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Defensive Player to Watch: Jamahl Johnson

He’s been Iowa State’s best defensive tackle this season.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Jamahl Johnson has had a better season than Ray Lima.

That is not a sentence that I expected to type out this season, but it’s true and baffling at the same time.

This isn’t intended to be a knock on Ray Lima, because for the better part of his career, Lima helped change the course of Iowa State football. Lima’s ability to be a dominant presence on the line was one of the biggest reasons that Jon Heacock’s three-man front was so effective. But for some reason, Lima just hasn’t been good this season. For whatever reason, Lima has gotten dominated off the snap and consistently gets pushed back.

This normally would be a concern for Iowa State, considering that Lima has been one of the crucial parts to Iowa State’s (mostly) dominant defense for the last two seasons. But for some reason, it hasn’t been too much of a problem this season.

That reason is Jamahl Johnson.

On the season, Johnson has 17 tackles and 3 TFL. Those stats don’t jump off the page by any means, but for a guy that is playing the majority of his snaps at the nose guard, stats don’t really matter. Like I said earlier, the ability to soak up defenders is what makes a nose guard valuable.

Soaking up defenders is something that Jamahl Johnson has been able to do this season and it’s something that Johnson will have to do against K-State on Saturday.

Kansas State is a team that runs the ball a lot. In fact, they rely on running on the ball. With teams like this, the way to beat them is to make them throw the ball, which is much easier said than done.

Like we saw this past week, stopping running teams is hard. Pooka Williams ran all over Iowa State’s defense and made them look stupid at times. Williams nearly carried Kansas to a road upset by simply exploiting Iowa State up the middle and on the edges. A reason that Williams was able to do this was simply due to the lack of pressure from Iowa State at the nose guard position.

Kansas State has been one of the best rushing teams in the country this season, averaging 185 rushing yards per game. They do this with a running back by committee type of situation, having five players with at least 100 yards rushing on the season.

The Wildcats are a more traditional run team than the Jayhawks. They like to overpower teams at the line of scrimmage and run up the middle, getting five and six yards every play, where Kansas has one of the quickest running backs in the country, who bounces outside and runs off-tackle a lot. The best comparison for this K-State team would be the Iowa team that we are far too used to dealing with.

I believe that teams like K-State play right into Iowa State’s strength when the Cyclones are executing. However, execution is a huge if.

If Jamahl Johnson is playing to his full potential and is eating guys up at the line of scrimmage, we will see a very similar defensive performance to the one we saw against Iowa earlier this season. If Johnson isn’t executing, Iowa State will struggle big time at stopping the run and we will see a lot of points given up.