Matt Campbell’s first season roaming the sidelines in Ames was full of ups and downs. While his team ended up with an underwhelming 3-9 record, there were still a lot of positives (and negatives), and ALWAYS something to work on for next season.
Year in Review
Starting off the year with in-state Super Bowl rival UNI, everyone was drinking the Matt Campbell kool-aid. The young energetic staff was frequenting social media with dope hype videos and we heard nothing but positive vibes in the locker room.
Then the season kicked off.
And ISU got their butts kicked by an FCS program with 22 less scholarships that ended the year with a 5-6 record.
What ISU thought they were getting, versus what they ended up with
But we hadn’t quite hit rock bottom.
Lowest Point of the Season
Yes, the game in Iowa City was by far this team’s worst performance. The offensive game plan was called well, but the execution was inept, and before you know it the team had dug themselves a 28-3 hole.
At this point, everyone was calling the offensive line one of the school’s worst ever, and we were all wondering if this 36-year old coach was in way over his head.
Trust in the Process
I listened to every one of Coach Campbell’s press conferences, and was just blown away by his demeanor and attitude. This man loves competition, practice and the days leading up to the game. He talked time and again that your Monday through Friday is what allows you to be successful on Saturday. It was clear he is never satisfied, and also never ever afraid to call anyone out (as evidenced by his words about Mike Warren after the Iowa game), but my favorite quote from the man is:
“The scoreboard will take care of itself. It always does.”
All Aboard the Hype Train
All of a sudden, something started clicking, and the offense came alive. Joel Lanning started playing like a modern-age Joe Montana, and the defense slowly improved each week.
While ISU lost leads to the scum that is Baylor and Oklahoma State in successive weeks, there was still a lot to be excited about. David Montgomery had supplanted Mike Warren as the lead back, and the offensive line had started to hit its stride. On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary continued to carry the front seven on its back, and we saw glimpses of greatness from the likes of Jhaustin Thomas, Kamari Cotton-Moya and D’Andre Payne.
Week in and week out, ISU lost games by much less than they were expected to, and garnered in this age of trophies-for-everyone what are called “moral victories.” While Campbell was breaking participation trophies over his head, this staff slowly won over the hearts of the Cyclone faithful, and the stands continued to fill up, albeit with more drunken stupors and beer bongs at halftime.
The Losing Streak
Although ISU was competitive with their next few opponents, they still ended up on the losing train. In four of those five consecutive losses, ISU still covered the spread, which told you one thing: the team was still playing hard. (And Vegas isn’t always right.)
Then came the best slump buster in the history of mankind: Kansas.
ISU didn’t play its best game against the fighting Jayhawks, but they did just enough to win their first conference road game since 2013. Allen Lazard shined brightly for the good guys, and by this time Jacob Park and his wonderful hair was starting at quarterback. Park brought a spark to the offense, leading it to school-record highs in points and yards gained per conference game.
The LanRam Game
Texas Tech came to town with a high-powered offense, but an insecure mental toughness. What ISU did was absolutely dominate every facet of the game, putting up a school-record 66 points, led by Joel “LanRam” Lanning and his FIVE rushing touchdowns. The culmination of the effort was the fact that the defense held Texas Tech and their usual video-game type numbers to 10 points.
Fans were so excited they were drinking bleach
Going into the season, everyone was talking about Allen Lazard, and boy did he live up to the hype. The 6-foot-5 junior led the team in all receiving categories, and was named 1st Team All-Big 12 by the coaches. As the year went on, David Montgomery got stronger, and the first-year running back led all rushers with 563 yards and a stunning 5.2 yards per carry. Montgomery showed flashes of brilliance with his hard running style and breakaway speed, and will be one to watch for years to come.
On the defensive side, I was pleasantly surprised by the play of senior Jhaustin Thomas. The transfer finally bought into the system and it showed on the field, as he led the team in tackles-for-loss and sacks. Kamari Cotton-Moya was named 2nd Team All-Big 12, and deservedly so. The junior captain was all over the field, especially offering support in the run game from the safety position. This young and vaunted secondary (led by D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy) was one of the best in the conference this season.
And how can we forget about Cole Netten. The senior from Ankeny was in the top-10 nationally in field-goal percentage all year, and ended the season making 16 of 17 kicks. He also grabbed a place on the All-Big 12 1st Team.
Positions to Work On
The lack of depth up front on both lines absolutely killed this team, especially late in games. We have very little talent on the defensive front, and lose three starting seniors. The offensive line was patched together as the season went on, but was still below average for Big 12 standards.
The linebacking corps also had its lapses, and with their lack in quick decisions and slow feet, they were burnt for multiple big plays. That will have to be looked at by the coaching staff, and I see a new crew filling in there for 2017.
The Look Ahead
After losing to West Virginia in the last game of the season, the team ended the year at 3-9. Respectable for a first-year coaching staff, and especially one that is trying to change the culture so dramatically. The 2017 class of recruits is already one of the best in ISU history, and is full of offensive linemen and defensive backs.
The team loses 22 seniors, and 12 of those were starters in the last game of the year. Campbell has made it clear he is not afraid to over-recruit certain positions, and he loves competition. The gun chamber is not empty for next year though, as our three-headed monster on offense returns, and I foresee the Park/Lanning duo continuing. The receiving corps is loaded, but this team will need to bolster its beef up front with some new faces on the line, and possibly another grad transfer or JUCO prospect.
On the defensive side, we bring in two JUCO defensive tackles who will start from day one, and I am real excited what we have in store from JaQuan Bailey for ’17. The secondary is rich in speed and talent, but the linebackers need some new speed.
All in all, it is clear that Campbell is tailoring his “Players, Formations, Plays” mantra from the inside-out. He wants to bring in physical offensive linemen who can allow us to dictate the tempo with a ground-and-pound rushing attack. The defense will continue to add speed as it needs to keep up with pass-happy Big 12 offenses, but we will have to win games in the trenches (and the defensive line).