Dec 28, 2018; San Antonio, TX, United States; Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) carries the ball on a 53-yard reception in the fourth quarter against the Washington State Cougars in the 2018 Alamo Bowl at Alamodome. Washington State defeated Iowa State 28-26. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
SAN ANTONIO — Maybe we all should have seen this coming.
In a season almost completely devoid of a traditional Iowa State nut kick, we finally got it Friday night in San Antonio. Damn it, why didn’t I pack my nut cup?
The No. 24 Cyclones lost 28-26 to No. 13 Washington State in the 2018 Alamo Bowl. They proved they belonged on this stage with the first team left out of the New Year’s Six bowl games and in a premier bowl slot as the only college football show on television.
But, the nut kick. Iowa State finished with 10 penalties — seven of them of the false start variety — and turned the ball over three times, leading to 14 Cougar points. It felt like every time Iowa State was in a position to take control of the football game, they would shoot themselves in the foot.
“Our margin of error with the people we play and the opponents we play against is always going to be small. Tackling in space, running and converting the right routes, throwing the ball to the right people, taking care of the football, those things have got to be the difference maker and you turn it over three times in a football game like we did today, it’s really hard for us to win and it doesn’t matter who we play,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said after the game. “That’s not to knock Washington State at all because they’re a tremendous football team. That’s just we’ve got to know who we are and what gives us the best chance for Iowa State to be really successful.”
The officiating from this game will be dissected over and over again by Iowa State fans everywhere for years to come. There is no questioning it was questionable — at best — during several portions of the football game, but it was far from what handed the Cyclones a loss at the Alamodome.
This game was about the thing now holding Iowa State back from taking another step forward as a football program. It was about the details — and until the Cyclones take control of the details on the consistent basis, performances like this will be possible even after stretches in which they may win seven out of eight games.
“I think the missing piece for us right now is in the detail and to take the next step in this program, we had to learn how to be consistent. We had to learn and prove we could win with consistency here at Iowa State. We’ve proven that. Now, to take the next step in this program, it’s details,” Campbell said. “Really, it’s what got us (on Friday). Really, in all three phases of the game. Big kickoff return right before half. Some silly mistakes in the pass game early. Obviously, a tough fumble and some missed tackles early in the football game. I think it comes down to that.”
Iowa State will be in a position to have another really good football team next season — regardless of what David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler decide to do with their futures.
They return a true sophomore quarterback who went 7-2 as the team’s primary guy at the position. The team will lose only two other starters on offense and the majority of the defense is set to return.
Oh, and they will be welcoming the highest-rated recruiting class in program history. No matter the outcome on Friday, Iowa State football’s trajectory is still decidedly pointed skyward.
If they’re capable of nailing down some of the details, it could turn into a special season, which would happen to be the third consecutive special season (more on that in a second).
“I would certainly say our kids and how they play give us hope. I couldn’t ask for a group of kids to work any harder than what our kids do. I really think this group’s gotten better as the season’s gone on and it’s a really young football team in a lot of ways,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of guys that have played a lot of football in this upcoming senior class that have had a huge impact so I think our leadership coming into this coming year has got a chance to be really special, which is exciting from my end of it. I think that’s a credit to the last two senior classes and what they’ve taught us of how to do things the right way.”
Let’s talk about these seniors for a second. I want to shout out Brian Peavy, D’Andre Payne, Matt Eaton, Sam Seonbuchner and the rest of the group that leaves Iowa State football in a markedly better position than where they found it.
Iowa State has won 16 of its last 26 games. They were 6-20 in the 26 games prior to that. They have won five games over top-25 teams in the last 26 games. They had won zero games over top-25 teams in the 26 games prior to that.
This was a special Iowa State football season. It was an Iowa State football season all of us are going to remember forever as the one that proved the program is no fluke but truly a rising force to be reckoned with.
“1-3 to seven in eight. The ability to turn the tide, it’s gutsy. I think if you look at the teams that started the season 1-3 around the country and the teams that had the ability to recover like this team did, it’s really powerful,” Campbell said. “I think this group has got a really powerful story. Obviously, we came up short tonight and that’s unfortunate, but I think those shortcomings will only guide us going forward. What this senior class, what this team did this year, really powerful, because I think a lot of people wrote us off at 1-3 and probably should have. The reality of it is in our walls our kids kept believing. I think that’s more powerful than anything going on.”
Iowa State raised the standard in 2017. They won in the dark to maintain consistency in 2018. Winning in the margins must be the rallying cry entering a 2019 season many people have already started counting down towards.
Friday night in San Antonio will leave a sour taste in all our mouths, but much like the citizens of this fine city will never forget the Alamo, we will never forget the 2018 Cyclones.
“To be honest with you, it’s why I think these kids can leave for wherever they’re going tonight or tomorrow and they can have their heads held really high,” Campbell said. “Because what they’ve done, what they stood for in changing a culture, it continues to change in a really positive direction and for that I’m really proud of this group.”