Notebook: Losing week one didn’t faze the Cyclones, it prepared them for what’s ahead

Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar catches a pass during the game against Oklahoma on Oct. 3, 2020 at Jack Trice Stadium. Kolar finished the game with four catches for 66 yards.

Matt Belinson

An 8-2, (8-1 Big 12) record gives the impression that it’s been easy going for Iowa State this season. And hey, the program is about to head to its first ever Big 12 Championship.

And while the Cyclones ran into one loss to Oklahoma State midway through the conference season, the wins have been piling up for Matt Campbell and Iowa State football over the last two months.

But looking back at where this year began, with a 31-14 loss to Louisiana at home, Iowa State had to make sure the early upset and head-scratcher wouldn’t affect them long term.

For Campbell and his team, losing week one didn’t cause them to panic or doubt the process they envisioned for this season; it only reinforced a belief Campbell has held since he arrived in Ames.

‘People you can lose with’

Football presents some of the biggest highs and lows across all sports in Campbell’s mind, but the challenge for every team, especially a program like Iowa State where the consistent highs have been coming only recently, is how to manage every result.

Whether it’s a win over Oklahoma in Ames for the first time since 1960 or a week one loss to Sun Belt Louisiana, Iowa State has stayed day to day with their approach.

Campbell said with all of the ups and downs a season can bring, it’s important to take a different approach to who you want in your program week after week.

“We’ve talked a lot in our program that sometimes you gotta recruit and you gotta have coaches in your program not that you can win with but that you can lose with and not lose the integrity of who you are and what you’re about,” Campbell said.

Campbell said his confidence didn’t waiver after the season opener and knew his approach and his players’ mindsets were for the long haul, not the instant big performances.

“The senior leadership allowed that one loss early in the season to be obviously a great springboard and learning opportunity rather than a challenge to what our culture and what our program is about,” Campbell said.

Senior defensive back Greg Eisworth praised his fellow seniors and other veterans on the team for not cutting their work short after the way the season began. For some teams, frustration would have set in, but Eisworth said in order for this season to end differently, that attitude couldn’t be held any longer.

Eisworth and other veterans have seen what getting caught up in “bad” losses or “great” wins can do and said that after week one, the team had to be reminded of the long-term goals.

So as Saturday gets closer, Iowa State is going to continue to take it one day at a time.

“These last couple years, we’ve kind of been riding that yo-yo of getting high with the high and low with the lows and understanding that we can’t do that anymore,” Eisworth said.

A different Oklahoma team

The Sooners have come a long way since the last time they played Iowa State back on Oct. 3.

After the loss, Oklahoma sat 0-2 in Big 12 play and looked like it would end its five-year streak of reaching and winning the Big 12 Championship.

Since the 37-30 loss, Oklahoma has not lost a game, averaged 471 yards of offense a game, beaten their opponents by an average of 23 points and earned their way back into a shot to win its sixth-consecutive Big 12 Championship.

Campbell said back in October it was clear Oklahoma was still a very young team that had talent but was needing time to figure everything out.

A player who’s not so young, rather a savvy veteran defensive lineman, Ronnie Perkins, will play in Saturday’s rematch. Perkins was ineligible to play Oct. 3 due to his suspension from the 2019 season.

“Anytime that you gain a veteran in this kind of season where guys that played, guys that impact games, that experience is probably shown this year more than any other season, that can be a real tribute,” Campbell said.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler has also made strides since the 37-31 loss, with the freshman quarterback going 111 for 166, with 14 touchdown passes, two rushing touchdowns and three interceptions in his last six games.

Eisworth said Rattler has gotten better with understanding reads and becoming more willing to slow the game down instead of going off the first thing he sees.

Rattler’s legs have also become more of a threat, an area of his game Eisworth said has allowed him to seem like a more veteran quarterback since the last time he came to Ames.

“Each game he seems more and more like a veteran quarterback,” Eisworth said.

Health update

Iowa State has not had to overcome a lot of big injuries this season, but with Saturday’s championship game approaching, there are some key offensive pieces the team is missing.

Offensive linemen Trevor Downing has been out since the season opener against Louisiana with an ankle injury, and redshirt senior tight end Dylan Soehner was sidelined against West Virginia with an ankle injury as well.

Campbell said Soehner was able to play through the injury against Texas on Nov. 27 before he was sidelined in the final game of the regular season.

Campbell said he considers both to be “questionable” for Saturday.

“We hope to get them back, whether it’s Saturday or as the season continues,” Campbell said.