ISU hopes this is just the beginning
Oklahoma upset turned heads, but Campbell has bigger and better things in mind for his Cyclones
When a 31-point underdog upsets the nation’s third-ranked team on the road — a landmark win boasting both historical significance and series rarity — the natural reaction is to celebrate.
Not just in the postgame locker room, but well into the night. Or the next day. Or the rest of the week, for that matter.
Rumor has it that Iowa State University wanted to arrange an impromptu pep rally of sorts late Saturday night when their Cyclones were to return from Norman, Okla. The idea made sense, and almost went without saying. After all, unheralded ISU had just slayed an absolute giant — stunning the powerful, unbeaten Sooners on their turf with a third-string quarterback and without arguably their best defensive player.
Strike up the band. Call every Cyclone supporter you know. Get the cell-phone videos and YouTube clips ready. We were ready to witness a program party in the aftermath of another watershed moment in Ames, on the levels of Nebraska 1992 or Oklahoma State 2011.
If you were expecting Matt Campbell to channel his inner-Paul Rhoads and deliver a heartfelt speech or shed tears of sheer joy, though, you don’t know Matt Campbell.
A formal pep rally? Thanks, but no thanks.
The ISU head coach was very poised and methodical in Saturday’s postgame press conference. Almost calculated, as if he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Campbell understood the win’s significance, no doubt, but kept a bigger picture in mind, reminding everyone this victory on its own means very little if the momentum stops here.
Yes, it gets Iowa State’s name in the national headlines for a day-long cycle. And yes, Campbell can and will use the exposure to his advantage on the recruiting trail in the weeks and months to come. But if you expect these Cyclones to hang their hat on this day — to find comfort or satisfaction in their performance, regardless of how the rest of the season goes — think again.
This was a magical, memorable victory. Whether or not it’s actually a turning point remains to be seen. But there are signs that Iowa State’s days as a one-hit wonder may be over with Campbell calling the shots.
The recent adversity would normally be enough to derail most teams. The heartbreaking home loss to Iowa. The lifeless performance against Texas on national television. Jacob Park abruptly leaving the squad for unspecified personal health reasons. Linebacker Willie Harvey sidelined by injury.
OU sported a 74-5-2 all-time record in its series with the Cyclones before Saturday. The Sooners were 104-9 at Memorial Stadium since 1999 — the best home record in the entire country during that span. Iowa State hadn’t won in Norman since 1990, and before that, 1961. The Cyclones had been 2-35-1 all-time against Associated Press Top-5 opponents.
To make matters worse, Oklahoma led 14-0 in the first quarter. Then it was 17-3 Sooners. Then 24-10. And 24-13 at halftime.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a comfortable OU triumph. Senior walk-on quarterback Kyle Kempt found his rhythm. Receivers Allen Lazard, Marchie Murdock and Trever Ryan made big plays. And tailback David Montgomery, mostly held in check on the ground, caught seven passes himself.
More importantly, Iowa State’s defense started to get stops. The Sooners lost a red-zone fumble on their first possession of the second half. They missed a field goal on the next. The Cyclones reeled off 18 consecutive points to take the lead. And when OU finally answered to tie the score and calm its nerves, ISU efficiently drove 75 yards in nine plays to score. One more clutch defensive stand followed, securing the unimaginable comeback victory.
Campbell’s squad didn’t have the energy of a home crowd to mount the rally. The Sooners made mistakes, but it wasn’t like Nebraska in 2009.
No, Iowa State had to dig out of this hole on its own merit. Play by play. Point by point. Piece by piece. With heart and guts.
In a way, this game could serve as a metaphor for Campbell’s grand vision. Improbable? Yes. Impossible? Not necessarily. The Cyclones may not be there quite yet — it’s hard to say or know what happens with the quarterback situation from here on out — but the foundation is starting to take shape.
Program-first CIML players like Joel Lanning, Jake Campos and Lazard bring a selfless, gritty attitude to the table — the kind of personality this program would benefit from permanently adopting. In the flashy, offense-driven Big 12, why not be a blue-collar team that will push and push and push opponents until they don’t want to try and out-work ISU anymore?
We’ll find out soon enough if the Cyclones are built to last. Maybe they have arrived. Maybe they’re just scratching the surface. The remaining schedule is difficult, but not daunting. If they can win at OU, the possibilities are obviously endless.
Iowa State will take a day or so to admire Saturday’s achievement. Don’t expect Campbell — or his players — to sell it as anything more than another week and another win on the road to respectability, though. Beating a national championship contender on the road is something to brag about, but the Cyclones want more.
Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @MessengerSports