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Football

NO PANIC: The Cyclones’ penchant for bouncing back helps buoy hopes for Big 12 opener

Sep 12, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell watches the clock expire after his team lost to the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns at Jack Trice Stadium. The Ragin Cajuns beat the Cyclones 31 to 14. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The confidence and determination oozed through the speakers.

 A hint of defiance was added for good measure.

 Iowa State tight end Chase Allen’s tone of voice underscored all those don’t-count-us-out qualities as he described the Cyclones’ bitter disappointment in the wake of the 31-14 season-opening loss to No. 19 Louisiana.

“No one’s panicking,” Allen said after the game. “We still have faith that we’re really explosive and really powerful. We’ve just got to figure out how to get into those positions and we will. We’ve done it before.”

 That they have, which is both encouraging and discouraging as ISU’s first Big 12 game week nears its conclusion.

 The Cyclones will play TCU at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in a partially-filled Amon Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. 

 And Allen wasn’t just arranging words into feel-good sentences two weeks ago.

 Just ask ISU coach Matt Campbell, who saw his team arrive back at practice the following Monday flashing steely eyes and heartfelt resolve, not glazed expressions and thinly-disguised anxiety.

“The second we walked into that locker room it wasn’t Matt Campbell asking, ‘Does anybody have anything to say?’” Campbell said this week during a teleconference with the media. “It was the leadership of our football team immediately addressing the game. That’s huge.”

 They’ve done this before.

In Campbell’s first season, the Cyclones started 0-3 but closed the season by winning two of their last three games.

 In 2017, ISU started 1-1 before reeling off four straight Big 12 wins — beginning with the monumental upset triumph at Oklahoma.

 In year three of the Campbell era, the Cyclones lost the opportunity to play a season opener because of weather, then started 1-3 before winning five straight games.

 Last season, the Cyclones stood at 2-2 — with losses to Iowa and Baylor coming by a combined three points, but surged to three straight Big 12 wins after those near-misses.

 And what win ignited that three-game string of success?

 The Cyclones’ 49-24 thrashing of the Horned Frogs, who will make their season debut on Saturday.

 But will a lack of film of TCU’s largely new offense in terms of personnel be an issue?

Unlikely, ISU star linebacker Mike Rose indicated.

 “You prepare the same way you did for week one,” Rose said. ”You look at film from last year. You can even go back (to) two to three years of film against them and that’s something that’s nice about TCU, is we’ve played them for two to three years running the same defense. So, those games are very helpful in preparing for a week like this.”

 Every week is always different. Even moreso during this COVID-19 pandemic. But uncertainty rarely rattles the Cyclones. 

 They’ve done this before. 

 “We need to own our mistakes and then go into practice and correct those mistakes,” said tailback Kene Nwangwu, who scored his first non-kick return touchdown in the season-opening loss.

 By all accounts, that’s how ISU has approached the practices bridging the gap from a dispiriting week one to this Big 12 opener.

 There’s no panic. Only purpose, locked arms and one strong, resolute voice.

 “I think that’s where we’ve grown in four or five years, and to hear a guy like Greg Eisworth speak, to hear a guy like JaQuan Bailey speak, to hear a guy like Chase Allen speak and put perspective and reality to what had just occurred — and then to watch our football team come back and as much as there are unique challenges to the season and maybe what had come prior to that football game, there were still some moments within that football game that you can reflect on and say, ‘Why and what has challenged us to take the next step of playing with the consistency that we need to play with here?’ Campbell said. “I think the ability to stay within our discipline and not leave and lean on our default (is key). I think default says things get really tough, things get really trying (and) you end up doing your own thing and you end up doing what you’re not coached to do and maybe it’s that moment that cost you the game. The discipline is, man, it gets really hard, it gets really trying and I stay within the fundamental technique. I think for us it’s a lot more about that than it has to do with any scheme. … I think it’s the ability to play with great discipline and within our discipline to be the best we can be.”

 They’ve done this before.

And here we go again — it’s hoped — in a good way.

“The bye week gave us a chance to continue to practice the sport of football,” Campbell said. “From our standpoint, that was really big because we need to get our guys to where we want them to be. I don’t want to say it was another week of fall camp, per se, but it felt like we were continuing to evaluate ourselves and mold ourselves as a football team, moving forward. We got to see a lot of where we are and where we’re not from the game two weeks ago. It was invaluable for us to continue to grow.”

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