Football

GRAY: Iowa State’s defense deserved better Saturday. Much, much better.

Iowa State’s defensive end Will McDonald celebrates after taking down Iowa’s quarterback Spencer Petras during the first quarter in the Cy-Hawk series at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.© Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell didn’t mince words.

 No, it wasn’t “lucky” that No. 10 Iowa forced four turnovers from his ninth-ranked Cyclones in Saturday’s surreally anti-climactic 27-17 Hawkeyes win.

 No, it’s not “lucky” that Iowa has not committed a single turnover in the past five meetings — helping to form a six-game win streak in the series.

 And no, it’s not remotely “unlucky” that the Cyclones’ offense and special teams failed to execute competently after a stunningly (and historically) great effort from the defense.

 It’s become completely predictable — especially in the Cy-Hawk game — and it’s both perplexing and deeply disappointing.

 But “luck” has absolutely nothing to do with it. 

 “The ball just doesn’t bounce your way (on its own), right?” Campbell said. “I think that’s total BS. I always have and I always will. You make the ball bounce your way and unfortunately for whatever we’re lacking right now — (it’s) not good players. Not quality coaches. But something’s — we’re a hair off.”

 Not on the defensive side of the ball.

The Cyclones did something to the Hawkeyes it hadn’t done in 39 years — held them to less than 200 yards of offense.

 Iowa managed just 173 total yards, its lowest total in the Cy-Hawk series since 1982. 

 Matt Campbell was a toddler when ISU won that game 19-7. Heck, the Sony Walkman had only been out for three years. So the Cyclones’ defense was historically good, which meant the offense and special teams had to be extraordinarily bad.

 Sadly, they were. All four of ISU’s turnovers put Iowa in business on the plus-side of the field — and one, a scoop and score when Iowa was clinging to its 14-10 halftime lead, deflated most of the sellout crowd at Jack Trice Stadium.

 That’s not bad luck. That’s poor execution. And how’s this for a stat: The Hawkeyes lost six yards in the third quarter … all while building what became an insurmountable 24-10 lead.

 “We beat ourselves when it comes to this moment,” ISU defensive lineman Enyi Uwazurike said. “Today we made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have.”

 It’s hard to even count them all. But the turnovers are the glaring one. Iowa scored 20 of its 27 points off of them. There were dropped passes. Bad throws. Untimely penalties. Poor decisions. It’s hard to find a bright spot — except in the defense, which repeatedly put the offense and special teams in positions to succeed.

 “I’ve been here long enough and in this situation, we always bounce back,” linebacker Jake Hummel said. “The offense, I know they’re going to get their — you know, they’re going to get back on track. There’s no doubt in my mind. We’re gonna keep loving those guys. On defense, we’re not perfect either. We can correct things, too.”

 They always do. If anyone based their 2020 expectations on the season-opening loss to Louisiana, they would not have been able to imagine the Cyclones beating Oklahoma in the regular season,  narrowly losing to the Sooners in the Big 12 title game and then thumping Oregon in its first-ever New Year’s Six Bowl.

 Luck doesn’t make that happen. Work — and trust — allows that type of immense growth to occur. ISU’s defense can lead the way, but it can’t be lapping the other units.

 History tells us it won’t. The offense will come along. Special teams issues will be ironed out. None of that makes Saturday’s bitter pill any easier to swallow, but it may aid the digestion.

 “Everything we want is in front of us still,” said Hummel, who had one of the Cyclones’ four sacks. “we can still go get it.”

 Yes, they can. Perhaps they will. But luck will have no bearing on it.

 “We’ve got the right guys in that locker room to maneuver through tough and trying times,” Campbell said. “I have great belief in that locker room. I’ve got great belief in our leadership and certainly our seniors. But yet we’re gonna have to do it, too, right? And it’s kind of like I said going into this game, you’re never guaranteed in life your hopes and dreams just because, man, you work really hard and you’re really good. At some point you’ve got to stand up and demand it. There’s gotta be a sense of urgency in terms of doing those things, so whether that’s from my end, whether that’s from our leadership end, I think as a collective whole, it’s gonna be really fun to see what happens as we respond through tough and trying times right now.”

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