AMES — Are the Iowa State Cyclones contenders or pretenders?
That’s a question coach Matt Campbell asks his team often. At halftime of Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, it looked like Iowa State was a pretender. The Cyclones were down 17-14, with one of Texas Tech’s touchdowns coming on a blocked punt.
“At halftime (Campbell said) we have to go out and play the way we’re supposed to play,” linebacker Marcel Spears said. “We’re either going to be contenders or pretenders. That’s all he had to say.
“We’re not pretenders, so we have to be the other one. We had to boss our stuff up and play the way we know how to play.”
Iowa State did that, led by Spears. Spears had two interceptions in the second half and returned the first one for a touchdown, helping the Cyclones beat Texas Tech 40-31 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“It was great to see resolve from our kids,” Campbell said. “Some guys stood up and made plays when they needed to.”
“There are a lot of football games left to see what their defining character traits are, but this is a group — in terms of leadership investment and player ownership — that really stood up. There were guys, and really a team, that stood up and made plays when they had to today. It was not perfect, and it wasn’t pretty but that is a positive characteristic at times — winning when you don’t play your best football and we certainly did that today.”
Iowa State (4-3, 3-2 Big 12) finished the month of October 3-0. Dating back to last season, the Cyclones are 7-0 in October.
But its next game is in November and the home stretch of the season is fast approaching.
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“This is a very unique time of year in college football,” Campbell said. “You work 10 months to get to November to be in it and play meaningful football games. We’ve worked really hard to shed the image that, ‘You can’t do that here.’ The reality of it is that we’re grinding our way through it and yet your backs are against the wall when you start 1-3. Our backs have been against the wall since September.
“The reality of it is, ‘Who are you? Who are we? What are we about?’ If you start to lose some games, you’re really a pretender. All the work that you put in was pretend because you were trying to be somebody and not do something. This football team has invested to try and do something.”
Spears had some defining terms for a contender to go along with Campbell’s “do something, not try to be somebody.”
“Us playing together makes us a contender,” Spears said. “Us never giving up makes us a contender.”
The Cyclones did that Saturday. A lot of things went wrong — a blocked punt returned for a touchdown, a strip sack in the end zone that resulted in a Texas Tech (5-3, 3-2) touchdown and a missed field goal. But Iowa State powered through and got the win.
Now, can Iowa State do that in November? Iowa State struggled in the month of November last season, losing three times.
“You get to November and, contender, pretender?” Campbell said. “We’re going to find out each week and it’s going to be really interesting to watch this team. Can they stay the course and get better one week at a time? Last year I thought we ran out of some gas, but it will be really interesting to see what this group chooses to do.”
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