|ESPN.com: Big 12||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kurtis Taylor might not have the athleticism associated with a breakaway running back. Although the 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end briefly tried to flash those kind of moves after an interception in the Cyclones' season-opening victory over South Dakota State.
Taylor recorded one of six turnovers for the Cyclones -- a high in the Gene Chizik era -- when he intercepted a pass in ISU's first game. He punctuated the pick with a flashy spin move that had his teammates busting him for the next several days throughout their film review.
"They were calling me Barry Sanders after that spin move," Taylor said, chuckling. "But they can joke all they want. I'll take a turnover like that any chance we can get it."
Chizik has been preaching producing turnovers throughout his ISU tenure, but said he finally felt like the lessons were taking hold after his team's big season-opening performance.
The Cyclones produced a school-record 202 yards of interception returns, including 48 on Taylor's wild ramble. ISU's five interceptions were the most for the Cyclones since 2001. They produced 10 interceptions last season.
"It was great to see that," Chizik said. "We just didn't ever feel last year that we were very good in our turnover ratio. We've been really preaching ball security and turnovers. We started getting more comfortable in our defense and starting to play faster. It was a great start to show the kind of gains and what happens when you get turnovers."
The major reason for the defensive improvement was because of familiarity with the philosophy of defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt.
"All of the schemes and the language and the concepts we are using are a year old," Taylor said. "Obviously, they are asking us do something and want us to fit into their ideas. Now, we just have to refine things and do them a little bit faster."
The Cyclones' awareness grew as turnovers starting piling up against their opponent from the Missouri Valley Conference.
"We got on a roll and you are able to build on what we've been able to do," Chizik said. "You could see in their eyes along the sidelines. We had two, let's get three. We got three, let's get four and on and on. It certainly was catching and we hope it will continue the rest of the year."
The recent Iowa State defensive improvement began late last season when the Cyclones played well in a 17-7 loss to Oklahoma.
"After that game, we realized we could play with anybody in the country," Taylor said. "It's just a shame we didn't learn that earlier. We could have played better against more teams last season. And we didn't have any more talent. It was just because we played together more."
That returning defensive group has been boosted by the arrival of seven freshmen and sophomores in their two-deep defensive lineup. Taylor said the new additions have provided a boost to his unit's playmaking abilities.
The next step will come Saturday against Kent State, a team that ruined Chizik's coaching debut last season.
"I remember how disappointed I was walking off that field," Taylor said. "I don't like to lose and it was definitely a bad feeling that we lost the game. They came into our house last year and beat us. The good thing is that this season we get to start over and come in with a new identity."