AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s two favorite words are “process” and “culture” when talking about his program.
The words have transcended into a realm beyond cliché for Campbell and even in college football as a whole. If Campbell wasn’t the pioneer in using those words, he was definitely an early adopter.
But, in fairness to Campbell, his process seems to be working and Iowa State’s culture has improved. Nothing encapsulates Iowa State’s progression in Campbell’s process like the Cy-Hawk rivalry.
Campbell’s big message in the offseason was the steps in the process. First, Iowa State had to learn how to compete. Then, the Cyclones had to learn how to win. Now, they have to learn how to handle expectations.
Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa State will find out if it can handle the expectations when it plays Iowa at 4 p.m. in Kinnick Stadium.
The last time the Cyclones visited the rival Hawkeyes, Iowa State came away battered and bruised after a 42-3 beatdown.
“We got handed a lesson of culture and attitude and effort when we went up there two years ago, in my opinion,” Campbell said. “I thought it was an invaluable learning lesson for what you want your program to look like and be with great consistency.
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“From our end, it was humbling and I think we were able to take a lot of those lessons learned in that game — especially the young guys in our program. The guys like David Montgomery, that played in that game, and some of those guys that were forced to play maybe at a young age and really felt the wrath of going up there and maybe not having the background of (success).”
That game taught the Cyclones what it took to compete against other Power 5 opponents — even if the players have suppressed much of game from their memories.
“I don’t remember too much, just that the score really speaks for itself,” said senior linebacker Willie Harvey, a sophomore that season.
Last season’s Cy-Hawk game proved Iowa State could compete, but it hadn’t quite figured out how to win.
The Cyclones lost, 44-41, in overtime. Iowa State actually led by 10 points with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter before the Cyclones fell apart.
What that loss taught Iowa State is the value of playing with consistency for not just 60 minutes, but 60 minutes plus any additional overtimes.
“If you want to be a consistent, really good football program, and you want to become that, then you have to understand what it takes to win games like that,” Campbell said. “And I think those were some of the lessons that we were able to draw from, throughout the offseason and really as the season went on last year, of what does it really take, not only in terms of our preparation, but what does it take within a game, or the 60 minutes in a game or more that you have to be able to do to be able to persevere and win a football game.”
Iowa State proved it learned how to win games and play a full 60 minutes when it beat Memphis, 21-20, in the Liberty Bowl.
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Since the Liberty Bowl win, Iowa State has been saddled with expectations. Expectations to improve on last season, expectations to win another bowl game and expectations to take the next step in Campbell’s process and handle those expectations.
“They’ve had tremendous success, consistently,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said of Iowa. “That’s just the way it is. If you want to do that, you have to sustain success, too. That means you have to work hard every day in the process and do all of those things.”
The Iowa-Iowa State game this season is almost like the first day of school for Iowa State. The class will start out as a review from what was taught the previous year, and then it’ll jump right into new material.
“You look for this team — we haven’t gotten an opportunity to play a game yet this year in 2018,” Campbell said. “And now the opportunity to not only go and play a game, a rival football game, a really good opponent on the road — it’s a great challenge and it’s a great opportunity. There are going to be so many lessons learned in that football game that no matter what the outcome — right, wrong or indifferent — it’s the ability to grow as a football team and certainly as a football program.
“It’s a great challenge for us. A challenge I certainly look forward to because I know the quality of the opponent we’re going against, and we’ll look forward to certainly making the next step in terms of our football team, whatever that step looks like and feels like.”
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