Oct 31, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Breece Hall (28) runs in for a touchdown during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Do not play with your food.
It is one of the first rules we learn as children. We have all heard it from our parents, especially those of us who fit into the category of being picky eaters.
Do not play with your food.
Iowa State football has a playing with its food problem.
Not in the literal sense, but in the football sense and it became clear again on Saturday during a 52-22 win over Kansas that was nearly as dominant as one could have hoped prior to the game.
The qualifier of “nearly” is necessary for that prior sentence. The unfortunate reality for Iowa State football in 2020 is they continue to lack the killer instinct needed to lock up games early, pummel teams into submission well before the final buzzer or let their fans enjoy a Saturday afternoon that does not include at least two or three football induced heart attacks.
In this scenario, the Cyclones were a cat. The Jayhawks were a mouse.
Rather than eliminating their pray immediately, the cat batted the mouse around a little bit, walked away and let the mouse think the coast was clear and drug out a process that probably should have been finished earlier than it was roughly two thirds of the way through the fourth quarter.
On Saturday, the Jayhawks were the food and the Cyclones continue to have a playing with their food problem.
“I think the next step and the last step for us, and it’s hard because Iowa State’s never had it, is a killer instinct,” head coach Matt Campbell said after the game on the Cyclone Radio Network. “You’ve got to learn how to kill. We know how to fight, but it takes a special group to understand how to kill.”
Do not misconstrue what I’m saying — Iowa State was in complete control of this game in Lawrence from beginning to finish. Period. The end.
There was no doubting which team was better and there was never a moment in my mind when it felt like the momentum had flipped so heavily in Kansas’ favor that the Cyclones were in jeopardy of losing the game.
BUT, Iowa State did continue to allow Les Miles’ squad to have hope going into the fourth quarter. They did allow their fourth special teams touchdown of the season immediately after stretching their lead to three scores at the midway point of the third quarter.
Brock Purdy did throw an interception on a deep ball with roughly six minutes left in the game and the Cyclones leading by 16 points. The decision to throw (especially to throw deep into a 30 mile per hour wind) in that scenario is one I probably will never understand considering the success Breece Hall had been having running the football for most of the day, but it allowed a Kansas offense that had just marched down the field for a touchdown a few minutes earlier an opportunity to potentially bring the game to within one score.
In the end, this was still Kansas and the Jayhawks never really seriously threatened Iowa State’s hold on the game, ultimately going three and out on that possession, before Hall sprinted 58 yards down the sideline for his second touchdown of the day on Iowa State’s first play of the next series.
All of those things in isolation are obviously somewhat concerning, especially since the special teams deal is more than just blips on the radar and is becoming a trend at this point, but in this game it was an illustration of one big problem Iowa State has at this point.
The Cyclones love to play with their food too much.
“This is a program that has no idea how to kill,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to figure out how to kill so we can take the next step.”
Something like throwing the deep pass in that scenario is something I highly doubt Iowa State would try to do against any other team besides Kansas. It was like an opportunity to make some big time highlights and try out some fancy new stuff was seen so they tried to take advantage of it.
Does that fall on Purdy? Does it fall on offensive coordinator Tom Manning? Does it fall on Campbell?
I have no idea at this point.
That said, it is something that leaves me with one eyebrow raised heading into November with the Cyclones squarely in the hunt for a berth in the Big 12 title game. The first step in that process comes next Saturday when Baylor visits Jack Trice Stadium for a kick under the lights.
As I write this, the Bears trail TCU 27-0 and appear to be somewhere between Texas Tech and Kansas in quality. Simply put, Baylor is not a team competing for a trip to the Big 12 title game and should be a team relatively easily dispatched by the Cyclones.
The problem is…
The Cyclones like to play with their food too much.
And while playing with your food might cut it against Kansas or potentially even Baylor, the reality is after a bye week on Nov. 14, a big game against Kansas State and an even bigger road trip to Austin, Texas loom large on the schedule.
“I’m excited and proud of our kids and where we are. I also know the daunting task of we’ve been here and I know what we want to become and I know what’s against us and the challenge at hand,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to get back to work, correct some of those little things, but, man, some guys made some great plays today.”
Playing with your food might be okay when your the cat chasing a mouse — and the Cyclones proved that on Saturday.
But, November is coming and brings even bigger challenges with it.
In facing those challenges, the Cyclones will be forced to prove whether they are a house cat or a lion. House cats play with their food. Lions know when to go for the kill.
And until proven otherwise, the Cyclones have a playing with their food problem.