AMES — Two R-words made the rounds this week at the Bergstrom Football Complex.
The first: Revenge.
The second: Resilience.
One reflects an unhealthy fixation on the past. The other keeps the cleats pointed forward.
Guess which one Cyclone defensive end Cory Morrissey chose to highlight?
“Resilience,” the senior captain said as ISU prepared this week for Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Texas. “We’re a resilient group. We’re always getting better and learning.”
Revenge didn’t stand a chance.
But remembering what went wrong last year against the Longhorns in a controversial 31-30 loss in Ames remains valuable, as long as it helps advance current goals instead of simply revisiting old wounds.
It’s not just one blown call at the end. It’s every single play — from each guy who tried to make them. It’s full accountability, which leads to trust and, eventually, resilience.
“It should never have even been put on the last play of the game to go either way,” Morrissey said. “So we don’t really talk about it as a team. We know what we should have done throughout the game.”
That kind of perspective was hard to come by in the immediate aftermath of the stinging loss, though.
Yes, ISU’s all-Big 12 linebacker Jeremiah George should have been credited with a stunning, game-saving strip of Texas running back Johnathan Gray at the goal line, but officials ruled otherwise (on the field and upon further review).
Yes, the disputed calls drew the ire of Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads — and the sympathy of virtually the entire non-burnt orange nation.
So understandable anger took root, spreading beneath the surface. Resilience tried to replace it and almost did as ISU took Texas Tech down to the wire in Lubbock before falling 42-35. After that, resilience didn’t stand a chance.
“The lug nuts started to loosen a little bit,” Rhoads conceded. “You fight back so many times, then it gets hard. You can watch weekly games and see a team hang around, hang around, hang around until one side of the ball is not getting it done and finally the other side says, “Uncle. I’ve had enough.’ And teams get to that point in a season too.”
Not this Cyclone team, despite being 2-4 and 0-3 in the league. Not this season. Not yet, anyway.
They could have been paralyzed by their anger over season-opening losses to North Dakota State and No. 14 Kansas State.
ISU was outscored 29-0 in the second half of those two setbacks.
But since then, the Cyclones have generally provided the strongest finishes in games, holding an 80-58 scoring edge post-halftime.
That’s resilience — as shown in last week’s win over Toledo.
“The first half of (that) game, probably three-quarters of our defense was having a rough game,” said linebacker Luke Knott, who’s leaping grab of a bounding onside kick fully sealed that comeback win. “That’s part of football, that’s part of life. Something doesn’t go your way you’ve got to get back up and go after it.”
That’s how both the offense and defense have reacted lately.
ISU quarterback Sam Richardson threw all three of his touchdown passes in the second half last Saturday.
“I think we’ve definitely grown into a kind-of resilient offense and I think it’s got to continue,” Richardson said. “The hunger’s got to be there in the red zone and I think that will continue to grow. There’s been a few games where we’ve been in some testy situations and we’ve definitely pushed through those kind of challenges.”
Saturday’s looms as one of the biggest.
The Texas defense held Baylor’s offense to 21 points two weeks ago.
The Longhorns have 21 sacks and allow a paltry 133.7 yards passing per game.
“Their defense is outstanding,” Rhoads said. “One of the best in the country.”
ISU’s goals remain in tact, but take a hard hit without an upset in Austin, however resilient the performance.
"We want to get to the postseason and we want to win (a bowl game)," Rhoads said. "To do that we’ve got to win four more games.”