Matt Campbell and ISU staff focused on ‘filling the gaps’ after first losing season since 2016

 AMES — Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell took his seat and began mentally dissecting what just happened.

 The date: Nov. 26, 2022.

 The site: A tarmac in the vicinity of Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

 The situation: The dam had just burst for the Cyclones after a season filled with close losses ended with a 62-14 lambasting delivered by TCU.

 “The things that got you beat in one of those one-score games got you embarrassed by a really good football team,” Campbell said during Friday’s media day that also featured a handful of players, but no assistant coaches. “Turning the football over. A couple of special teams errors. A couple big plays in some critical moments, so I think it was just really revealing (in terms of) what gaps do we need to continue to fill right now and continue to move ourselves forward.”

 ISU had just suffered through its first losing season since 2016 — but a harsher blow was yet to come.

 Campbell stood at the podium Friday just three days after news broke that last year’s starting quarterback, Hunter Dekkers, was facing charges relating to the Iowa Division of Investigation’s inquiry into gambling. Campbell didn’t comment on the allegations against Dekkers, but did address the issue generally.

 “I know that’s been a hot topic in this state and certainly in our football program,” Campbell said. “I understand those questions that you guys would have, but what I would tell you is this is obviously an ongoing NCAA and an ongoing legal investigation. I’m empathetic to you guys because I know all of you have a job to do and I get it. I’m also empathetic to the young people and our families that are going through all of this, and the reality of it is is we just are not allowed to talk about any of those things (with) you.”

 Dekkers could lose all remaining NCAA eligibility and is not with the team. He refutes the allegations. Just how many teammates could also be accused of NCAA, but not legal, infractions is unclear, and Campbell declined to comment on who specifically is not practicing through two days of fall camp. He did note, however, that running back Jirehl Brock is out for undisclosed reasons.

 “I would say the majority of our football team’s practicing and on the football field right now,” Campbell said.

 That’s what he’s focusing on — and for obvious reasons. The Cyclones lost six games by seven or fewer points last season because of a litany of issues spanning turnover margin, special teams gaffes, uneven offensive line play and much more. Digging into how that happened, not why, command’s Campbell’s focus. So does a three-way quarterback competition that will likely remain unsettled for a while.

  Returning backup Rocco Becht looks to be the early leader because of his experience, but he’s being pushed by four-star freshman and early enrollee J.J. Kohl. Add dual-threat junior college transfer Tanner Hughes into the mix and Campbell’s convinced whomever emerges as the No. 1 quarterback will be fall camp-tested and game-ready for the Sept. 2 opener against Northern Iowa.

 “Competition drives the product,” Campbell said. “The cream always rises to the top. I feel like at times when we’ve gotten in trouble here is when — and it’s natural — there’s almost an entitlement to, ‘Oh, I’m the guy.’ The next thing you know, that growth plateaus.”

 Just like a once-promising season’s fortunes can. Just like in 2022 when everything that could go wrong generally did at crucial junctures. Just like that humbling day at TCU, one that sent Campbell rifling through his bag for an inspirational book — one that serves both as a guidepost through tumultuous times and a blueprint for renewing success.

 “We use the book, Chop Wood, Carry Water, in our football program,” Campbell said. “We give it to every one of the kids that comes into our program and I take that book with me. And in the back of the book, I had etched, after the first year that I read it, ‘When you focus on the roots and not on the fruits, we’ve certainly been at our best.’ I thought, probably, if I was praying for clarity at that time, I certainly got clarity in the TCU game of where we were and maybe where we need to continue to grow forward.”