Nov 19, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Joel Lanning (7) scores a touchdown against the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Red Raiders 66-10. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State had never scored 66 points against a Big 12 opponent.
It finally did in a seemingly meaningless, but ultimately important 66-10 beatdown of Texas Tech in 2016.
But did that breakthrough energy carry over into the next weekend against West Virginia? Nope.
Turnovers and uneven play ensured head coach Matt Campbell’s first season at the helm would end in a 49-19 thud at Jack Trice Stadium.
Still, the first-year head coach was encouraged. The ever-present enthusiasm of a big crowd helped. What he knew about the returning players helped even more.
“It’s been a great ride. I love this place,” Campbell said near the close of his postgame news conference. “I believe in it even more today than I did before I got here and I know where we’re going. And like I said, at the end of this, we’re going to win a championship in the Big 12. We’re going to figure out how to get that done. I look forward to it. The best is yet to come.”
This, to folks unfamiliar with Campbell, seemed an odd quote after a 30-point loss that ended a 3-9 rookie season.
Sure, the Mountaineers were a ranked team, but a blowout loss to end the season could have canceled out a much bigger blowout win the week before over the Red Raiders. Instead, the effects lingered.
Campbell could sense the buy-in. His players knew a fresh standard had been set — and advanced toward it.
CYCLONE FANATIC COLUMNIST BRENT BLUM: “It was critical. And if you look at the cast of characters in that game, they all performed the next year in some capacity. It was a statement win in a game that largely didn’t mean anything across college football, but it set the table for what was to come for Iowa State. I know Iowa State lost the next week against West Virginia, but if you look at Campbell’s statements after that game, people kind of looked at him like, ‘Are you really sure that you have this much confidence?’ It ended up being really prophetic, what Campbell said in that West Virginia game and I think the way that ’16 team ended set the table for everything that came the next three years.”
ALL-AMERICAN JOEL LANNING: “It proves to you what type of team you can be when we play together and we’re all on the same cylinders clicking. It definitely helps because it was towards the end of the season and, ‘Look what you can do when you’re all playing as one.’ That definitely helps you go into an offseason. Even though we lost our next week to West Virginia, it’s definitely a good mindset for you.”
**KAMARI COTTON-MOYA: “Our process is real. Our process is working. That’s one thing that goes through my mind — that our process is real and our process is actually something that we believe in. It’s something that we’re going with.”
VOICE OF THE CYCLONES JOHN WALTERS: “You could sense that the team was getting better. They were coming so close. Kansas State was a 31-26 game. They almost got Baylor, they almost got Oklahoma State. They played very competitively against a really good Oklahoma team. To finally break through against Kansas on the road the week before, I think, was just huge. That team was getting better as the season went on and I think a lot of teams do, but with that team, I think it was really important that they did it because that was Matt’s first year and you’re trying to establish something and trying to lay a foundation and everybody kind of knew realistically knew going into this season this was probably not going to be a bowl team, but just to see that progress from week to week, I think, was really encouraging for everybody in the program. I think guys — especially after the Kansas and Texas Tech games, I talked to a lot of those seniors for a feature I did last year, Julian (Good-Jones), (Marcel) Spears, Deshaunte (Jones), Collin (Olson), I talked to those guys about what a huge mental hurdle that was to clear by beating Kansas and Texas Tech late in the season — especially the way they beat Texas Tech. I think for those guys going into the next season, it catapulted them … I think (it) was critical for the program.”
The next season — with Lazard and Lanning as seniors — the Cyclones won eight games. ISU hadn’t won more than seven games in a season since going 9-3 in 2000. The rout of the Red Raiders loomed large above that future success. It mattered. How it happened mattered.
RECEIVER MARCHIE MURDOCK: “We learned how to finish the team and take their will at the same time. A lot of times we’ve had a decent amount of leads and then we kind of slip up at the end and it becomes really close. I know it’s stressful for the fans. It’s stressful for the players. That was a game where ‘You know what? You’ve got a big lead. Let’s keep it going. And let’s keep doing what we’re doing.’
WALTERS: “When I did that feature at the beginning of the (2019) season with the seniors every one of those guys said that. Julian. Marcel. Deshaunte. Collin Olson. All the guys that were seniors on last year’s team, when I talked to them about their careers and I talked to them about the Campbell era, and I said, ‘Going back to that year 2016 when you beat Kansas and you came back home and did what you did to Texas Tech, what did that do for this program?’ And all those guys said, ‘We were really starting to feel like we could compete and win games and that proved it for us. That’s what really confirmed for us all the hard work, everything we were doing in the weight room, everything we were doing for attention to detail — all those little things that coach Campbell was trying to implement, for us, that was the verification of it all. That was the point where we realized, Yes, this is happening. We are getting better as a program. We are getting better as a football team. And we can go compete with anybody.’ I think it was that mentality created — especially in that last month because those November games, that Oklahoma team was really good and Iowa State went toe-to-toe with that team. And then they went to Kansas and won and then they drilled Texas Tech. And even though they lost to West Virginia they were pretty competitive in that final game. I think that carried over. That feeling carried over to say we could have a really good year next year — and they did — and it started with what happened with the foundation that was laid with that (2016) team and that (2019) senior class.”
RECEIVER DESHAUNTE JONES: “It just kind of gave us confidence that we belong here and we’re telling every other team in the conference that we belong here. That just carried on into the next couple of seasons. We continued to work hard. We told ourselves that we’re not going to be on the losing end of those games, and we told ourselves that Iowa State isn’t going to beat Iowa State — and in some of those games we lost, that happened. So once we stopped doing that we started playing football we started being on the winning end and Iowa State stopped beating Iowa State. We started winning games and winning games and winning games. That’s what happened.”
That’s true, as we wrap up this short finish to a fun story. Winning, losing, it all gets exhausting — and inspiring. The story never ends. Details serve as bookmarks. That championship Campbell spoke of has proved elusive, but it’s within sight — no longer considered outside of the realm of possibility, both in Ames and across the Big 12.
PFF ALL-AMERICAN CORNERBACK BRIAN PEAVY: “That’s the beautiful thing about Iowa State. You can click on the tape and see. All of our games are pretty much ‘teach tapes.’ It’s rare that we don’t come out and fight. It’s rare that you can’t turn on the film and see a great example of how we were a play away, an inch away.”
FORMER AMES TRIBUNE BEAT REPORTER JOSEPH HOYT: “I was looking back at my game story from that (day) and my first lede was “Matt Campbell talks about the process a lot,” you know, and it took me one week of media to realize this. And it was obviously a phrase that, I, as a reporter kind of fixated on because I found it interesting with him. I know it’s kind of cliche, but with him, it felt different always. That game was something that showed what the process can look like when it fully comes into fruition on game day. I think when you preach something — and that’s what Matt Campbell was doing, especially when he first got there and he was trying to establish something — you’re basically saying, ‘Hey, trust me. If you follow me and if we do this, it’s eventually going to pay off.’ I think with kids and college students they need to have, eventually, some gratification for it. I think that game proved to be a pinpoint and something that Matt Campbell could turn to — and maybe not anymore, but that next season for sure — ‘Hey, you held a Heisman Trophy candidate who entered that game with 4,300 passing yards and eventually became the MVP of the NFL soon after he was drafted, you held him to what you did. You dominated him.’ I know Mahomes was hurt a little bit, too, but that’s something that he could frame and put up on his wall and anytime anyone asks him about the process and if this is actually gonna work, he could just point to it. I think that type of belief and confidence you can instill with a win like that just pays so many dividends. I think the challenge after that is (continuing) that gratification. ‘Hey, we not only did it once, but we’re doing it again and again and again.’ And at a place like Iowa State, Campbell’s been able to kind of do that. Now the question is are they going to take that next step, too, but that was huge. I thought it was a pivotal moment at the beginning of his Iowa State coaching career.”
Whats next? Living up to Campbell’s expectation of competing for a championship. The Cyclones have shown glimpses of that in the past three seasons, but haven’t been able to stay in the race all the way until the end. Will 2020 — if football is played — provide that next-level breakthrough moment? Stay tuned.
JONES: “I think a lot of the younger guys are focused and ready. I still talk to them every now and then just to see where they’re at with everything that’s going on. Just to see that everybody’s so focused to get back on the field and work on their fundamentals, so I don’t have any doubt with the young guys right now. I know they’re grinding. They’re staying focused through all the quarantine and all the things going on. I think they’re in a good place. They’ve got a lot of leaders, too. Guys like Greg Eisworth, Lawrence White, O’Rien Vance — those guys, older guys in the program can lead those younger guys. And even some younger receivers (like) Joseph Scates and Sean Shaw; Tarique Milton, Landen Akers, those guys are going to be a catapult to continue the tradition of winning at Iowa State. I know they can do that and I know those guys are working and grinding.”
HOYT (WHO NOW WORKS FOR THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS): “I ended up leaving (Ames) for professional reasons, but I had people come up to me — and I still have people come up to me because I covered Iowa State — and they’re like,’ Look at that story. Look at Matt Campbell. You should have stayed there, man. You should have stayed to follow that story.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it would have been incredible.’ I remember when I went to do this three-part series on Matt Campbell and the process and I went over to his college town and his high school town and I remember I was talking to his brother and before Matt Campbell went to Iowa State, he was obviously a talent on the rise and someone that teams figured would get a big coaching job. His brother figured that, too, and one day Matt Campbell says to his brother, Scott, ‘Hey, I’m going to go to Iowa State. I love it.’ And Scott’s like, ‘Iowa State? That’s the next step up for you?’ Obviously no disrespect to Iowa State, but I would have thought, you know, based on Campbell’s trajectory from Toledo that you would have expected something a little bit more in the upper echelon consistently in the Big 12, maybe a West Virginia recently, something like that, but no, he loved it. It’s been such a fun story to follow from afar. I follow you guys at Cyclone Fanatic. I follow (Des Moines Register reporter) Tommy (Birch). I still pay attention and I still tune in to Iowa State games in the fall on Saturdays because it’s been such an interesting story to follow and the metamorphosis has been incredible. I think it started that (day) against Texas Tech. I think that was the first step toward it. Now it’s a team that’s consistently good and a team that consistently belongs.”
Note: ** denotes a quote that was recorded immediately after the Texas Tech game, not in a recent interview.