Iowa State Cyclones

The adjustments Iowa State made after 'playing with anxiety' against Baylor

Cyclones want to play calm and with joy against West Virginia

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports)
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. (Reese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports)

AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s most famous postgame locker room speech came after the Cyclones upset then-No. 4 TCU two seasons ago.

He said, “If you fall in love with the process, eventually, the process will love you back.”

On Tuesday, Campbell admitted his team might have fallen too much in love with the process. They loved the process and preparation, But when it came time to playing the game, they wanted to be perfect so badly they tensed up and didn’t play well.

“I think you were seeing that,” Campbell said. “I think you saw that from myself and the coaches, too. You saw where it was almost a relief to get the game over with and get back into the process where you feel really comfortable. It’s something we had to work through. It’s a new dynamic for us because I think the majority of our team really lives in that world of the process.

“We’ve talked a lot about it the last couple of weeks and you see our team start to understand themselves and understand what allows us to be the best version of ourselves as this team goes. It’s been really interesting.”

It started after the Baylor game on Sept. 28 and Iowa State (3-2, 1-1) showed the gains it made playing loose and having fun against TCU in a 49-24 win last week.

On Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va., Iowa State gets another opportunity to have fun and play with joy against West Virginia (3-2, 1-1) at 3 p.m. CT.

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“We were playing with anxiety,” Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy said. “We were playing like we had all these expectations and pressures on ourselves. If you’re thinking like that throughout a game, you’re not going to be playing at the level you should be playing at. (Campbell) did a great job going into last game saying, ‘If you have momentum, keep it going. And if we don’t, how are we going to create it?’

“He did a great job of keeping us calm throughout the (TCU) game and throughout the whole week of practice. I feel like he got us back on track again this week.”

It was easy to see the pressure Iowa State was playing with. Seemingly every time the Cyclones were faced with an important situation, they would fail.

That’s why the Cyclones’ offense always seemed to stall out when it got across the 50-yard line. The players would tense up, someone would get called for a penalty and it would kill the drive.

On the defensive side of the ball, it’s why they were giving up so many third-and-longs.

Against TCU, Iowa State remedied both situations. Iowa State’s offense was 5-for-5 in the red zone with five touchdowns and the defense allowed TCU to convert just 6 of 15 on third downs.

“The internal pressure probably started with me, to be honest with you,” Campbell said. “I felt like, ‘Holy smokes, man, let’s just get it over,’ whereas I used to really enjoy the games. I just think sometimes when you want to be so perfect so bad and you want to put those guys in position to be successful so bad. We know who we are, and we’ve got to work really hard to be the best version of us each and every Saturday.

“I think sometimes you get to the point of, ‘Man, I want the process and instead of enjoying the game.’ Instead of enjoying and trusting that, you’re almost like, ‘Man, I just want to get through it.’ Watching and feeling some of our guys press through the games wasn’t fun — and I really felt that coming back from Baylor.”

Purdy began noticing it during the Iowa game.

“I wasn’t enjoying it,” Purdy said. “I was just trying to get through the next drive and score points. That’s what it’s about — scoring points and that kind of stuff — but at the same time, you can’t lose that sense of joy and having fun in a game.”

Campbell sat down with the captains after the Baylor game and they began working it out.

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“Watching the (Baylor) game, it wasn’t an attitude thing and it’s never been an attitude and effort standpoint,” Campbell said. “But some of it’s been that they’re pressing. They’re doing some things uncharacteristic throughout the football game. Why are those things happening?

“We talked just a bunch about that and trying to figure those things out. My job as the coach, when we’re not having success, is finding out why and then trying to get a plan to get that figured out. I think I felt the pressures they felt, but I didn’t do enough about it early on and I’m really glad I had some of those conversations.”

l Comments: benv43@gmail.com

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