AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell recognizes the position his team is in.
The Cyclones have a heavily front-loaded schedule and after the loss to TCU last week, Iowa State dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big 12. Campbell said there will be people who write off the Cyclones because of the slow start.
It’s a conversation Campbell had with his team before it travels to Stillwater, Okla., to play No. 21 Oklahoma State (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2).
“I think you have to talk about it,” Campbell said. “There is too much social media, there is too much out there not to talk about it. It’d be naive to say, ‘Hey, we’re a 1-3 football team.’ That’s honest. The reality of it is, in our room, in these walls, there is a lot of growth that’s happened.
“Even where we were at the end of last football season to where we are as a football team today — we’re a completely different football team and program. But the reality of it is, the competitor in all of us, we want to win. How do we get there, how do we make that next step? Part of it is, you have to negate everybody else and you have to be able to stay centered on what the job is.”
Campbell’s mantra is his beloved process and part of that process is not worrying about the scoreboard — work to make yourself better each week and the results will show on the scoreboard at the end of the game. “The scoreboard will take care of itself,” as he likes to say.
“That’s hard when good things happen and it’s certainly hard when things aren’t going great either,” Campbell said. “That’s why that process, and everybody doesn’t want to hear it when it’s going good and everybody doesn’t want to hear it when it’s going bad, but the reality of it is they don’t want to hear it because that’s really hard to do.
“That’s really what success looks like is your ability to mitigate all of the (noise), stay the course, keep getting better, fix those areas that need to continue to get better and then make the improvements to take that next step. That’s where we live and certainly we talk about those things.”
One of the biggest areas of improvement Iowa State needs to see to be successful is third downs on both sides of the ball. Last week, TCU converted 11 of 20 third downs. Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said he didn’t get any sleep this week because of it.
Offensively, Iowa State has the second worst third-down percentage in the Big 12 at 36 percent. The only team worse is Kansas at 32 percent.
“I think those are things that the only way to do it is you’ve got to continue to rep it and you’ve got to continue to practice it,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to focus on what are we doing well and what are maybe some of those areas that there are breakdowns and just continue to hammer away.
“If you guys know us, we’re a situational practice team. I don’t know if anybody in the country practices situational football more than we do, but it’s something that’s a constant focal point, not only of practicing it, but then the who and the how are we getting it done. That’s an area that we must improve.”
While third down is an area of concern, a bright spot for Campbell has been the play of the safeties, specifically redshirt junior Braxton Lewis.
Lewis has interceptions in back-to-back games and is tied for third on the team in tackles with 23.
“Two areas at the beginning part of the season that I thought were major concerns were the offensive line and the safeties,” Campbell said. “What Braxton has done in four games for that safety group has been really fun to watch. He has literally given us a chance to be as steady as we’ve been since we’ve been here.”
But, at the end of the day, Iowa State still is 1-3 and the players and coaches still need to tune out the noise.
“Our coaches work endlessly in the offices trying to get a game plan ready so we’re as prepared as possible,” quarterback Zeb Noland said. “We just have to take ownership within ourselves and the leadership of the team. It is 1-3, that’s what it is but we have to continue to get better and not let it affect us too much.”
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