AMES — Football coaches are never satisfied. Just look at Alabama’s Nick Saban or the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick. They reach the pinnacle of the sport seemingly every year and yet they always think something could have been better.
Iowa State (2-1) dismantled Louisiana Monroe (1-2) 72-20 Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium, but Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell still found flaws that he wants to address before Iowa State travels to Waco, Texas, to play Baylor at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday.
“You saw us play in unison, we created some turnovers, offensively, we finished drives, defensively, I thought that we certainly tackled better, and we were able to create some pressure at times when we needed to,” Campbell said. “And yet, you say all those things, we still turn the ball over to start the game. We still struggled, at times, on third down. If we want to be the team we’ve got to become, there’s still a lot of work ahead of us.”
The Iowa State defense didn’t quite have its normal, stout form Saturday. The Cyclones let up 425 yards, including 228 on the ground. Additionally, Iowa State allowed ULM to convert eight of its 17 third-down attempts.
On offense, both of quarterback Brock Purdy’s turnovers to start the play were miscommunicaitons. On the interception, he expected receiver Tarique Milton to run a curl, instead Milton kept going straight. On the fumble, it was a run-pass option and running back Kene Nwangwu thought Purdy was handing him the ball, but instead Purdy was trying to pull it.
“When we get to Big 12 play, those turnovers can really cost us games,” Iowa State receiver Deshaunte Jones said. “We need to eliminate the turnovers and keep finishing drives.”
Finishing drives is something Iowa State did well for the first time this season on Saturday. In the games against Northern Iowa and Iowa, Iowa State tended to stall out at the opponent’s 30 or 40-yard line and the Cyclones would end up punting.
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Iowa State clearly had no trouble scoring on Saturday. Iowa State was 8 for 8 in the red zone with three rushing touchdowns, two passing touchdowns and three field goals.
“We challenged ourselves that when we got down into the red zone to keep the drive going and to finish drives,” Jones said. “We did a great job today.”
Campbell is a coach that coaches by feel. He wants to feel out how the team is playing and how the opponent is playing.
“There is a flow and a rhythm to every game,” Campbell said. “Can you put that flow and rhythm into your hands? We’ve done that really well at times and we’ve also done that really poorly. I think you can feel it, and a lot of times you can see it, but that’s our key to success. I don’t think that’s not just us. That’s football.
“I think there’s a real distinct flow to success and we finally caught that and felt that at times on our football team today.”
For the first time this season, it felt like Iowa State did almost whatever it wanted to in all three phases of the game.
“If we want to have the ability to compete in this conference, I think we needed to see our growth and find out if we can play our game,” Campbell said. “There have been moments and flashes of it and there have been some really good glimpses even if you don’t get a win here or there.
“We saw this and we saw how close we were. We’re not there yet, but I think we’re a lot closer today than we were two weeks ago and a week ago. That’s football. That’s building a team of 18-to-22-year-olds and trying to get better one week at a time.”
Campbell let his team know after the game the importance of the conference games ahead.
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“Coach just got done telling us that Big 12 play is coming, and we have big games ahead,” Purdy said. “We’re going to take the positives and negatives from these games and keep building on it. As a team — offense, defense and special teams — we’re clicking right now.
“I’m so excited to see what we can do.”
The fourth-year coach has said since he arrived in Ames that his goal is a conference championship.
“I hope our niche when this is all said and done is, ‘Man, Iowa State football got better each and every week,’” Campbell said. “If we can do that, we’ll have a chance to compete in this conference.”
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