sr.)

Another unit that wasn't done any favors by the BTBS numbers, ISU's LBs have K-State's problem--lots of experience, little known talent.  They have their prototypical 'tackling machine' in Jesse Smith and another decent playmaker in Fred Garrin--the two combined for 12 sacks/TFL, 4 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries, and a handful of other disruptive stats--but they were eclipsed in total tackles by safety James Smith, which is almost never a good thing.  Other guys like Josh Raven and Derec Schmidgall have seemingly been around forever, with little to show for it.  If there's a silver lining in this unit, it's Matt Taufoou, a late commitment to Rhoads who, if I read correctly, was initially committed to Tennessee.  He comes to Ames with a decent JUCO resume, and lord knows there's a starting spot waiting for him if he can quickly prove himself.


Leonard Johnson was a straight-up stud as a freshman.

2008 Unit Ranking: #109 in the nation (#12 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
CB Leonard Johnson (5'10, 189, So.)
S James Smith (5'9, 191, Sr.)
S Zac Sandvig (5'10, 190, Jr.)
CB Ter'ran Benton (6'1, 196, So.)
S David Sims (5'10, 212, Jr.)
CB Kennard Banks (5'10, 189, Sr.)
CB Devin McDowell (5'9, 177, Jr.)
S Michael O'Connell (6'0, 201, Jr.)

First things first: for a redshirt freshman, Leonard Johnson was quite good in 2008.  He had a hand in a ton of big plays--he intercepted two passes (he had a third against Missouri, but it was called back due to a penalty far removed from Johnson), forced two fumbles, recovered three fumbles, and broke up four passes.  Not bad consiering how poor the supporting cast around him was.  As mentioned before, James Smith was a tiny tackling machine, posting 85 tackles and almost no "disruptive" stats (sacks/TFL, FF, FR, INT, QBH, PBR, etc.) whatsoever.  And beyond that...well, let's just say this: with the "+" stats, Big 12 defenses were cut major slack because of the strength of the offenses they were facing.  For instance, Missouri ranked in the top 30 in pass defense despite their high yardage totals.  If you were a Big 12 defense, you were guaranteed to give up a ton of yards.  And yet Iowa State's pass defense still managed to get themselves ranked 109th in the country last year.  Ouch.  All the slack in the world, and they only ranked above 11 other teams.

Again, there's a sliver of hope here in the form of a player who initially committed to a good team.  You've got Bo Williams (originally of Florida) at running back, Taufoou at linebacker, and now David Sims, who originally signed with OU out of JUCO in 2008 (and then...well, I'm not really sure what happened, but now he's in Ames), stepping in at safety.  As with Taufoou, there is a starting spot available if he can come in and prove himself.

Special Teams

2008 Unit Ranking: #51 Net Punting, #52 Punt Returns, #12 Kickoff Returns

Projected Starters
K Grant Mahoney (6'1, 154, So.) - 33-for-33 PAT, 17-for-25 FG (Long: 48)
P Mike Brandtner (6'1, 211, Sr.) - 51 Punts, 35.6 Net
KR Leonard Johnson (5'10, 189, So.) - 41 Returns, 26.4 Avg
PR Michael O'Connell (6'0, 201, Jr.) - 9 returns, 8.6 Avg

If the offense and defense can keep Iowa State in the game, the special teams unit is just good enough to make the difference.  Grant Mahoney was quite good for a freshman, and Mike Brandtner isn't a liability at punter.  Leonard Johnson is a potentially explosive kick returner, and Michael O'Connell is...well, he's a punt returner.  We'll see what he's capable of.


When you're relying on JUCO transfers to significantly boost your athleticism, you're probably in trouble.  But between Frere, Je. Smith, and Johnson, there is at least one solid player in each unit, which is something.  I don't want to come down too hard on Iowa State here--they're playing in a relatively weak division and can certainly knock off a division rival or two--but it really does seem like it will take Paul Rhoads a couple of years to build the talent level up to something worthwhile.  Like Bill Snyder, he'll be able to pretty quickly work some of his own recruits into the rotation with the number of mediocre seniors this defense has, but that also means that in his second year he will have an extremely young D...which usually isn't a good thing.


Projections on Friday.