During the course of an Iowa State football game, I'll scribble out observations, numbers, trends. A lot of it is illegible. Each week, though, there's one note that's impossible to miss:
"Jeremiah George is EVERYWHERE."
It's true. Iowa State's middle linebacker is fifth nationally and first in the conference in tackles per game (11.5), edging out teammate Jacques Washington, who's second with 10.3. The closest linebacker to George's number is Baylor's Bryce Petty (8.67).
"He's played really well," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said of George. "It means a lot to Jeremiah. I don't think he'll ever be a "down" guy; he always keeps his spirits up and that keeps him going. He's gotten better every week."
George been the defense's best run enforcer, going hard on almost every down — the one nit being his loafing on a long run by Baylor's Lache Seastrunk last week (below), a play George could have made had he hustled — and accounts for half of the Cyclones' interceptions total of two, which may say more about the secondary's collective stone hands.
"He's matured tremendously," Burnham said. "We were worried about him [early in his career] in a lot of ways, his grades and how quickly he'd be able to learn the system. He's worked very, very hard, very diligently. If we had 11 more of him with his attitude and his work ethic, we'd all be real happy."
Midway through the season, George is Iowa State's most valuable defensive player in a runaway.
George has six career games left — maybe, maybe seven — and then it'll be Luke Knott's defense. The redshirt freshman, tied for seventh in the league in tackles (7.5 per game) has improved with each game. He's a sound tackler with a tireless motor, but it's his understanding of the game — play-action fakes, passing off players in coverage, nuanced angles — that will make him a candidate for All-Conference honors the next three seasons.
You'd have to squint to notice David Irving on the field Saturday against Baylor. The 6-foot-7 defensive tackle was nearly invisible, save for one deflected pass. Tackles by nature won't stuff the stat sheet, their main responsibility being to occupy gaps, but Irving didn't do any of that, either, against an offensive line he should have had at least a few good moments again.
Irving has flashed in several games, making a few "wow" plays, but too often this season he's failed to make a difference. The transition from end to tackle can be brutal, especially as it's difficult for a tree like Irving to stay low and take hit after hit, but he says he relishes being closer to the action. A talent like that, he needs to be more productive.
Iowa State has 10 sacks, tied for worst in the conference, at a clip of 1.67 per game, eighth in the conference. Only Kansas State has racked up fewer sack yardage than the Cyclones, if that's a number you're partial to.
As much as that's an indictment on the Cyclones' defensive ends Willie Scott and Cory Morrissey, it's unfair to say either has had a bad season. Both play hard off the edge and do commendable jobs maintaining containment — the Cyclones have yet to be burned by a quarterback this season, an endemic plaguing the rest of the conference. Still, there's an evident lack of pass-rush production that's become too common for Iowa State recently (the Cyclones, since 2007, have not finished in the top half of the conference in sacks). Grade: C
Iowa State's best group of tackles consists of Irving and Rodney Coe, but those two play the same position — 3-technique defensive tackle. Coe seems to have to the requisite skills to play the nose in the 4-3, though, as he's quick and powerful enough to play a center and a guard head on. The coaching staff is quietly very excited about Coe's potential and this could be a personnel grouping that plays out as the season goes on. For now, the performance of ISU's tackles, too hard to quantify using a box score, remains better than serviceable. Grade: B
The best unit on the defense, with George and Knott. Jared Brackens continues to come along slowly. Grade: A-
Clearly there's talent and experience back there, with three senior starters, two being run-enforcing safeties Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield. Sam E. Richardson and Nigel Tribune take their lumps at cornerback but have each done good things. But something's been off. None of the four starting defensive backs have recorded an interception; a case of the dropsies has been contagious, starting with Jansen Watson against Tulsa. Poor execution and coverage against Texas at the end of each half likely cost the Cyclones a win. Grade: C+