AMES — This Iowa State football team is a far cry from the group it was last year.
Two demoralizing losses against in-state opponents kicked off Matt Campbell’s tenure in Ames, and it took the Cyclones more than half the season to start finding answers.
A 1-1 start this season — after beating Northern Iowa and losing 44-41 in overtime to Iowa — shows progress is being made, particularly in how both games played out. But there are still problems to be solved.
As far as the players are concerned, talk of last year in comparison to this year can be buried.
“Last year,” said senior wide receiver Allen Lazard, “we didn’t know what the hell we were doing.”
Quarterback Jacob Park, who has 618 passing yards and six touchdowns in the first two weeks, agrees. An overtime loss to an in-state rival is disappointing, sure, but the difference between 2016 and 2017 is the loss isn’t demoralizing the locker room.
“We’re not the same team,” Park said. “It shouldn’t even be a topic of discussion.”
Iowa State (1-1) has made a point to focus on details in 14 games under Campbell. It haunted them in four one-score losses last year and in the loss to the Hawkeyes.
Drops and missed tackles have to be cleaned up, but Campbell said the foundation that was laid in the offseason months is what separates his first Cyclones team from his second one. This year, players have better habits and routines to fall back on when adversity hits.
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That’s the challenge Campbell is issuing with a road trip to Akron next weekend. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. (CBS Sports Network).
“Next week is going to be so defining for who we are and what we’re about,” Campbell said. “Can we bounce back? What decisions do we make tonight? Can we come back tomorrow being ready to play the game of football and get better?
“That’s college football. The college football season, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The Zips (1-1) have been on both ends of blowouts in their first two weeks. They lost 52-0 at No. 4 Penn State in Week 1 and beat FCS Arkansas-Pine Bluff 52-3 at home.
Campbell, who coached in the MAC at Toledo for four seasons, knows the challenges of that conference and how to prepare for Akron. Iowa State’s focus, though, has to be turned inward. Internal corrections are what will get the Cyclones over the loss to Iowa.
“We’re close. We’re there actually,” said senior linebacker Joel Lanning. “We just let our details get away from us a little bit in the fourth quarter. Not even the fourth quarter, just throughout the game on some drives. If we clean up our details we’ll be fine.”
Iowa State has found reliable young talent in running back David Montgomery and wide receiver Hakeem Butler too. Butler’s drop in overtime is a play that will stick in his mind, but can also be a tool, he said, that helps him eliminate drops in the future.
“We’ve been through so much this summer and everything, the winter, we’ve learned and focused on not letting things like that happen, be consistent,” Butler said. “Those are words you hear a lot from everybody. I hear consistent and detail. Our details will hopefully prevent (this loss from snowballing).”
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