Notebook: Iowa State football searching for its ‘killer instinct’

Iowa State wide receiver Joe Scates tries to spin away from defenders after a catch against the Kansas Jayhawks on Oct. 31 at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.

Matt Belinson

Sitting comfortably in the top of the Big 12, Iowa State football has a lot working for itself six games into the 2020 season.

A running back in Breece Hall is lighting up record books with his performances week after week, a veteran defense with ball-hawk playmakers is at every level and there’s just one loss in the Big 12 entering the month of November.

But ahead of a night game in Jack Trice Stadium against the Baylor Bears (1-3 in Big 12 play), Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell wants his team to start developing a killer instinct, something elite programs in college football have, no matter who the opponent is.

Iowa State is looking to get there.

Finding a killer instinct

It’s hard to find across college football, but for teams that want to become elite and consider themselves top-level programs, Campbell said developing a killer instinct is crucial.

But at a program like Iowa State, it doesn’t come as easy it sounds. 

Campbell said Iowa State is at a disadvantage when it comes to creating a mindset of domination and consistency because it has never existed for the program. It’s hard enough to get players to buy in and develop the killer attitude, but it becomes even harder when there is no history to fall back on and point to as a way to emulate.

Campbell said the best way for Iowa State to get to where it wants to be is to attack every day with the same mindset, making sure every action you take is with purposeful action.

It will take time, like most other success Campbell expects from Iowa State, but if the work is consistently put in, the mindset Iowa State wants will be achieved.

So if Iowa State has never found its killer instinct, how will Campbell know what it will look like if and when Iowa State finds it?

For Campbell, it’s all about seizing momentum.

“It’s seen this year more than any year where momentum is not indicated by 100,000 people screaming, or fans or a song, it’s created by the sport of football, and it’s taking the moments and demanding to win the moments in a game, and when you have opportunities to deliver the knockout blow, it’s delivering those,” Campbell said. “That’s execution at the highest level in the most critical moments.”

Campbell acknowledged what he is asking of 18-22 year olds is a tall task, with 2020 presenting so many other distractions and worries than any other year, but if Iowa State wants to become the program it wants to be, players will have to buy into creating a culture of excellence.

Campbell said Iowa State has found an “aligned vision,” which will make the process that much easier.

So with no history to fall back on and years under his belt as the head coach for Iowa State, is the idea of Iowa State finding a killer instinct attainable? Or is it not within reach for the program?

“Well, I think there’s a lot of teams you see, it’s certainly achievable,” Campbell said.

It takes time and it takes leadership, something Campbell has had plenty of in Ames, and he knows Iowa State is getting close to the standard of excellence it expects of itself.

Baylor presents “elite skill”

A 1-3 record may not show it, but Campbell said Baylor might be the most skilled team Iowa State has faced so far this season.

And while a history of consistency and a winning culture might not be present with Iowa State, a recent history of close and physical games with Baylor have come during Campbell’s tenure.

Over Iowa State’s last four matchups with Baylor, the games have been decided by an average of just over 7 points.

“I don’t think we ever worry about what happened a year ago, and we really don’t worry about what happened last week, we just try and get better one week at a time,” Campbell said.

Baylor presents a skilled team with veterans on defense and what Campbell said is a “championship-level quarterback” in Baylor’s Charlie Brewer.

“When I look at Baylor, I look at a championship team,” Campbell said.