In a blowout win against Big 12 rival TCU last Saturday, Iowa State was able to get a solid performance from Brock Purdy on the ground and the defense won the turnover battle, but the biggest win for the Cyclones might have come from something away from the stat sheet.
Iowa State had fun again.
After being shut down by Baylor for a majority of its conference opener, Iowa State was not playing with joy for the game and energy, according to multiple players and even coach Matt Campbell.
“Honestly that is how we were playing," Purdy said. "We had all these expectations and pressure on ourselves, and honestly if you are thinking like that throughout the game, you are not going to be playing at the level you should be playing at."
Purdy said even leading up to the Baylor game, there were points in the Cyclone's season that took the joy away from being on the field and playing with his teammates — something Purdy said is invaluable if a team wants to have success.
"There were parts of the Iowa game where I wasn’t enjoying it, I was trying to get through the next drive and try and score points," Purdy said. "That’s what it is about [scoring points] but at the same time you can’t lose that sense of joy and having fun during the game."
Purdy said Iowa State was able to create momentum during and before its home opener against TCU, freeing up Iowa State's offense to just play loose. Purdy said if Iowa State plays loose and has fun again, everyone will play to their max potential on every snap.
While Purdy and the offense have started to have fun again, Campbell said the team's pressure and lack of looseness may have started from the top. Campbell said Iowa State's loss of joy and fun in the game has never been an attitude or effort problem, but rather it comes from the team having high expectations for itself.
"It probably started with me to be honest with you, because I felt like ‘holy smokes, let’s just get games over,’ whereas I used to enjoy the games," Campbell said. "I just think sometimes when you want to be so perfect so bad, you want to put the guys in a position to be successful. You see them enjoy a process to get there and then you get to the sixty minutes and you start to press because you want to be so perfect in the moment and I think you were seeing that."
After a tough loss to begin the conference season, Campbell had meetings with his "A-players." Campbell said the "A-players" for the Cyclones were struggling to find answers as to why the team was playing without excitement and with a lack of positivity.
After the players and Campbell met, Campbell determined he should have acted on the players' feelings and the pressure they were putting on themselves earlier on in the season.
Campbell made it clear to his "A-players" they would be the ones that would have to create the atmosphere and looseness Iowa State was sorely missing.
“I told them that our 'A-coaches' and 'A-players' need to get A’s on Saturdays," Campbell said. "I probably didn’t do enough about it early on and I am really glad I had some of those conversations with them and had conversations with myself too.”
Now after coming off a big win against TCU to get back to a .500 record in conference play, Iowa State has found its fun approach to games has returned.
Center Collin Olson agreed with his quarterback and coach's assessment of Iowa State before the matchup against TCU.
Olson, a senior, has been a part of Iowa State teams in past seasons with far less expectations than what the current Cyclones are under right now.
Olson said the team put too much pressure on themselves to begin its season, leaving the team tight and prone to mistakes.
“With the last couple years, having the success that we have had, we just want to grow on that," Olson said. “We are really hard on ourselves, we’re our biggest critics for sure, so that pressure we were holding on ourselves was holding us back I think.”
“I think against TCU you saw that this team was able to let loose, relax and play free," Olson said. "Coach [Tom] Manning said the week is full of pressure but Saturdays are meant to be fun.”
Olson said the early pressure may have caused some unhappy games but the newfound happiness will not stop Iowa State from critiquing its play on the field.
“We are still going to put that pressure on us during the week, hopefully on Saturdays we can still play loose and free," Olson said.