Notebook: Campbell talks growth and leadership before UNI game

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell shaking hands with a child during Victory Day Aug. 23 on the MidAmerican Energy Field at Jack Trice Stadium. Victory Day gives local children with disabilities the opportunity to meet and play with members of the Iowa State football team.

Matt Belinson

With the season opener less than five days away, Matt Campbell spoke with the media Tuesday about his team’s approach and growth heading into facing Northern Iowa University in the Cyclone’s 2019 season opener.

Spreading the ball within the offense

Iowa State has been fortunate the last two seasons with the amount of big weapons for the offense to play with and use in big situations.

David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler are gone and now Iowa State has to use a different approach when it comes to giving the ball to multiple players in big spots — the opposite of the Cyclone’s offense in 2018, when Montgomery or Butler were seemingly always there to provide a cushion in a big play.

“Fortunately or unfortunately for us, some of our best playmakers have been in situations in the past few years where we were just force-feeding those guys the football” Campbell said.

Campbell wants to see the offense evolve, not into a completely different animal, but rather into an offense that uses the depth and talent and each skill position more evenly as opposed to using Montgomery for every big yardage situation.

The offense needs to be multiple and attack in different ways, said Campbell, who acknowledged that Iowa State took advantage of having big weapons for as long as they could but now they are gone, so who can fill that void?

Campbell says that it is unclear until the season gets going.

“Until we see who grows in their roles as the season goes on, I think it is a little bit of an unknown,” Campbell said. 

Campbell and his coaching staff are ready to see if their confidence in the younger skill players on the roster has been with good reason. 

“I think having that confidence will allow us to maybe not be so centered on one guy all the time,” Campbell said.

“We have always been a quarterback-friendly system because our system allows us to disperse the football across the field,” Campbell said. “We rode our best players in the past and now we just have to take what the defense gives us and not rely on one big guy.”

Smooth start to season

At the end of last week, Iowa State named its five captains for the 2019 season, a group that Campbell believes can kick the entire team into high gear as the Cyclones begin the season in a few days.

Captains are a big part of starting the season off right by showing younger guys how to practice and train before the season even begins Saturday. 

“If you were a coach and you got to say ‘I need these characteristics of how leaders would act inside and outside the program,’ they’re exactly what you would pick as a coach,” Campbell said. “They have the ability to raise everyone’s game and allow those young guys to mature a lot faster because they have someone to show them how to do it.”

Campbell said that there is a clear line that coaches can go toward when it comes to telling their players how to act and prepare, but it is a lot different when your teammate comes up to you and is telling you expectations of the position.

Campbell also said captains and other leaders in the program can show the younger players their proven results on the field as an easy way to show how their dedication and meeting expectations are showing up in tangible results to look back on. 

Offensive line 

Out of the many transitions and questions throughout preseason camp, offensive line was one of the last items of concern for Iowa State, and something Campbell said Iowa State has had to work toward since he arrived in 2015.

Campbell credited most of the growth to having four seniors on the starting line. These guys have grown into their role and have gained playing experience at higher levels since they arrived at Iowa State. The biggest reason for that growth on the field is competition in the program.

“There is competition finally, where if you rest on your laurels, if you just come to practice and just go through it, it is really hard to get better as a football player,” Campbell said. “Offensive line is such a craft, you almost have to perform it at such a high rate, which I’m not saying they haven’t had to do that in the past, but with so much competition now, growth is coming so much faster now.”

Besides the mental growth of finding their role within the offense and being calm in big moments, Campbell points to the offensive line’s physical growth as one of the overlooked reasons to the groups’ success in the last three seasons.

Julian Good-Jones — one of five returning starters on the offensive line for Iowa State — said that when he first arrived, physically maturing and getting stronger were things he had to get better at as time went on.

“It’s crazy, I struggled to gain weight for maybe three years but then right after the end of last season I couldn’t stop putting on weight,” Good-Jones said. 

Good-Jones said his power has gotten better with him putting on more weight in the offseason. 

“It’s pretty much night and day on how much it has helped being able to put on just the right amount of weight; I don’t even think I am close to the same player I was last year.”

The responsibility of the offensive line will grow much more than keeping Purdy from pressure, but with the running back group being so young and inexperienced compared to David Montgomery, offensive line experience is key to how Iowa State finds success on the offensive side of the ball this season. 

“David Montgomery was the perfect running back for Iowa State when he came here,” Campbell said. “David didn’t need many blockers, you just had to get in peoples’ way and let him get started; thank goodness we had David because if we didn’t that would have been a great challenge to hand the ball off to somebody with effectiveness.”

Now that Montgomery is gone, Campbell said the offensive line is going to be one of the big anchor points for the offense. Being an anchor point comes with being consistent.

Campbell added that having a good offensive line can have different meanings to different coaches, who might value getting better production on the ground rather than have great pass blocking.

“It is hard to say what a good offensive line is,” Campbell said. “Is it where you rush for a bunch of yards but you give up 40 sacks, or is it when you don’t give up any sacks but have no success in the run game? To me, it is about being a consistent force, and I want this veteran group to play like veterans and act like veterans.”