Confidence leads to improvement for ISU football


Freshman wide receiver Allen Lazard set career highs in receptions — five — and yards — 53 — during the Cy-Hawk Series game against Iowa on Sept. 13 in Iowa City.

Alex Gookin

After falling behind 14-3 against Iowa on Sept. 13, the ISU football team came roaring back with a 74-yard drive in the final four minutes of the first half. Only one yard separated the Cyclones from a one-possession game with the second half kickoff going to Iowa State.

Running back DeVondrick Nealy lowered his head to punch in the touchdown but crossed the goal line without the ball with Iowa covering it in the end zone. Coach Paul Rhoads found Nealy on the sidelines, looked him in the eye and kept his message short and sweet.

“We’re going to need you again,” Rhoads said.

Then Nealy fumbled again. In a tight game with two mistakes from the team’s second string running back, most coaches don’t give third chances. But halfway through the fourth quarter, Nealy checked in, ran a wheel route down the sideline and caught Sam Richardson’s 27-yard touchdown pass to give the Cyclones the lead. Why did Rhoads give him another chance?

“Confidence in my players,” Rhoads said. “You fumble the ball going into the end zone, you could fold your tent up right then and there and you could say ‘it’s happening to us again,’ but because of what we’ve been doing from Sunday to Saturday, they didn’t say that.”

The confidence in his players may or may not be related to the team’s improvement in the last three weeks, but it certainly hasn’t hindered the team.

“We’ve done nothing but get better every single day in the two weeks after the first game of the season,” Rhoads said.

His confidence in Cole Netten paid off in a win coming off a season in which he hit only 3-of-7 field goals from 40-yards or more. Despite that, Rhoads sent him trotting out for 47- and 42-yard field goals with confidence, both of which he made — the latter serving as the game-winner.

He showed confidence in his receivers, even with Quenton Bundrage out and Jarvis West and P.J. Harris injured in the fourth quarter. Freshman Allen Lazard, who started fall camp as third string receiver, started the game and finished as the leading pass-grabber for the Cyclones. Rhoads was confident with redshirt junior walk-on receiver Brett Medders as he pulled in three catches in his first real action as a Cyclone.

The combination of confidence and execution has transformed the build of the Iowa State team. Instead of expecting to lose, the Cyclones chose to win.

“If you were to have polled our kids in the fourth quarter [of the Kansas State game], there would have been doubt in their minds that they could win the game,” Rhoads said. “At halftime down 14-3 [against Iowa]… they believed that they could win the game and they went out and physically followed up with that.”

Heading into a bye week, the Cyclones will nurse a few injuries and continue the improvement that started in week one. But for now, the team can breathe a sigh of relief after avoiding a 0-3 start.

“It was a huge weight off of our shoulders,” Lazard said. “We were just in that situation [against Kansas State] it seemed like we were close. This time we were able to pull off the win.”