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Cyclone Sports Journal

Random thoughts about Iowa State Athletics

Updated: 2017-12-16T05:52:35.873-06:00




It is appropriate that Iowa State now plays Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" at the 3rd quarter break, as it describes the attitude of the football program under Coach Campbell.

Given Iowa State's lack of both football budget and tradition, the CSJ staff has low expectations for Cyclone Football. All we ask is to get yourself within one score in the 4th, and find a way to win half of those games. So far this season they are 2-2 in those games, and the second half has been the better half for this team.

Don't back down.

Don't Blink


This football team has had plenty of moments to fold, to collapse, to blink.

The last three games, they have not.

On physical ability, this team scores above average for Iowa State football.

Schematically they have the right mix of matching players abilities to the jobs that needs doing.

But it's the mental stability of this group has been most remarkable. Press on in the face of adversity. Run your stuff. Find a way.

I don't recall an Iowa State football team this patient with itself. It's putting Cyclone fan in unknown territory, walking a new road. This may not be the fool's errand a few other season have been.

Enjoy the ride. We've waited a while.



That's what a serious, focused football program should do.

A wet track and bad opponent deserved a vanilla offensive plan, and the offense looked it. But KU bumbled their way into the least impressive blowout you will ever see. The stats don't describe how much of a mismatch the game was.

The next four games- Tech, TCU, WVU, Okie State- are a serious upgrade in quality, and provide four opportunities to break through to the middle of the conference standings.

Being able to say maybe is a great change of pace.



A typical Cyclone football team of the past would follow an epic win with an inexplicable loss.

The 1990 team followed their win in Norman with a blowout loss at home to Nebraska and a horrid loss on the road to Kansas State. The next year KSU went 7-4 and went to a bowl game, so that win was an early sign of progress for Snyder.

The great 2005 team allowed Baylor to break a 37 game B12 road losing streak in Ames.

I expect a long slog on a wet track against KU. Here's hoping we aren't too grumpy at the end.



If the Oklahoma press is calling it "The worst loss in Sooner history", then it has to be the best win in Iowa State history.

Given the premise before kickoff, agreed.

Here's hoping it's not an outlier.

Just Good Enough To Not Get Blown Out


In Normal Times of Cyclone Football, Texas beats the Iowa States of the world 45-10.

Apparently we are not living in Normal Times, as Texas is ordinary and some believe Iowa State improved- which explains losing 17-7 and not 45-10.

Considering that Texas spending on football probably exceeds Iowa State spending on sports, keeping it interesting into the 4th quarter can be considered an achievement.

Progress can be odd sometimes.

Regardless, without a win against Iowa or Texas, the bowl math gets very difficult, and would be a triple-bank-shot of some kind.

Just keep grinding and hopefully the improvement becomes real.

Gap Closed


It was nice to push The Team From Out East to their limit for a change. The talent gap has closed, and the knowledge of what the plan is has clearly improved from 12 games ago.

But the Cyclones still found a way to lose a game they should have won.

Horseshoes and hand grenades is ISU's strength under Campbell. At some point they have to push through.

But it's more fun to be standing at the corner than looking for a corner ahead.

Measuring Sticks


The benefit of starting the season with the same opponents as last year is that it's easy to measure progress.

The solid win over UNI was a vast departure from 2016. Improvement.

CSJ staff still isn't convinced that the ISU defense can stop a quality running game, and they will see a quality running game this week.

CSJ also isn't convinced the offense can score against a quality defense, and they will see a quality defense this week.

CSJ thinks the Cyclones lose by 14. So it goes. You get what you pay for.

Somehow They Find Six


Clearly, the Cyclone's Bowl Cake will be baked in September.

Find 3 wins out of the first 4 and they are in good shape. Several winnable games out there against teams with question marks.

Football trended up from week 3 of 2016, and 2017 has plenty of yardsticks to measure if the trend is still positive.

There will be an upset along the way, and at least two "should have won that" losses. It's The Cyclone Way. But six wins will be found, and a bowl trip to perk up the holidays.



The further away we get from basketball, the more I think we won't see a run like that again.

So entertaining, so maddening, so close to new heights.

It wasn't that they won so many games, it was how many they pulled out of the fire with ridiculous finishes. That's what made the 6 year run so remarkable.

Cherish it.

Hello Again


Welcome back to the randomly published blog. So many distractions-

Maddeningly Entertaining


I suspect the basketball season is going to be maddeningly entertaining. Every game will be a cliffhanger regardless of the quality of opponent. There will be as many thrilling upsets as head scratching clunkers (Exhibit A: Iowa City).

BYO Tums.



Sometimes you win (SJS, KU, Tech)

Sometimes you lose (UNI, Baylor, Okie State, KSU)

Sometime you just get beat (SUI, TCU, OU, WVU)

Get better winning the close ones and the Cyclones will be on to something.

That works


Trucking a team by 56 in record fashion, a team that beat you by 30+ the year before?

Maybe there is something to The Process people keep talking about.

Corner turned?

Big Finish


Quite the turnaround after a lousy first half. The key was the response once KU went up 24-16:

ISU: 10/80 TD
KU: 5/10 Punt
ISU: 5/70 TD
KU: 10/42 Downs
ISU: 13/42 FG
KU: 2/2 INT
ISU: 3/-14 End of game

That's how you finish. A needed change from the endings earlier in the season.


Punching Above Their Weight


Our Cyclones are becoming The-Team-You-Don't-Want-To-Play, but their mistakes are keeping them from grabbing the wins they are close to earning.

ISU: 4 dropped passes, all would have been first downs
OU: 0 drops

ISU: At least 4 wild overthrows of open receivers, each would have been a first down or TD
OU: 0 overthrows

ISU: 3 3-and-outs
OU: 1 3-and-out

Those little differences were what won it for OU. Better talent, fewer mistakes.

The Horse Latitudes


Cyclone Football finds itself stuck in windless territory. Enough talent and skill to compete, not enough talent and skill and mental capacity to win. Danny Mac spent a decade in this space, with only a few wins to show for it. CPR had dozens of close calls, but never broke through for an extended period.

Now it's Campbell's turn to try and round the corner and get to more interesting territory.



Be decent at football before the next big conference realignment happens. Hoops doesn't carry the broadcast rights mail.



The Process is trending positive faster than expected. Now comes the hard part.

Iowa State took a 14 point lead five times. Going up 21 would have won the game. Gaining a few first downs in the fourth might have won the game.

Campbell and staff now have to exercise the "find a way to lose" demons from the football team pshyche, and it won't give up easily. Pulling that off will be their toughest coaching job.

The good news is that the team and fans now know they have a punchers chance in every game. Wins must follow.

My Uniform Complaint


I am a bit of a uniform geek, but within reason. Want to mix up your look? Great! Want to add colors that are not part of your normal palette? Bzzzzzz! Thanks for playing.

I ranted about this years ago, so here is my definition of the uniform sandbox the team can play in at home:

Red/Red/Gold: Classic home look. Wear this most of the time.
Red/Red/Red: Good alternate for home.
Red/Gold/Red: Garish, but given the alternatives for alternatives, it sure beats grey/grey.
Red/Gold/Gold: A nice throwback to what ISU wore in the 20's.
Gold/Gold/Gold: I would love a gold helmet, especially with the Criner-era logo.
Gold/Red/Gold: Another great look.

Lots of options there. Now on the road:

Red/White/Red: My preferred road kit.
Red/White/Gold: Another classic look.
White/White/Red: If the players want a white helmet, pair it with red pants.
Gold/White/Gold: Another good look that goes back to the awesome Bruce teams of the 70's.

Two pairings to avoid: The all-white look does nothing for me, and I don't want to see white pants and helmets at home. As long as the jerseys have gold numbers, white pants or helmets don't work.

My $.02.

Iowa State Knows The Way (To Beat) San Jose


That was the Register headline from a win over SJS back in the 80's. I salute anyone who can quote Bacharach in their writing.

Everyone agrees there is visible improvement out there. Fewer penalties, fewer mistakes that result in big plays (or big plays erased), less thinking and more doing. With 60 (!) Freshmen and Redshirt Freshmen on the roster, there is a lot of player development going on in front of us. It's going to be uneven, so every positive needs to be acknowledged.

But the grey uniforms- oof. Those are hideous.

The Grind


This is where the season gets hard mentally. A winnable game is followed by several that probably are not, yet the team needs to improve as individuals and as a group.

Keep grinding. It's the only road out.



Hopefully the All-White uniform combo is now so tainted it will never be worn again. It was 11 White Flags of Surrender running around last night.

I am optimistic that Campbell will have a better start than 4-19, like another now worshiped coach began his tenure back in the last century.

We now have some solid baseline performance data. Get back to work.

Less Of The Same


We will see big improvement from the offensive line tonight, maybe even a competent running game, so the game won't be the wipeout many expect. There may even be moments of hope.

But there will be enough stupid mistakes at critical times to keep ISU on the losing end. Iowa by 10.

Feedback Loops


During my time in business school, there was a lot of discussion about feedback loops, both positive and negative, and how they can effect your organization. A manager must be willing to examine every part of his organization and operation to maximize the areas of strength and fix the areas that need repair.

Good managers do this well and it is part of their success. Bad managers ignore weaknesses they are uncomfortable changing, or strike too close to home, and those weaknesses are a drag on the company.

Which brings me to Bill Fennely. I attended dozens of women's basketball games at Iowa State before his tenure, and his program is light years ahead of his predecessors. I assume a program with continued success closely examines everything it does and changes any part that isn't working: an in-bounds play that fails to work, a bad defense against an opposing star, poor match-ups between players, how well an assistant breaks down tape or recruits, and on and on and on. Fix the problems or find a new gig, sometimes out of basketball.

Fennely's public reaction to a racial discrimination suit by a former player gives me pause, however. The "I've done nothing wrong" stance may be a smart legal strategy, and will play well to supporters, but I hope it is not the official line behind closed doors.

Fennely has an opportunity to improve as a coach, as the people around him will be most open at this exact moment. He needs to reach out to as many former players and staff as possible and ask "How can I not cause this level of rancor with a player in the future?". The solution isn't to abandon his coaching style completely and try to be a "player's coach", but I suspect it is in dialing back what he does with individual players a few degrees. Deliver criticism succinctly, and then move on. Demand what you have always demanded, but with a bit more restraint in the delivery.

If an assistant coach was being sued, that assistant would be expected to change or would be dismissed. For a program to be healthy and succeed, the same must be asked of the head coach too.