Notebook: Iowa State’s unsung hero

No. 28 Breece Hall jukes around defenders to gain extra yards against University of Kansas, Iowa State won 41-31 on Nov. 23.

Zane Douglas

Iowa State just came off a sloppy game against Kansas — a team that is last in the Big 12. With Kansas State coming up and bowl implications on the line, Iowa State is playing perhaps its most important game in a while.

There are four teams vying for the third spot in the Big 12, so for the Cyclones, this game is a must-win game if they want a good bowl this season.

Demons exorcised. Now what?

Iowa State had lost 10 games in a row to Kansas State until last season when the Cyclones mounted an improbable comeback to beat the Wildcats. The Wildcats subsequently were left seeking a new coach after Bill Snyder retired and forced the Wildcats to start anew.

Rebuilding a program can take a while, but with the help of new coach Chris Klieman, Kansas State has already seemingly turned a corner. The Wildcats are 7-4 and fifth in the Big 12 with one of their wins coming to perennial powerhouse Oklahoma.

“Those fabrics are things that you hope to implement in this program,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell about Kansas State. “The consistency, playing hard, understanding winning in the margins — really important.”

The Cyclones ended the curse against the Wildcats last season and now with Snyder gone, Kansas State is a different team — but the Cyclones are coming into this game with a lot of expectations and pressure.

Defense is not a concern

Iowa State’s defense left something to be desired on Saturday against the Jayhawks and left the team with questions to answer after running back Pooka Williams gashed the defense apart. The Jayhawks benefitted from many big plays.

Campbell said he isn’t concerned — in part because the defense is banged up. Campbell focused more on the defense that Iowa State has played all year instead of last Saturday and he credited Kansas for a good offensive game-plan.

“I thought we made some good adjustments when we needed to,” Campbell said. “If you don’t have those three stops in the first half in the red zone and instead of touchdowns they’re field goals and then obviously the big stop at the end of the football game was huge.”

Iowa State’s defense didn’t look good, but there were positives to take from the game for Campbell.

Steve Wirtel shines

Iowa State’s long snapper Steve Wirtel is playing in his final regular season game against Kansas State, and he has been the long snapper for the Cyclones for four years now.

“Steve has kind of been for the last four years here, really a pillar in two ways,” Campbell said. “Number one, I really do think he’s the best long snapper in the country. His ability to cover, his ability to block and protect, the unique things that we do with him in both areas I think is a huge advantage for our special teams play and then you talk about the leader that he is off the field for our football team.

“Steve’s one of those guys, he’s just got this unbelievable leadership trait.”

The Cyclones will be without him next season, but for now, Wirtel has two games left including whichever bowl game the Cyclones are sent to.