Marcel Spears Jr. talks about his success against Texas Tech including his Pick 6.
Tommy Birch, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — During Iowa State’s road win at Texas Tech a year ago, it was Cyclones linebacker Marcel Spears Jr. who came up with a big Pick 6 that solidified the win.
When Iowa State’s defense needed a turnover against the Red Raiders on Saturday, Spears was there to deliver again.
Spears tallied two interceptions, including a Pick 6, during Iowa State’s 40-31 win over Texas Tech at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday.
“It’s really not them,” Spears said of his success against the Red Raiders the last two years, deferring credit instead to the Cyclones’ defensive coordinator/safeties coach, Jon Heacock. “He constantly sets us up for success.”
Heacock may have put Spears in position to have success, but the redshirt junior linebacker was the one who executed in the two key moments. Three if you count last season.
Spears’ first big moment against the Red Raiders came in the fourth quarter of last year’s 31-13 win. With Iowa State’s offense struggling to do anything in the second half and the Cyclones clinging to a 24-13 lead, Texas Tech began to march down the field. Then, Spears stepped up and intercepted a Nic Shimonek pass and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.
The Pick 6 put things too far out of reach for Texas Tech. Ballgame.
Turns out, Spears wasn’t done with the Red Raiders. In fact, he was a thorn in the offenses’ side again Saturday.
With Iowa State and Texas Tech tied 17-17 in the third quarter, Spears picked off an Alan Bowman pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown to give Iowa State the lead. Sound familiar? It even looked familiar, Spears said. Like the one a season before, Spears said he saw it coming and had time to make a play on the ball.
“Once again, it was just schemed out by our defensive coordinator,” Spears said. “I just happened to be in the spot that I was supposed to be in. As soon as he threw it, I knew I had to pick it off.”
It’s the third-straight season Iowa State has had a Pick 6 against Texas Tech. Former Iowa State safety Kamari Cotton-Moya also had one back in 2016 to go along with Spears’ Pick 6s in 2017 and 2018.
While Spears’ Pick 6 this time around was big, it wasn’t the dagger that it was a year ago. Texas Tech responded with a 65-yard scoring drive that ended with Bowman hitting Antoine Wesley with a 31-yard touchdown pass to tie the game 24-24 in the third quarter.
The touchdown only meant that the Cyclones needed Spears to step up again. He did in the fourth quarter, when he picked off another Bowman pass, this time on the Iowa State 40-yard line in a tie game with under 10 minutes remaining. The pick kept Texas Tech, which had moved into Iowa State territory, from reaching the end zone.
Iowa State needed one more interception in the fourth quarter, this one from safety Greg Eisowrth. The picks helped slow down one of the most explosive offenses in the Big 12 Conference. They were so important that Cyclones coach Matt Campbell called the turnovers “the difference in the football game.” And Spears was in the middle of most of the action with his two interceptions.
“Probably have to get him in on offense at some point,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell joked. “He’s a guy that can catch the football. He told me he couldn’t. I didn’t believe him, but it’s great.”
Turns out, Campbell may have had some reason to doubt Spears’ ball catching abilities.
“We were joking that he must have had some glue or something,” said Iowa State defensive end JaQuan Bailey. “Usually in practice, he’ll be butterfingers.”
Spears has proven that he can not only come up with turnovers but deliver in critical moments. His fourth-quarter interception in last year’s win over No. 4 Texas Christian helped secure Iowa State’s upset of the Horned Frogs.
And he was back at it again Saturday, tallying four tackles and the two big picks. He became the first Iowa State player to tally more than one interception in a game since Sam E. Richardson accomplished the feat against Oklahoma back in 2014.
The latest round of turnovers didn’t come as a surprise to Campbell. His defense, including Spears, has been coming through in important moments the last two seasons. Saturday was no different.
“When our defense needed to rise up the most, they rose up and made big plays,” Campbell said.
Source: Des Moines Register