The year was 2017. Matt Campbell’s second year at the helm of Iowa State and expectations were at a fever pitch. After all, he had proven that Iowa State could compete or be competitive in the Big 12 at the sport of football.
The night, September 28th, the ominous night game that Iowa State debuted their now infamous bugles uniforms and subsequently the last game QB Jacob Park, the highly touted transfer, would see on the field for Iowa State. Both forgettable in the Matt Campbell era.
However, what many Iowa State fans can still recall from that night is the defensive penalty early in that 1st quarter.
Texas pinned deep, third down as the crowd roared making it hard for the audibles to be called on the field. Texas QB Sam Buchelle looks down the field then turns and lands in the arms of the up and coming Cyclone defensive end JaQuan Bailey for a loss of yards and the inevitable punt that was sure to follow.
It was here however, after this athletic play that JaQuan Bailey had decided on National TV to do his best impression of Lionel Ritchie lounging on the white leather couch.
“Hello…Is it me your looking for?”
The yellow flags flew, the brilliant defensive play erased, and Texas pushed on down the field with their second chance to score a touchdown, the game was never close afterwards.
Of course that game wasn’t all on Bailey. Jacob Park had something of a meltdown between his ears as could be seen on the sidelines as he tore into players and coaches alike. It wasn’t a pretty optic for a program seeking to launch itself into being relevant again.
The talk began to circle afterwards that JaQuan Bailey was talented but was immature at the defensive end position. He lacked discipline. He would improvise and slash into the backfield when he should have played off and wide. He would go for the quarterback kill and lose contain on his side of the line. You could set your watch by it.
He was frustrating to watch. Yes he would get his sacks, but he was exploited by offensive coordinators throughout the Big 12 in the run game time after time.
Yet by 2018 we saw a much different JaQuan Bailey, and safe to say the Big 12 saw a different Bailey as well.
You could say with better talent such as Ray Lima plugging the nose and Uwazurike to complement him on the other side, JaQuan Bailey bought into defensive coordinator John Heacock’s new scheme. A scheme by the way that was born on that very night after Iowa State lost to Texas 17-7 in 2017.
Perhaps he trusted his fellow linemen more than in previous years? Maybe he was sick of watching film and being cursed at by his coaches? Maybe JaQuan Bailey simply matured and understood better his role at defensive end.
Whatever you can attribute his change in philosophy to, he was a shut door on the right side of the line. He ate left tackles lunches and didn’t even call them after the game. Bailey was primed in 2019 to be one of the best in the Big 12 at his position.
Oh, and he got his sacks too.
This showed that perhaps JaQuan Bailey was ready to make that next step into his senior year. Prove not just to the Big 12, but the country, he was one of the elite defensive ends in all of college football.
He had made Iowa State’s defensive line better, going from stout to elite in just one season. He had erased the bad taste of that woeful Texas game, and played as a more complete player.
Entering his senior season in 2019, the talk around Cyclone circles was Iowa State was ripe for the best defensive line production ever in school history.
Lima, Uwazurike, and Bailey all back with good depth behind them. It was a defensive coordinators wet dream.
But just 4 games in against the Baylor Bears, the preverbal Cyclone nut shot happened. JaQuan Bailey injures his leg and would be out for the rest of the 2019 season. The defensive line last year was good, but took a step back having to play untested talent on its end. The year of having the four horsemen of the Cyclopolypse had faded.
JaQuan sat out the entire year, rehabbing his knee and received the waiver from the NCAA to return in 2020.
As he gets ready for his final season, Ray Lima is gone at nose tackle. The untested, but talented, underclassmen await to take over the reigns. But JaQuan Bailey will have his final say on this season. Perhaps keeping the line elite for the coming 2020 season.
This brings full circle the lessons college football has on young players. Those who may be talented but haven’t learned the right way to thrive in big time college football. JaQuan returns this season to put the exclamation point on a stellar career. To get the all time sack record at Iowa State. To keep the continuity alive on the defensive line and show the younger players, who like him are talented but rough around the edges, that this is how you become elite and jump to the next level.
Yes JaQuan…it was you we’re looking for.
**Want to win a $25 gift card? Go sign up here and join our conversation! The best poster each week wins a gift card to your favorite establishment!**