Oct 1, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell talks to an official during their game against the Baylor Bears at Jack Trice Stadium. The Bears beat the Cyclones 45-42. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — The murmurs sounded familiar to anyone well-versed in the history of Iowa State football.
As I wove through the remaining fans after the Cyclones’ 45-42 loss to No. 13 Baylor, anonymous voices provided the crushing commentary for what could have been a soaring win, but, again, wasn’t.
“Typical Iowa State loss,” one justifiably upset fan lamented.
I don’t think it was, but more on that later.
Others questioned missed — or overturned — calls that went the Bears’ way, and finally, fourth-quarter play-calling became the subject of scrutiny.
Missed tackles as Baylor blew apart the Cyclones’ 14-point fourth-quarter lead? Also a worthy, if unhappy topic of conversation moments after ISU watched helplessly as Baylor’s Chris Callahan drilled a game-winning 19-yard chip shot as time expired Jack Trice Stadium.
The fact that the Cyclones (1-4, 0-2 Big 12) led the Big 12-leading Bears (5-0, 2-0) for 53 minutes and 33 seconds — and never trailed until Callahan’s kick split the uprights — only made the pain drill deeper into the collective psyche of fans, players and coaches alike.
“It’s hard,” ISU center Brian Bobek said. “Its always hard to lose that way, especially when we felt we were doing so well for so long in a game, but sometimes that kind of stuff happens.”
All of that is correct. And that’s what makes another such loss so hard to take.
But wouldn’t you have signed up for this after losing 42-3 at Iowa? Even after last week’s hope-building 44-10 beatdown of San Jose State. You know you would — despite the gut punch of an ending.
Want domination? the Cyclones delivered it most of the game, scoring touchdowns on each of their first six full possessions. Quarterback Joel Lanning upset the planned rotation at play-caller for at least a week by connecting on 17 of his first 20 throws for 261 yards and touchdowns to Deshaunte Jones and Carson Epps. Trouble is, he never completed another pass after that.
Want guts? Again, ISU showed moxie multiple times. The line coalesced to carve out paths for Mike Warren (30 carries, 130 yards, two touchdowns), David Montgomery (7 rushes, 32 yards, a TD) and Lanning (14 carries, 57 yards, a TD). Trouble is, the team ran only eight plays in the fourth quarter as the Bears bludgeoned the defense with the running game.
In sheer numbers, positives far outweighed negatives. Yet the Cyclones’ upset bid fell short simply because the final numbers available all tilted toward Baylor.
“I just think a couple guys had chances to make plays and we didn’t make them, right?” ISU coach Matt Campbell said of a fourth quarter in which his team gained a total of seven yards while Baylor racked up 258. “That’s where, you’ve got to make those plays to win games like that and to be able to sustain that kind of momentum or success. And whether it was a mental error to whether it was a physical error, those are things you can’t do and those are things we did really well for, like you said, three quarters. So again, we’ll evaluate what that looks like and feels like, but had our chances for sure offensively to really extend the game and give (us) a chance to stay ahead of the scoreboard.”
Baylor took full advantage of its chances when it counted. The Cyclones didn’t. That’s lain, simple, and excruciatingly difficult to stomach precisely because of the progress that’s been building week by week.
The only way forward? Letting improvements be enough — for now.
“Keep building, you know?” said safety Kamari Cotton–Moya, who thankfully returned to the game after a rough first-half hit. “I see a team, as in us, we’re a team that (is) really good. We’re really good in a lot of situations. Rough start (to the season). Nobody asked for that, but some certain things happen and it’s just the name of the game.”
Which brings us back to “typical Iowa State.” This team appears to be dealing with such familiar setbacks in an atypical manner.
A clear missed offsides call that doomed a promising fourth-quarter drive? They’ll watch the film.
An overturned fumble recovery that became a key Baylor touchdown upon further review? Sucks, but must flush it.
No downturned heads. No pointed fingers. Pain’s the same, but gain’s are being made.
“We’re improving rapidly,” Bobek said. “We just need to continue to trust (Campbell), continue to trust all the coaches and trust in each other.”
Easy to say, hard to do.
These guys seems to be finding a way. And as that becomes the typical response to adverse situations, the least we can do is approach it the same way.
“Guys gotta understand just because we lost the game, it doesn’t mean the season’s over,” Lanning said. “Just go to practice with a purpose. Come ready to learn.”