Iowa State defensive end Dale Pierson celebrates after sacking Northern Iowa quarterback Justin Black during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 31-7.(AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
Justin Hayworth
September 07, 2015

AMES, Iowa (AP) Dale Pierson goes by SACKMAMBA45 on Twitter, and he showed why in Iowa State's season opener.

The senior had three sacks and an interception in the Cyclones' 31-7 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Pierson will face a better offensive line when Iowa visits next Saturday, but his effort and the talent on the rest of the defensive line have fueled hopes that this unit could be one of the best in coach Paul Rhoads' tenure.

Pierson decided on his Twitter handle after announcing that he would sign with Iowa State and learning that a Cyclone fan had posted that the team just picked up a sack mamba.

So is he?

''Now I feel like I am,'' Pierson said Monday. ''I've just got to keep going.''

After transferring from a junior college last year, Pierson didn't contribute until late in the season. Once he caught on, he became a force.

Pierson had 22 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks in the last four games of 2014 and continued that solid play in this year's opener.

Still, he knows the danger of carrying a nickname that brings such expectations.

''I try not to let it get to my head too much because that stuff can make you or break you,'' he said. ''I just try to go out there and play my game, try not to pay attention to it too much. But I enjoy the nickname.''

The line often has been a weak link in Iowa State defenses. The Cyclones have struggled to put pressure on quarterbacks and haven't been able to stop good running teams.

Rhoads and his staff sought help from JC transfers such as Pierson, and the work might be paying off.

Transfers Demond Tucker, Gabe Luna and Jhaustin Thomas all played Saturday night for the first time along the defensive front, and each of them contributed.

Tucker, a 296-pound tackle who was the national junior college defensive player of the year in 2013, was credited with only two tackles, but was a disruptive force much of the night. He was in Aaron's Bailey face when the quarterback's screen pass was intercepted by Pierson, a play that set up the Cyclones' first touchdown and helped turn the momentum.

''You see explosiveness, you see the ability to use his hands to get off blocks,'' Rhoads said of Tucker. ''We saw a little too much independence, doing things his own way as opposed to the discipline needed on defense. But he'll get that fixed. He's a little bit different player than we've been playing with.''

The Cyclones recorded six sacks in the victory, the most by an ISU defense since the 2005 Texas Bowl, and made 13 tackles for a loss, the first time they had more than 10 in a game since the 2005 opener.

''You've heard me preach that production is what we're looking for out of the defensive front and we got production out of that group,'' Rhoads said. ''Pierson certainly led the way, but a bunch of them showed up and they were active all night long, whether it was pushing the pocket or forcing the run game wider or squeezing the run down quickly.''

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