Oklahoma week is here for Iowa State football.
In one of the biggest games since Campbell has taken over the Cyclones program, Iowa State's Big 12 Championship hopes rest on an upset over the No. 10 Sooners. Coming off a bye week, Matt Campbell discussed health; his counterpart and former teammate Alex Grinch; and CeeDee Lamb's energy.
Let's go through some quick hitters from his Tuesday press conference.
Oklahoma's new defense
Disaster loss to Kansas State aside, the Sooners have looked improved on the defensive side of the ball — in large part due to a new direction under defensive coordinator Grinch, who was an assistant with Ohio State last year.
Grinch built his pedigree at Washington State, transforming a previously-bad defensive unit and making it a strength for Mike Leach's team.
Grinch was also a college teammate of Campbell at Mount Union, where they were both on the defensive side of the ball.
Campbell said he knew right away he could be a good coach.
"Alex was, I think, very similar to the way I approached football," Campbell said. "[Grinch was] also a guy that really studied the nuances of football."
Campbell added that the Sooners' defense has shown a shift in mentality from prior coaching, with players flying around and a better energy on tape.
The bye week for the Cyclones came at a critical time, with injuries to key players and a general week for rest allowing the Cyclones to get to what Campbell called "a great place."
The most important development he had was on the health of Greg Eisworth, the junior safety and anchor of the Iowa State defense. Eisworth has been hobbled by a shoulder injury, which caused him to miss time against Texas Tech and re-injure the shoulder in the Oklahoma State game.
Campbell on the best way to defend Jalen Hurts: "Everyone is trying to figure that out to be honest with you." He calls Hurts a "physical specimen".— Matt Belinson (@BelinsonMatt) November 5, 2019
Campbell said Eisworth will "definitely be ready" for the game against Oklahoma.
It's a big boost for the Cyclones, as grad transfer safety Justin Bickham said the Cyclones could rely on his ability to make plays on the back end.
"We all look at him as a leader; even though he's a junior he acts like a senior," Bickham said. "He brings a certain type of energy that players can just gravitate towards."
Containing CeeDee Lamb and Jalen Hurts
With a record-breaking offense over the past few seasons, Oklahoma's identity is still in the hands of offensive wunderkind Lincoln Riley — so that means the Sooners are filled with dynamic athletes and a Heisman candidate transfer quarterback, right? Right.
Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts has taken over the keys to the car, and he's been largely unstoppable. In fact, the Sooners' attack is more efficient than last year's record-breaking offense was with Kyler Murray.
His top target in the passing game has been junior wideout CeeDee Lamb, who has the potential to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft should he go pro. Plays like the touchdown (shown below) against Texas and a 70-yard score against the Wildcats highlight his massive big-play potential.
Campbell said he knows the team will have difficulties trying to stop the duo.
Marcel Spears said Hurts' ability to hurt a defense with the pass and the run makes it hard to guess what he'll do next.
"You really don't know what he's going to do, just because he's that caliber of player," Spears said. "You just prepare for him appropriately."
Penalties and the margins
Campbell always preaches about winning in the margins — something that has let the Cyclones down in each of their three losses this year.
A muffed punt against Iowa, a glut of penalties against Baylor and missed tackles against Oklahoma State have cost Iowa State dearly. But the Cyclones still rank at the top of the Big 12 in least penalties per game, and Campbell said it was a credit to the team's commitment to the margins.
"That's who we are," Campbell said. "The margins are what allow us to win or lose games."
Marcel Spears says Iowa State is focusing on "winning in the margins" against Oklahoma. pic.twitter.com/mmkG9uoRd1— Matt Belinson (@BelinsonMatt) November 5, 2019
According to tight end Charlie Kolar, the margins are what let Iowa State down against Oklahoma State.
The redshirt sophomore said the team used the bye week to reflect and adjust.
"It's nice to get some time to reflect on the first eight games of the season, watch film from that and pick up some details," Kolar said.