AMES — Most people thought Iowa State’s defensive line would be a weakness going into the season. But through four games, they’ve proven to be a strength on the defensive side of the ball. They’re able to stop the rush and put pressure on the quarterback.
The catalyst and “unsung hero” of their success in junior college transfer Ray Lima.
Lima and the defensive line will be put to the test against the vaunted Oklahoma offensive line on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Norman, Oklahoma.
Coach Matt Campbell said it’s the best offensive line the Cyclones will play all year.
“They’re all veterans, they’ve been through it and they know the system,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “They’re very athletic. On film, they looked trimmed down and they don’t look like the same group. They look like they’re in outstanding condition and shape.”
What Lima the defensive line does won’t always show up in the stat sheet, but what they do is vital for the defense.
“If you’re going to be good in anything – in any sport – you have to be good down the middle,” Heacock said. “Lima’s playing really good football down the middle, which allows us to do some stuff outside of that. That doesn’t always get seen.”
On the season, Lima only nine tackles on the season and .5 tackles for a loss.
Lima isn’t used to not showing up in the stat sheet. In high school and at the junior college level, the impact he made also showed up on paper. In 2015, while he was at El Camino Community College, Lima recorded 59 tackles and 21.5 tackles for a loss, including seven sacks.
He said his mentality changed for the better. Instead of going out there and playing for himself and for stats, he’s playing to help his team win.
“Being here, I’m really humbled not getting what I used to,” Lima said. “Three and outs is all that’s in my head. As long as we get three and outs and as long as I did my job and everybody did their 1/11, then I’m fine. Numbers will come, but I’m not really worried about that.”
Players doing their 1/11 is something Heacock preaches to his defense. As long as everybody does their assignment, they’ll have success, Heacock said.
That’ll be put to the test against Oklahoma’s potent offense. Cornerback De’Monte Ruth said Mayfield’s best attribute is his ability to scramble and extend plays. Combine that with the Sooners’ impressive offensive line, the Cyclones will be challenged with doing their 1/11 even longer than they’re used to.
“In all fairness [Mayfield] has been around a long time playing this game,” Heacock said. “I’m guessing he could call some of that offense. And I think his offensive line is as fine of looking group as I’ve seen on tape in years. This is as good of looking football team that I’ve seen up front in a long number of years. I think that just allows him to be really poised in what he’s doing.”
It’ll be up to Lima and the defensive line to create disruption up front to allow their teammates to make the play.
“If I take up two [blockers] and that leaves a hole for Joel [Lanning] to come in to make the play or Marcel [Spears] or Willie [Harvey], then I’m fine with that,” Lima said. “Everybody has their own job.”
It’s that ability, to allow his teammates to make a play that prompted Campbell to call Lima the unsung hero of the defense.
Last week against Texas, Iowa State trotted out a three-man front to shake things up against the Longhorns.
“Whether it’s four guys or three guys [on the defensive line], you see those guys making a difference,” Campbell said. “Ray Lima, if you really study the tape, is the unsung hero right now of what’s going on, on that defense. He’s got the ability to really control the middle of the defense in a lot of ways.”
Heacock said Lima is always in the right place at the right time.
“Defensively, we’re playing pretty good, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Lima said. “I just do what I can, I don’t see myself much as a hero.”