Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell reacts after a fumble recovery and touchdown during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019 in Ames. After a two hour rain delay, Iowa State would take a 21-3 lead over TCU into halftime. © Brian Powers/The Register, Des Moines Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Nothing comes easy.
A month ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Iowa State’s season — let alone a season opener — would be squashed under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic along with all of college football, but the Big 12, ACC and SEC called an audible and suddenly here we are: Less than one day away from the No. 23 Cyclones’ 11 a.m. season kickoff (ESPN) against Louisiana at Jack Trice Stadium.
Football will be played. Fans will have to stay away — for now, at least — but it’s “game on” and that’s a resounding win at this point.
“Were we going to play, were we not going to play?” star Cyclone quarterback Brock Purdy said this week about the topsy-turvy lead-up to the season. “There was a lot of uncertainty a month or so ago. But then when we got that final word that we were going to have a season, then everyone had the mindset of, ‘Ok, we just need to keep doing what we’re doing.’ … Coach (Matt Campbell) kept us on track from spring break all the way up to this point. Coach has done a good job of keeping everybody aligned and he made sure we were talking to each other. We stayed connected and got into the playbook and then right when we got back for summer, everyone looked sharp and everyone knew what we were doing. We had to work through some kinks but that’s just because we were off from football for three or four months. But going into this game, everyone looks good.”
Iowa State Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard sounded the all-clear alarm on Twitter late Friday morning, as well. Testing went well. Football is happening.
“Just heard from @RaginCajunsFB Athletics Director that they just got clearance from @Big12Conference testing agency to load the plane. There will be football in Ames tomorrow!” Pollard wrote in a Tweet.
So here we are. Again, nothing comes easy — in the world of once-in-a century pandemics, or the much smaller space known and the season opener.
Since 2013, the Cyclones are 3-3 in home openers, with one (South Dakota State in 2018) ending in a thunder-clapped cancellation.
So now that the tension caused by pandemic has eased in terms of the football season, it’s important to note that even in the best of times, these first games tend to be sweaty-palmed events.
Couple that with the fact that the experienced and confident Ragin’ Cajuns feature one of the nation’s most explosive offenses and Saturday’s opener becomes a perfect litmus test for how well ISU has handled everything — safety protocols, film study and fully-padded fall camp — in the past several months.
“I think we’ve worked really hard, at least in physical preparation, to be ready to play,” Campbell said. “Now some of those other things, it doesn’t matter what the year is or where you’re at, you just don’t know until the lights come on. It’s going to be really interesting at 11 o’clock here on Saturday to watch our football team play. For me to sit here and say, ‘I know where we’re at’ — I couldn’t tell you that. I know what kind of veterans we have and I know the work they’ve put in. I felt like our execution has been really crisp and sharp throughout fall camp but man, are we going to get out and tackle well? Are we going to take care of the football? Can we do those things in the first game when you haven’t done it? I don’t know. “Those are the challenges and those are the things where it’s great to have a week of preparation to make sure we do everything in our power to make sure we’re ready to do those things. Those things are critical, especially when you’re talking about two teams that are really even across the board. You’ll find out a lot about us on Saturday and I’ll find out a lot about us on Saturday as well. From a physical point of preparation and a mental point of preparation, I think our kids have done a wonderful job.”
The Cyclones haven’t faced an offense of Louisiana’s caliber in a season opener since they battled then-No. 3 Florida State in 2002 at Arrowhead Stadium. That, of course, was the “Seneca (Wallace) was in” game that ended in a controversial 38-31 loss.
Past is not present, but it often serves a signpost for what lies ahead. Flashback to last season’s opener — a 29-26 triple-overtime win over arch-first week nemesis, Northern Iowa. The Cyclones trailed 26-23 when Sheldon Croney fumbled near the goal line. Purdy dove in to somehow snatch the ball up before Panther defenders could fall on it. Croney strode into the end zone to win the game on the next play.
Again, nothing comes easy — especially this time of year. Expecting anything different tomorrow is inviting frustration. But heck, we know that’s part of the fun of college football fandom — enjoying the highs and lamenting the lows.
The Cyclones, as always, seek to avoid straddling that pendulum Saturday. Will they? Won’t they? Hard to say. The only certainty is, yes, football will finally be played, which is a win in itself.
“We don’t know a lot of stuff that’s going to come,” Purdy said. “Reaching our potential is just going to come with playing games. After a couple of games, we’ll figure that out and see where we’re at.”