AMES — Iowa State football’s journey to a 12th game has been an eventful one.
But now that the Cyclones (7-4, 6-3 Big 12) have their 12th game — against Drake (7-3, 6-2 PFL), a non-scholarship FCS team — on Saturday at 11 a.m. in Jack Trice Stadium, Coach Matt Campbell and his team are proceeding business as usual.
Campbell was asked four different ways on Tuesday during his weekly news conference how and when he planned to use young players who maybe haven’t had the chance to play that much to this point in the season. He never answered the question directly.
“I don’t think we’ve even talked about that much other than just trying to continue — again, it’s a game,” Campbell said. “And it’s a game you’re going to go try to do your best to be the best version of yourself you can be and at the end of it you hope you feel like you’ve pushed the needle forward. So, to me, it’s not like you’re playing a spring game or something like that. You’re going to play a game against an opponent that obviously will come in here and their kids are going to want to play and what a great opportunity for them and us.”
Campbell said he’s not worried about who is going to play for his team, more about how the team is going to play and the week of preparation leading into the game.
The preparation also is a unique opportunity for Iowa State. Campbell and his team prepared for South Dakota State in Week 1 even though the game got canceled. Only a handful of teams — mostly teams playing in conference championship games — get a 13th week of game preparation before bowl games.
“Just the preparation is huge for our team,” Campbell said. “It really hurt us not to get that first game, but on the back end, that preparation ended up being a real positive for this team.”
Teams that aren’t playing this week will still get in work, but Campbell said having a game to prepare for makes players that much more naturally motivated. Instead of Campbell trying to incentivize them or motivate them in some other way, the incentive is right there. It’s a real football game.
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“I think it’s pretty big,” receiver Hakeem Butler said. “There’s no telling where we’ll be for the bowl or who we’re playing. But no matter what, they’re at home right now and we get another week to play and get better. It’s great.”
The game against Drake probably won’t be close, and as much as Campbell didn’t want to talk about it, a lot of young players will probably play for Iowa State.
“I think the biggest thing for us is we’re still a team that can continue to grow and get better and we have to use every opportunity to continue to do that,” Campbell said. “It was certainly disappointing early in the season when we didn’t get the opportunity to play what’s now become our 12th game, but now getting that second opportunity to play 12 football games, I think we owe it to our team — not just the young guys on the team, the entire team — to continue to be the best version of ourselves we can be.
“Obviously with an opportunity to play a 13th game, you want to continue to improve and I think sometimes this time of year, you see teams go the other way. You want to be trending in a positive direction and I think that’s what’s so significant about the week of prep, the game and then moving ourselves forward.”
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