AMES — The 2021 Fiesta Bowl isn’t just another bowl game for Iowa State — for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s Iowa State’s first New Year’s Six bowl game.
And second, the COVID-19 pandemic still is very much a thing.
During normal times, if we can remember back that far, teams would arrive at their bowl destinations about a week in advance. Teams would spend time at that location practicing and going to events.
This year, Iowa State won’t be leaving until later in the week for Saturday’s game against Oregon in Glendale, Ariz.
Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar compared it to a normal game week with more hype, much like how the Big 12 championship felt.
“Yeah, I think this bowl process is obviously unique,” Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell said. “I think in a lot of ways it’s unique just like how the whole season has been unique. I don’t know if it feels any different, but it is definitely different.
“I think the positive about it is there’s not a four-week break between your last game and a bowl game. And I think that’s probably something hopefully our profession can look into.”
Iowa State’s players were somewhat disappointed they couldn’t experience the full array of bowl week, but they also understand what’s important about bowl week — the game.
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“You always want to get that full bowl experience and bowl exposure,” running back Breece Hall said. “So, I mean, once we found out we were coming, we were excited. But always in the back of your mind, like dang, we’re only down there for a couple of days. We don’t get the whole bowl experience. But we’re still grateful to get the opportunity to play.”
The players’ ability to keep the games and season in perspective has been one thing Campbell has been proud of.
“This team has never flinched with the circumstances that we couldn’t control,” Campbell said. “Obviously, COVID and what some of the challenges that it has brought to the entirety of the season. Our kids love to play football, they love each other and they’ve really gone to work from March on to become the best versions of themselves they can be.”
Iowa State’s young talent
Iowa State has two young safeties playing as well as anybody on the team.
Redshirt freshman Isheem Young was named the Big 12’s co-freshman defensive newcomer of the year after recording 46 tackles, three pass breakups, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.
“I think Isheem is very similar to Breece, where he’s an elite talent and a young man who loves football,” Campbell said. “And his training in January, February, March, April and May, even when we couldn’t be here, you know Isheem was doing everything in his power to be the best football player he can be.
“I think a lot of his productivity and success has certainly come from the time and effort and the commitment that he’s made to doing those things.”
True freshman Mason Chambers has come on late in the season. The 6-foot-3 safety played key snaps late in Iowa State’s win over Texas and played an important role in the Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma after Young was ejected for targeting.
“I think Mason’s maturity as the season has gone on has been impressive,” Campbell said. “I think this was a really hard year for freshmen. Mason is a young man that graduated early, came here in January. And most of the time, that would lend for experience and a really good foundation. But I think in a year like this, it’s almost a little bit of a negative if you came in January because, geez, it’s been a long, long year.
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“Mason has never really flinched. I think he’s only continued to improve. His improvement has earned the trust by our coaching staff to put him in critical situations in games. And what we’ve been really pleasantly surprised by what he’s been able to do.”
Iowa State injury report
Offensive guard Trevor Downing went down with an injury in Iowa State’s first game. Since, Campbell has said Downing is day-to-day, even though Downing hasn’t suited up for another game.
It should be no surprise Downing’s status hasn’t changed for bowl week.
“Trevor has kind of really been day-to-day a little bit,” Campbell said. “Again, we’ll see if he’s ready to get back on the football field this week.”
Right tackle Jake Remsburg was injured in the Big 12 championship game. Remsburg filled in for an injured Joey Ramos earlier in the season but, luckily for the Cyclones, Ramos was able to replace Remsburg this time around.
“(Remsburg) has done a really good job here the last couple weeks,” Campbell said. “We’ll see where he’s at by Saturday.”