AMES — Iowa State has been here before.
The Cyclone football program was on top of the world after what was supposed to be a program-changing win against No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011.
Only the program didn’t change.
Iowa State still hoovered around mediocrity, often times falling below. The Cyclones won the occasional big game, but that game wasn’t program-defining. There was still a cloud around the Iowa State that made it seem like it couldn’t get over the hump, and every bad break that happened in a play, series, game or season was the end of the world.
Matt Campbell’s job now is to make Iowa State’s win against then-No. 3 Oklahoma a program-changing win.
“[Saturday] doesn’t do anything, how we respond to [Saturday] does,” Campbell said in the post-game press conference. “For the last year and a half, we’ve thrown everything, from myself, our staff to the kids in our program, at attacking that cloud and the inconsistencies that exist.”
Early in the season, it didn’t look like Iowa State was going to get rid of that cloud.
The Cyclones had a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead against in-state rival Iowa, but squandered the lead and lost in overtime. Against Texas, Iowa State’s defense played outstanding, but couldn’t generate anything offensively.
“To me, the hardest thing was looking at our kids after two tough losses earlier in the season, knowing how hard they played and invested,” Campbell said. “We didn’t make that play, or our lack of detail didn’t allow us to win the game. And then to come here and beat a team like this – how you won the game was detail. That’s leadership. That’s our senior class.”
Iowa State has 19 seniors on its team, all of whom have seen their fair share of losing. From 2013-16, Iowa State’s record was 11-37.
“Those guys, you think about those guys in this program here and all the heartfelt, painful stuff they’ve gone through the last 4-5 years,” Campbell said. “I feel like they’re hardened. When adversity strikes them, they keep grinding and getting better.”
That’s something defensive end J.D. Waggoner said before the season. He’s been through the tough situations and the tough losses before, he thought he’d be an anchor, leadership wise, to the young players on the defensive line when the going got tough.
“It’s important to be a leader to the younger guys in case we get into scenarios in the game where we face some adversity we don’t like,” Waggoner said during media day. “It’s important to know that I’ve been in those situations before and calm them down to be able to keep our composure and work through those kinds of situations.”
It looked like that happened. On the last drive, and even Oklahoma’s last offensive play, Iowa State’s defensive line held up and put pressure on Mayfield, making him scramble out of the pocket and make a decision.
Campbell said the two best practices his team had this season was Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. It rained on Tuesday and Campbell said it felt like they were 10-years-old again, playing football and having fun in the rain.
Linebacker/Quarterback Joel Lanning couldn’t get the smile off of his face last Tuesday when he met with the media after the practice, hair still wet from the rain.
On Wednesday, they got back to preparing for Oklahoma and Campbell said it was a “phenomenal practice.”
“With the influx of youth on this team, all they know is they want to win, and they’re going to do everything in their power to win,” Campbell said. “What we’re finally learning is what the process to win looks like and feels like – how you come to work and practice every day.”
Iowa State has been in this situation before.
They’ve won big games before, but will it be different this time?
“This isn’t the pinnacle,” Campbell said. “We learned, we grew, got better and all of the sudden we give ourselves a chance what true success really looks like.
“This is a journey. College football is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”