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Iowa State and Using the 4-2-5 Defense

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Iowa State is switching defenses again. Let’s take a quick look at what to expect.

Oklahoma State v Iowa State

When Paul Rhoads was fired and Wally Burnham retired, we were left with many questions left unanswered on what Iowa State’s defense would look like in 2016. Enter John Heacock and Matt Campbell, who made the trip from Toledo where they ran a 4-2-5 base defense for the past few seasons.

There was speculation over the summer if Iowa State would make the switch. We’ve already seen two different base defenses over the last two seasons. Why switch again?

Well, the linebacking position is thin with the departures of Jordan Harris, Levi Peters and Luke Knott. Plus, with the Big 12 throwing out powerful offenses week after week, who wouldn’t want to get more defensive backs and speed out on the field to at least make some opposing quarterbacks think harder than an Iowa graduate putting together a Big Mac?

Let’s face it, our ability to do so has been rather unsuccessful in prior years. Remember “Help End Iowa State Football Abuse?”

What is the 4-2-5?

With the high powered offenses shaping college football these days, teams need to have the ability to defend against them. The 4-2-5 base defense allows flexibility in who you use and how you use them. Four down linemen, two inside linebackers and 5 backers, which can include a mixture of defensive backs and linebackers depending on what you want to stop, is usually the starting point.

Here’s an example:

Many coaches who’ve ran the 4-2-5 aim it to take away the run first with a use of multiple formations. Now, we know the Big 12 is a passing league, but anyone who watches football knows that if you can’t stop the run, you are in for a long day.

We as Iowa State fans have endured many long afternoons of teams running up and down the field on us. These packages are going to force our defensive backs to play a large part in stopping the run, which is why we see the staff recruiting bigger defensive backs than we have in the past.

The ability to defend both phases of defense will be crucial for the DBs. Helping to make their job easier will be the front four, who’ll aim to allow the backers to roam free and make plays.

The 4-2-5 lets coaches disguise blitz packages. In the past, Iowa State has relied on blitzing due to our defensive line not producing enough pressure their own. This coming season may be more along the same lines with a lot of unknowns up front. Look for Coach Heacock to disguise some exotic packages to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Recruiting the 4-2-5

Recently, an emphasis has been put on on recruiting the defensive line and defensive backs. Pressure generated by the defensive line will help let the backs roam free and make plays. We haven’t had any sustained success in the past in this department. The better the talent on the line, the better our defense will perform.

As for recruiting defensive backs, many coaches who base the 4-2-5 hope that defensive backs will turn into hybrid linebackers, building a more athletic and versatile defense. This is something Iowa State has lacked in prior years.

What to Expect from the Defense

There are going to be a lot of learning curves early on. Iowa State isn’t going to go out there every week and be the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Cyclones are going to use a lot of different players and see who can perform well at each position in the first weeks. I expect things will tighten up once those gameday performers are found.

Give Coach Campbell and his staff another year of recruiting players for this defense and ISU should begin to stop people consistently on defense. This coming season, we fans should prepare for a few games of looking away and hoping that it ends soon.

How the defense gels, learns and how quickly they adapt will be the key. But regardless, they should be an improvement over last year’s dreadful unit.