Nov 7, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State linebacker Mike Rose (23) intercepts a pass to clinch the ISU victory during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to win 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Mike Rose could not find the words.
Turns out finding the football is easier for the Cyclones’ All-Big 12 linebacker than it is describing the emotions that follow making a key play to help your team seal a victory.
Rose knows those emotions well. He’s done it several times during his career — and did so again Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium when he intercepted Charlie Brewer’s pass over the middle of the end zone with less than a minute on the clock to lock up No. 17 Iowa State’s 38-31 win over Baylor.
There are some truly great players on Iowa State’s defense. Guys like Greg Eisworth, JaQuan Bailey, Enyi Uwazurike and others will live in the annals of Cyclone lore forever.
When all is said and done, it will be difficult for any of them to exceed the greatness of Rose, the formerly unheralded recruit who nearly went to Ball State then simply became a Freshman All-American, an honorable mention All-Big 12 performer each of the past two seasons and appears to be well on his way to first-team All-Big 12 status during a virtuoso junior season that has seen him come up big time and time again for Jon Heacock‘s defense.
Still, Rose does not have the words to describe the emotions that follow those plays that swing the balance of a game and impact winning.
“I’m more of just a zoned out guy on that type of coverage. I felt a post coming in behind me. I was able to read the QB’s eyes behind me and in a sense, it came right to me at that point after I felt the route behind me,” Rose said. “Emotions after that type of play, you can’t describe them. They’re indescribable, but it feels really good. I’ll tell you that.”
Just last week after the team’s win over Kansas, Matt Campbell said Rose was playing like one of the best defensive players in college football. The statistics back that up as Rose is currently tied for the Big 12 lead in solo tackles (35) and interceptions (3) plus sits third in total tackles (56) and tackles per game (8.0).
Saturday night against the Bears, he recorded 11 tackles, seven of them solo stops, two quarterback hurries, 1.5 tackles for loss and the crucial game-sealing interception. In a season that has seen Rose answer the call every time his team has needed him, this may have been his best performance.
Hardly a play went by for the Bears offense went by without No. 23 being somewhere around the football, especially in the second half when the defense forced Baylor into four three and outs, four punts and the final interception.
When the defense’s best was needed following a near disaster first half from the Cyclone offense, the unit responded time after time, helping the Cyclones score 28-straight points to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit and clinch a 5-1 start to conference play for the first time in program history.
For the defense to be at its best, Mike Rose needed to be at his best and that’s exactly what he gave them.
“For me, what Mike Rose is doing is playing at such an elite level that he’s demanding that the country and the world look at him and say, ‘Man, this guy is one of the best defensive players in college football,'” Campbell said after the game. “He’s earned that because of how he plays week in and week out. To me, Mike started his career that way. Really grew last year when he made an unselfish decision to move to sam linebacker. I’ll tell you, you go into quarantine and the guy that every morning you try to touch base with a couple guys, Mike’s one of my guys I’m responsible for and that guy is up before half the country is training, training his little brother at home and he was on a mission. Again, when’s that going to show? Well, what you do in the dark when nobody’s watching is going to show when the lights are the brightest. Mike is proving who he is when the lights are the brightest.”
Rose, along with a more than a handful of others on the defense, playing his best football is one of the biggest reasons Iowa State will enter the final three-game stretch of its season in sole possession of first-place in the Big 12 and in a position the program has never found itself previously.
The three-game pod the Cyclones are leaving featured some times that were certainly trying. There were the offensive struggles that doomed them against Oklahoma State in Stillwater two weeks ago and the resurgence of some errors in the margins against Kansas.
Plus, the first half on Saturday in which Baylor was clearly the more energized team and looked more like a team playing for its position in the Big 12 title race a heckuva lot more than Iowa State did.
Regardless of those trying moments, the Cyclones are in the league’s driver’s seat entering their final bye week before a home stretch featuring contests against one of your most bitter rivals in Kansas State, one of the league’s blue-bloods in Texas and a West Virginia team that has been considerably more game than anybody expected them to be coming into the season.
“I think the reality of the middle pod was, ‘Are you going to be a contender or pretender?’ The fact of the matter of it is you’ve got to gut through it and you’ve got to put yourself in position to play meaningful games in the third pod,” Campbell said. “This group has done that. I think, for us, now, it’s a matter of can we stay the course? You’re not even talking about staying the course getting better at football, you’re talking, ‘Can we keep our players healthy? Can we stay in practice? Can we continue to guide and grow?’ I think this 18 to 22-year-old group, boy, they’re facing a challenge of a lifetime. It’s not just about football. It’s about everything else as well. But, I thought that was really what pod two was about — are you going to be a contender or pretender? Obviously, this group has persevered and has put itself in position to play meaningful games in the month of November.”
Much like how Rose cannot describe the feeling after making a game-sealing play, it is hard to describe the emotions that accompany the idea of Iowa State even playing for its first conference title since 1912, let alone the idea of winning one.
Those thoughts are for another day, though. There are still games on the schedule and they are games that will require the Cyclones playing some of their best football when the lights are the brightest.
Luckily, they have a pretty good role model to follow — and he isn’t hard to find.
Just look for the football when the Cyclone defense is on the field.
No. 23 usually isn’t too far away.