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Iowa State Cyclones Defensive Players to Watch vs. Red Raiders

The Iowa State Cyclones have one, if not the best defense in the Big 12.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders will play their second-to-last game of Big 12 play of this season in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, looking to capture bowl eligibility against the Iowa State Cyclone.s

The Red Raiders leads the all-time series 12-8. Iowa State had won the previous five meetings before Tech's thrilling 41-38 win last season.

Under coach Matt Campbell last season, Iowa State was a bit of a disappointment after starting the season at No. 7 in the AP Poll before ending with a 7-6 record and a loss to the Clemson Tigers in the Cheez-It Bowl. This season has arguably been worse for the team, as the Cyclones tread into Saturday with a 4-6 record and 1-6 record in Big 12 play. Five of Iowa State's losses have been by one score or less.

Be sure to stick with as we preview every aspect of the matchup with the Cyclones throughout the week.

Now, let's look at the Iowa State defensive players Tech should keep tabs on. 

Will McDonald IV, Defensive End

McDonald IV was responsible for 11.5 of the 32 sacks the Cyclones recorded last season. His total was tied for first in the Big 12, while Iowa State's tally was second behind Oklahoma State's team-wide effort of 55 sacks.

His season-high sack total (2.5) came in a 30-7 trouncing of the Texas Longhorns, as McDonald IV also added six total tackles, one pass defended, and one forced fumble in arguably his best game of the season. He didn't play against Texas Tech. 

McDonald IV also led the team with five forced fumbles while adding 36 total tackles and two passes defended. He enters his fifth year of collegiate eligibility looking for a third-straight 10-plus sack season.

Already the all-time program leader with 29 career sacks entering the season, McDonald IV is no doubt one of the best defensive players in the conference. And even in what has been somewhat of a "down year" for him, McDonald still leads Iowa State with four sacks.

Anthony Johnson Jr., Free Safety

Another member on this list who enters his fifth year with the Cyclones, Johnson Jr. remains a vital part of Iowa State's secondary despite not recording an interception in his career.

Johnson Jr. was tied for first on the team last season with four passes defended. He also added two forced fumbles and was fourth on the team with 55 total tackles.

One of the most consistent players at defensive back for the Cyclones, Johnson Jr's experience makes him an important guy to watch. This season, he's second on the team in total tackles (51) and has snagged two interceptions.

Blake Peterson, Defensive End

With fellow defensive line star Eyioma Uwazurike in the NFL, the Cyclones will need another guy to step up on the d-line opposite of McDonald IV. Peterson is set to be a starter this season and could find himself getting ample opportunities for plays in the backfield as opposing offensive lines focus attention on Iowa State's all-time sack leader.

Last season, Peterson had two sacks, six total tackles, and one pass defended in just five appearances, which bodes well for his season-long success this fall. 

You can follow Zach Dimmitt on Twitter at @ZachDimmitt7

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