NOTEBOOK: ISU’s second-half surges and fourth down success

Oct 21, 2017; Lubbock, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) rushes against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — No secret formulas. No magic bullets.

Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell explained his team’s second-half dominance this season matter of factly, sans embellishment.

“I just think the biggest is communication amongst our staff,” said Campbell, whose AP No. 25 Cyclones (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) have outscored foes 133-61 after halftime this season. “That’s one great thing about having the continuity that we have. … That’s one of the nice things about us, is we kind of know systematically what we want to do and how we’re doing things and how maybe somebody’s trying to take things away. And then, how can we give our kids some tools in the second half of a game to maybe make adjustments that we weren’t prepared for or maybe that they’ve done differently that they didn’t show on film. That’s football. That’s coaching. And that’s kind of how it goes week to week. Everybody’s always going to change something and you’ve got to have the ability to adapt. Our staff has done a really good job and that communication’s always been key for us.”

ISU hopes it can both start and finish strong this weekend when No. 4 TCU comes to Ames for a 2:30 pm. kickoff. Last week in Lubbock the Cyclones raced to a 24-6 halftime lead despite surrendering a red zone interception on their opening drive. ISU tied the Red Raiders, 7-7, after the break — but hold a commanding 60-17 post-halftime edge on Big 12 adversaries in league games only.

Why the strong finishing kick after struggling to close out games last season? Experience. Execution. Ownership.

“There’s a foundation this year,” Campbell said. “A year ago, you saw a team that had no foundation to it so you were — what you were adjusting too was adjustments. So there was never a foundation that we were able to really hone in on and I think, too, we talked about trying to change some of our habits a year ago instead of really working on football in the spring and summer prior to the season. But then systematically and schematically — just getting to know our players, what can they do? How do we put them in the best position to be successful? So I think two-fold, (what) you’re seeing there is a foundation and we know what that foundation is. You don’t want to ever stray too far from that foundation that gives you the opportunity to have success.”

The Horned Frogs (7-0, 4-0) were a 6.5-point favorite vs. the Cyclones as of late Monday afternoon.

As for ISU’s first top-25 ranking in 12 years? Campbell started and finished strong while downplaying its meaning.

“I’ll be honest with you, I had no reaction,” Campbell said. “It is what it is. … We’ve got so much football left to play, I think being a young coach that’s been in this long enough now, that you realize those are things that really don’t matter. Great for the school. Great for obviously everybody to talk about, but the guys (behind) this wall and this staff, I think could(n’t) care less about it, to be honest.”


Iowa State has converted 72.7 percent of its fourth downs (8 of 11). How good is that? Only 12 teams in the FBS are better — starting with top-ranked Alabama, which is, ahem, 11 of 11.

But how does Campbell gauge when to go for it and when to let strong-legged punter Colin Downing do his thing? The answer: Primarily intuition.

“I think so much of it is really just a gut feeling,” said Campbell, who noted he did also occasionally consult charts and analytics as well. “What’s the flow of the game? That’s the one thing I do like being as the head coach, rather than being the offensive coordinator. The offensive coordinator, you’re up in the box and you lose the emotion of the game, the feel of the game.”

Saturday’s huge fourth-and-inches conversion at Tech proved to be a game-changer. With the Red Raiders leading 6-0 and ISU facing a stiff wind, Campbell chose the gut route. David Montgomery took the hand off, stretched for the first down and the Cyclones would later take the lead 7-6 — and never trailed again.

“You kind of felt like that flow’s there,” Campbell said of the bold maneuver. “I think we had gotten the first first down on a third and four or third and five and it’s third and five again and we get four and we’re right there. So I think again, it is, it’s a gut call on it. You’re on you’re own (34)-yard line and you just feel the momentum of, yeah, you are thinking about that — you punt the ball away, you’re punting into the wind, they get good field position, go down and what’s that do to the overall momentum of the football game? Like I said on Saturday, you hope that if you are who you say you are, then you’ve got the opportunity to get a yard and continue a drive and fortunately our kids did.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.