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Matt Campbell and players reflect on UNI victory, preview Cy-Hawk matchup

Tyler Coe
Matt Campbell walks along the sidelines against Ohio on Sept. 17.

Players and coaches of the Iowa State football team evaluated breakout performances against UNI, examined the development of the offense and shared plans for preparing for the upcoming Cy-Hawk matchup.

A few names stuck out after the Cyclones’ 30-9 win over the Panthers on Saturday, with some unexpected heroes on the defense making a huge impact.

One of the playmakers from Iowa State’s lockdown defense was linebacker Caleb Bacon who compiled a pair of sacks and five total tackles. Bacon has had a long journey since joining the Cyclones as a preferred walk-on and talked about what it meant to find success on the field.

“The first sack was pretty surreal, just like seeing Jack Trice just explode,” Bacon said. “Coming from small-town Iowa I played in front of maybe 100 people, and to come here and play in front of all of these amazing fans, it was really surreal.”

Bacon also received praise from head coach Matt Campbell, who admitted at first nothing initially stood out about him as a prospect. That was until Bacon started winning reps against decorated linebackers like Jake Hummel during winter conditioning in 2021 and the way he showed how badly he wanted to get on the field.

“It was one of those, ‘Man, who is this guy winning all of these reps?’” Campbell said. “We knew who he was, but we were shocked that he was beating guys like Hummel and other guys in that group. It was like, ‘Man, this guy is really competitive and ready to show up.’”

Campbell compared Bacon to linebackers like Hummel and Gerry Vaughn in terms of how each of them has worked their way onto the field and made an impact when given the chance. Campbell labeled players such as Bacon, who show relentlessness in practice and on the field, as the glue of the team.

“Caleb may now be on that trajectory,” Campbell said. “I think certainly the benefit is some of the people before him showed him the pathway of what it looks like to be successful. It’s an encouraging commitment that he’s had to own it and continue to learn from it.”

Cornerback Jeremiah Cooper took home the first Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week this season after his pair of interceptions, one of which he took to the house on a 58-yard return.

After not having an interception during his freshman season, Cooper received a ton of love from his teammates after the game, but the team also told him this is what he is capable of doing.

“We’re just proud of him,” senior cornerback T.J. Tampa said. “We keep talking to him about staying focused and focused. He’s got it though. He’s got more games like that coming.”

Tampa also shouted out team captain Ben Nikkel who made a pair of back-to-back endzone pass breakups in the third quarter against the Panthers. Nikkel, a former walk-on, was recently put on scholarship before the start of the season.

“It’s special and exciting. I could say every word in the book,” Tampa said. “He brings a lot of motivation to the team. He’s a captain of course, and he leads us pretty well.”

The major storyline coming out of the win against UNI was the performance of starting quarterback Rocco Becht who put together a solid stat line, including three total touchdowns. Becht was limited to just 13 passing attempts, 10 of which he completed for 113 yards, and talked about what he plans to work on both with his game and the offense as a whole.

“I would say just being more aggressive up front and blocking on the perimeters, in my case just progressing through plays whenever it’s needed,” Becht said.

Becht noted that just like any other game, there were a few throws he wished he could redo, however, it will be essential for him and the team to shift their focus towards the upcoming Cy-Hawk game.

He praised the Hawkeye’s defense, which has historically caused trouble for the Cyclones, but said that he will not let the nerves get to him as he prepares for the second start of his career.

“They’ve been insanely good for the past 20 years, they have a solid defense that is disciplined in what they do,” Becht said. “It’s a different mindset for everyone in the building going up against Iowa, but I’m going to go into it like another week. I’m gonna prepare the same and practice the same and go into it like another game.”

Campbell was hesitant to say that Becht would be the only quarterback who would play against the Hawkeyes, eluding to the possibility of true freshman JJ Kohl seeing some time like he did against UNI.

What he could confirm was that he was impressed by Becht’s first start, enough to get the starting nod against Iowa, but he looks forward to evaluating him more as the season goes on.

“I think Rocco certainly put himself in a great position to be the starter and obviously for this coming week, [he will] just continue to move himself and learn and grow forward,” Campbell said.

Over the last few Cy-Hawk matchups, turnovers have played a huge role in the outcome.

Whether it is special teams blunders or Iowa State giving up the ball, the Hawkeyes have found success within mistakes and chaos no matter where the game has been played.

Campbell explained how he plans to limit the craziness on the field and get his players in the right mindset heading into what is always an intense matchup.

“One of the unique things is this game is so early in the season, [and] both teams are still developing their identity,” Campbell said. “I think that makes it a unique challenge, and it certainly makes you be ready to be fundamentally sound and be disciplined. There have been times we’ve been able to do that, and there’s times we’ve not.”

Campbell holds a 1-5 record against the Hawkeyes, with last season’s 10-7 victory at Kinnick Stadium representing the lone win.

Both Iowa State and Iowa enter the Cy-Hawk matchup 1-0, with the Hawkeyes picking up a 24-14 win at home against Utah State. The 70th matchup between the rivals will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.

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