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AMES — The phrase “learning to win” can be overused and isn’t typically very specific.
In the case of Iowa State football, the expression could be just the right fit.
Coach Matt Campbell has seen tangible progress and an expanded literacy of schemes from his players, but now the next step is putting it together for an entire game. The Cyclones (1-4, 0-2) hope to do that Saturday at Oklahoma State in a 2:30 p.m. kickoff (ESPNU).
“That’s the one thing that came out of that game is confidence that if we do these things well, we give ourselves a chance to be successful and win football games,” Campbell said. “Now the next growth period is, we know we’re going to compete, what does it take to win the game? Again, it’s those five or six plays that dictate the outcome of the game.”
Iowa State held a two-touchdown lead against top-15 Baylor last week and had scored on its first six full possessions before stumbling down the stretch. Quarterback Joel Lanning had his best day as a Cyclone, but the offense generated just 7 yards in the final quarter.
Oklahoma State (3-2, 1-1) is susceptible to giving up yards — it allows 447.8 per game — and points (28.2 per game). The Cowboys have been in shootouts the last three weeks, going 2-1 against Pittsburgh, Baylor and Texas while averaging 39.3 points in those three games.
Iowa State is averaging 25.8 points per game, but has scored 40-plus in the last two weeks. It hadn’t score 40 or more in two consecutive weeks since 2008.
“Some of the older guys, we’re starting to understand, and some of the younger guys, too, that we can do this,” Lanning said. “Even though in the past few years it hasn’t been that way for whatever reason.
“We’re starting to realize, ‘OK, if we just come out and execute our stuff we’ll be perfectly fine and give ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter like we wanted.’ We just didn’t finish the way we could.”
Running back Mike Warren is starting to find his rhythm, too. The Cyclones still are in the bottom half of the Big 12 in rushing offense, but Warren has averaged 109.3 yards in the last three games with 72 carries during that span.
Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 in time of possession at 29 minutes, 56 seconds per game. Iowa State’s ability to establish a ground attack with Warren and freshman David Montgomery will go a long way in controlling tempo and putting the offense in a position to close out a game in the final quarter.
“I don’t know how long we’ve been harping on (finishing games),” Warren said. “We’ve got to finish the game, we have to play all four quarters.
“It’s really just a mind-set thing that we have to come out and not let off the gas and finish the game out.”
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