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Iowa State’s football program wasn’t built in a day, or even a century for that matter.
Nine months of looking forward to the start of Matt Campbell’s era as the Cyclones’ football coach ended Saturday, and the world got its first look at Campbell’s baby.
It wasn’t pretty. Not all babies are, you know.
However, judging Campbell on ISU’s 25-20 loss to Northern Iowa makes no more sense than looking at the last decade of ISU football by focusing on the 2011 night the Cyclones beat No. 3 Oklahoma State.
Campbell has a lot of holes to fill, and there are no magic tricks in college football. His team needs talent and experience, and lumps will be taken until then. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The trouble is, we live in the now. While no reasonable Cyclone fans expected a winning season this year, they couldn’t have been blamed for hoping for a win over UNI and a performance that didn’t include so many bad penalties and god-awful turnovers.
The way Iowa State imploded on its final few possessions was disheartening. Three turnovers in the final five minutes is something you don’t often see, nor do you often want to see.
One of the few tangible quality things ISU had to sell for this season was running back Mike Warren. But running behind a line that may struggle just to make it to the end of the season, Warren managed just 30 yards on 12 carries with a fourth-quarter fumble.
Quarterback Joel Lanning made some terrific passes, but they didn’t come at the most-critical moments. His two fourth-quarter interceptions were dead giveaways.
Bad juju was firmly established for the Cyclones near the end of the first-half. UNI had the ball at the ISU 2 with two seconds left, trailing 13-9. Mark Farley put his Panthers field goal unit on the field, but Campbell called a timeout. Why, to ice the kicker on a chip shot you wanted him to take?
With a moment to consider his options, Farley changed things up and sent out his offensive unit. Quarterback Aaron Bailey’s keeper was good for two yards and a foot, and a touchdown. The die was cast.
Well, now we look toward Saturday’s Iowa State-Iowa game. It probably didn’t help the Cyclones that the Hawkeyes were a long way from being machine-like in their 45-21 win over Miami (Ohio). In fact, it was a good thing for Iowa that it was playing the RedHawks and not a Big Ten foe of any repute.
But Hawkeye coaches should have their players’ complete attention this week. The way Miami moved the ball on Iowa may be stressed a time or two or 100. The game had a lot of defensive shortcomings called “teachable moments” when a team wins and “breakdowns” when it loses.
Oh, C.J. Beathard still needs better pass protection. That’s kind of vital.
Still, eyes that watched both Iowa State and Iowa Saturday had to come to the conclusion the Hawkeyes ought to pick apart their state rivals. There may come a day when Campbell brings a formidable pack of Cyclones to Kinnick. That day might very well be in 2018.
Right now, though, this year’s Cy-Hawk battle looks more like a tuneup for Iowa’s game against FCS No. 1 North Dakota State the following week.
Oh, and let’s not shortchange Northern Iowa. The Panthers are in the top 5 of the FCS rankings, and may stay there for a while.
“We have an identity,” Bailey said after the game. Yes, and that is “consistent winner.”