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Cyclones hope new look on defense brings better results

August 13, 2009
By MARK PAWLAK

AMES - The quick fix for Iowa State's defense?

The Cyclone football team is looking for better things to be on the horizon with a new attitude and new coaching staff.

Head coach Paul Rhoads was the defensive coordinator of units that ranked fifth in total defense and 15th in scoring defense at Auburn in 2008 and Pittsburgh in 2007, respectively.

Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham has a strong track record as well. The former Florida State and South Carolina assistant was the defensive coordinator at South Florida in his last stop before coming to Ames.

"The trademark of Wally Burnham's defenses has been taking the ball away," Rhoads said. "You take the ball away, you give yourself a position to score."

Burnham's defenses at South Florida ranked in the top 30 nationally in six of the last seven years, including 10th last year in both total defense and run defense.

His philosophy?

"Swarm and punish," Burnham said. "Swarm the football and punish whoever's got it."

Iowa State was near the bottom of the national rankings in total, scoring and passing defense last year and looks to change things with a more aggressive approach.

"I think the kids love (to blitz)," Burnham said. "It's an aggressive style of defense and we want to be aggressive. We don't want to sit back and let people dictate to us."

It won't be easy to turn things around, 10 Big 12 quarterbacks ranked in the top 34 nationally in pass efficiency last year.

The video game-type numbers put up by the likes of returners Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas and Todd Reesing of Kansas, to name a few, led Big 12 teams to own five spots in the top nine in scoring nationally.

The Big 12 was the top conference in total points (35.6 points per game) and yards per play (6.2).

"In this league you have to stop the quarterback one way or another whether he's running the football or he's throwing the football," Burnham said.

"It's quite a job in this league, I can tell you it's going to be tough, but everyone in the league has a tough time stopping them."

The Cyclones may be strongest at cornerback as fall camp starts with sophomore Leonard Johnson and senior Kennard Banks as the starters.

Johnson recorded 47 tackles, two interceptions and a team-high three fumble recoveries as a true freshman. Johnson also made an immediate impact as a kick returner as he was a first team Freshman All-American. Johnson set the NCAA record at the FBS level with 319 kickoff return yards in nine attempts against Oklahoma State.

"What Leonard did as a kick returner last year encourages you," Rhoads said.

"Special teams have the ability to win or lose football games," Rhoads added. "If we're going to advance this program they have to win football games for us."

 
 

 

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