Iowa State spring camp preview: Cyclones prepping for another big step

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Iowa State football posted its first breakout season since 2000. Now, head coach Matt Campbell hopes to build on the success.

The Cyclones picked up wins over AP top-five Oklahoma and TCU last season. The program had just one such win ever heading into the year. Iowa State’s big wins were enough to launch the Cyclones into the AP Top 25 and eventually to Big 12 contention.

Now, Iowa State has an experienced roster with a chance to make some noise in a down Big 12. Here’s how Iowa State football looks as spring camp opens.

Iowa State Cyclones

2017 record: 8-5, 5-4 Big 12

Key returners: RB David Montgomery, QB Kyle Kempt, CB Brian Peavy

Key losses: WR Allen Lazard, ATH Joel Lanning, S Kamari Cotton-Moya

Early enrollees –

Coach: Matt Campbell

11-14 heading into his third season

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell is somewhat of a wunderkind. He earned the Toledo head coaching job in 2012 at just 33 years old. He led the Rockets to 9 wins in his first season, and ultimately accumulated a 35-15 record. After a 3-9 start at Iowa State, Campbell led the Cyclones to a surprising 8-win campaign in 2018.

RELATED: Way-too-early Iowa State preview

The Cyclone coaching staff has changed slightly in the past year. Campbell added former Kent State coach Paul Haynes as the 10th assistant. He previously had experience as defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Nate Scheelhaase also replaced departed running back coach Lou Ayeni.

Quarterback situation

The quarterback position is in much better hands now than a few weeks ago. Iowa State quarterback Kyle Kempt was granted a sixth year of eligibility after being run off from Oregon State several years ago. He has a stranglehold on the starting job after going 5-2 in games that he started and finished.

Kempt set a program record after completing 66.3 percent of his passes for the Cyclones. He also averaged 7.4 yards per pass and threw 15 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions. If Kempt maintains that level of efficiency, Iowa State will be dang good next season. Sophomore Zeb Noland also flashed potential in limited time last season.

X-factor: Offensive line

Running back David Montgomery rushed for 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, but the offensive line didn’t help. Montgomery had to break the record for most broken tackles in a season just to do it. He finished with 101 according to Pro Football Focus. No other player reached more than 89 since PFF started tracking the stat in 2014.

The line ranked No. 113 nationally, according to Football Outsiders. They were alright in pass protection, but failed to get any sort of push going. Now, the entire left side of the line is graduating. Players have to step up at left tackle and left guard immediately for the offense to keep rolling.

Key camp storylines

1. Replacing Lazard

Iowa State was able to improve dramatically last season thanks to an offense and defense that complemented each other perfectly. The defense got teams off the field, while the offense managed to hold onto the ball thanks to a strong running game and elite possession receivers.

However, the Cyclones have to replace the greatest receiver in program history. Allen Lazard caught 241 passes for 3,360 yards during a standout four-year career. Three of the four top receivers overall are gone. Hakeem Butler will step into a starring role, but others have to improve quickly for the offense to keep rolling.

2. Safety help

Iowa State is fairly set at several positions, but the Cyclones lost all three safeties to graduation. Reggie Wilkerson and Evrett Edwards were both nice players with lots of experience. Kamari Cotton-Moya was one of the roster’s best overall players. The trio combined for 191 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss and 4 interceptions.

The pool to draw from is relatively shallow. Lawrence White is the only other safety to rank top 15 in tackles on the roster. He posted just 16 in 2018. Jatairis Grant also added 14 tackles. Former Ole Miss safety Greg Eisworth – an early-enrollee – should also be able to compete for a starting spot.

3. Maintaining identity

Iowa State had a breakout season in Year 2 under Matt Campbell. The Cyclones won 8 games for the first time since 2000 – and just eighth time overall. More importantly, Campbell signed a long-term contract extension. He wants to build something in Ames.

Any team can have one great season. Heck, Kansas had a 12-win season just 11 years ago. However, great programs find ways to maintain success. Instilling that mentality will be Campbell’s main charge during the offseason.

The post Iowa State spring camp preview: Cyclones prepping for another big step appeared first on Diehards.

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