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AKRON, Ohio — The culture change Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell is trying to enact can be described, in its simplest form, as a two-part plan.
Wins, of course, are what teams are measured by from an outside perspective. Iowa State got its second in a 41-14 blowout at Akron on Saturday. Securing victories is only the second part of the plan though.
How Iowa State plays and its attention to detail are the cornerstones of the program’s foundation. That’s why even after a 27-point win, Campbell and the players weren’t patting themselves on the back too hard and know there’s work to be done.
“If we’re judging ourselves by a scoreboard then we’re really wrong,” Campbell said. “If we start judging ourselves by what we have the capability to be, then we’ll start to see that needle move even farther. We’ll have to if we want to get where we want to go and be what this team’s got the ability to become.”
Iowa State (2-1) was able to wear Akron (1-2) down through an air attack and stout front seven in the second half, but the blip on the radar in all three ISU games this season has been the second quarter.
In the second periods against Northern Iowa, Iowa and Akron, the Cyclones have been outscored 24-16 — that includes all three field goal makes in regulation. Opponents have outgained them 404 to 274 in total yards too and Iowa State is 3-for-11 on third downs.
Missed tackles and drops are the biggest culprits of the stagnation, but it all comes down to mental lapses.
“You can’t come out, play like that and have mistakes and hurt ourselves and try to compete in the Big 12 like we’re going to have to do,” said linebacker Joel Lanning, who had his first career sack and interception Saturday. “We’ve got big games coming up so we’ve just got to take it one week at a time, focus on ourselves and quit hurting ourselves. Then I think we’ll be fine.”
Akron was 11-of-18 on third downs, including 4-of-8 on 3rd-and-long situations. Part of that is playing young guys in lieu of the injured Kamari Cotton-Moya (elbow), but the good news is the mistakes are fixable. And Iowa State might have found another guy to plug into the rotation.
Redshirt sophomore Braxton Lewis was inserted into the lineup at safety in the second half and recorded three tackles and a game-ending interception that he returned 39 yards. Lewis came in and played well, but his presence was a reminder that Iowa State has some things to figure out in the back end during the next two weeks.
“I think just trying to get some consistency,” Campbell said. “A couple of those plays that came out in the second quarter were just bad assignment football by some of our safeties. We must be better and that’s not good enough.”
Iowa State has an open week before hosting Texas (1-2) on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. (ESPN). The Cyclones have time to pinpoint mistakes and work on correcting them, but if they don’t, the nine-straight Big 12-game schedule will be unforgiving.
“Playing good in all four quarters, that’s what we’re trying to do here,” said quarterback Jacob Park, who has passed for 300-plus yards in four-straight games. “If you don’t do that in the Big 12, you lose. Especially against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas. You’ve got to put all four quarters together. If not, you don’t come out with the win.”
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