AMES — Close losses happen all the time, but the aftermath of them can be a precarious situation for an evolving team.
There is potential for Iowa State to be fragile after getting close to topping No. 13 Baylor on Saturday before ultimately falling, 45-42, after holding a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. It nearly ended a 17-game losing streak against ranked foes (now 18).
That last-second, game-deciding field goal can push the Cyclones (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) one of two ways.
“You lose a game where you fight, you scratch and you claw and then you bag it,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “Or you say here’s how close we really are, here’s what we did really well and here’s what we’ve got to fix. If we fix these things, then it gives us a chance to go be successful.”
Iowa State has now been in this situation twice this season — week one against Northern Iowa and Saturday against Baylor — but it has been commonplace for the last three years. Of the 36 games in each of the last three full seasons, the Cyclones lost 10 by seven points or less and an additional game by eight.
But the latest example of coming close only to fall short had a different effect on the ISU locker room. Since a 42-3 loss in week two at Iowa, coaches and players have noticed tangible improvements, highlighted by back-to-back 40-point outings for the first time since 2008 — with a win two weeks ago.
“We can take from it that we can compete in this league, we can compete with the big-time teams,” said quarterback Joel Lanning, who was 17-for-23 passing for 261 yards and two touchdowns. “We know we can play with them, we’ve got to figure out that next step in finishing games.”
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The offense stalled out in the fourth quarter and gained just seven yards, but the rush defense showed its vulnerabilities and depth concerns. Iowa State allowed more than 400 rushing yards (469) for just the third time in 16 years and now ranks 125th out of 128 FBS teams in run defense, giving up 261 yards per game.
Good news for the Cyclones is Baylor is the best rushing team it will face. And the offense was clicking for 45 minutes, scoring touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions (the lone exception was an end-of-half situation). Running back Mike Warren continues his upward trajectory with 30 carries for 130 yards and two scores.
Players see progress being made, and now are setting their focus on turning that progress into wins.
“There’s guys in the locker room right now and nobody is really hanging their head,” said wide receiver Carson Epps, who had three catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. “It’s hard to swallow, it is, but from the first week to the second week and third week, I think we’ve gotten better each and every week and we’re continuing to do that.
“Great teams, they find a way to win.”
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