Iowa State entered the season with several players set in stone, mainly at the safety spots. ISU returned the likes of Greg Eisworth, Braxton Lewis, and Lawrence White. However, the Cyclones lost key corners D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy, along with a great special teamer and backup De’Monte Ruth. Anthony Johnson would really start to come on towards the end of the 2018 season, and would have high hopes for a potential All-Big 12 2019 season. Greg Eisworth led the team in tackles with 87 total tackles and looked to be a big piece of the defense come 2019.
While the safety and star positions were essentially locked up, there were no players that really stood out at corner. Sophomore corner Anthony Johnson was really an outlier in terms of players in the running to replace some of ISU’s greatest corners in recent school history.
In the first games of the season, Campbell and Co. went with Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young at the corners, Greg Eisworth at the STAR, Justin Bickham in for Braxton Lewis at strong safety, and Lawrence White at free. This lineup gave up 228 yards against a very talented FCS program in UNI, and just 201 yards against
the greatest thing since sliced bread Nate Stanley and the TOE. Braxton Lewis came back into the starting lineup to replace Justin Bickham after his injury. This would be the lineup for both the Baylor and TCU games as well, before Eisworth would suffer an injury, inserting Braxton Lewis to the STAR position, with Bickham and White moving to SS and FS. Barring injuries, this would be a similar lineup throughout the season. Eventually, Tayvonn Kyle would force himself into the starting lineup for Datrone Young, and Arnold Azunna becoming a steady backup.
Iowa State’s defensive backs struggled situationally. They did a pretty good job at originally maintaining receivers, but lost them in the scramble drill almost every time. This group of d-backs struggled in one of the more important areas of being a defensive back; forcing turnovers. They were only able to intercept 6 passes, on 441 opponent passing attempts, ranking 113th in the country. However, this team might have had led the nation in “almost interceptions”.
Full season stats for the defensive backs:
Lawrence White: 84 total tackles, 4 TFL, 1 sack, 2 INTs, 4 break-ups
Braxton Lewis: 68 total tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT, 4 break-ups, 1 fumble recovery
Greg Eisworth: 65 total tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 INT, 10 break-ups
Anthony Johnson: 60 total tackles, 7 TFL, 10 break-ups, 2 forced fumbles
Arnold Azunna: 30 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
Tayvonn Kyle: 29 total tackles, 4 TFL, 1 break-up
Justin Bickham: 25 total tackles, 2 TFL, 1 break-up
Datrone Young: 19 total tackles, 1 TFL, 1 break-up
Expectations for 2020
The Cyclones will only lose Braxton Lewis and Justin Bickham, but could have troubles filling in those spots.Realistically, Iowa State should expect to once again have a potent defense with almost all the defensive backs returning, and a couple players possibly on the All-Big 12 team after the 2020 season.
Campbell, as of right now, has 3 safeties committed to join the program in attempt to replace Bickham and Lewis. Expected starters are Anthony Johnson (Junior) and Tayvonn Kyle (r. Sophomore) at the corners, Greg Eisworth (r. SR) at STAR, Lawrence White (r. SR) at free safety, and it will more than likely be a competition at strong safety between the 3 incoming freshman (Craig McDonald, Mason Chambers, and Jordyn Morgan), with McDonald possibly having the best shot at the starting gig as of right now.