A week removed from losing to the Oklahoma Sooners 42-41, Iowa State now must prepare to face another top-level Big 12 opponent in the Texas Longhorns.
The Cyclones and the Longhorns are both on the outside looking in on the Big 12 Championship.
As the Cyclones get ready to face the Longhorns, the fraction of defeat and multiple young players were on the minds of the Cyclones on Tuesday afternoon.
The small fractions of defeat
Sitting as a 5-4 football team, Iowa State's season has been defined by mistakes and small fractions of defeat.
Take the most recent game for example — Iowa State let three potential first half interceptions slip through its hands and Oklahoma took advantage and built a 21-point halftime lead, a hole Iowa State wasn't able to overcome.
Dropped interceptions, missed tackles, penalties on key drives and many more mishaps have cost Iowa State chances at being potentially undefeated in the Big 12.
Zach Petersen, one of Iowa State's young defensive staples so far this season, has seen time and time again execution as being the enemy of the Cyclones in big moments.
For Petersen, it all comes down to taking coaching and being more precise when it's time to be on the field.
"Precision is always one thing we gotta get better on and that's one thing that's kind of held us back," Petersen said. "If you don't practice like you play, you can't flip a switch and be better on Saturdays just because it's a game. If you don't practice like you play you're gonna be crappy on Saturday just like you were on Tuesday and Wednesday."
So as Iowa State prepares to face off against Texas — the one team Matt Campbell has not beaten since he arrived at Iowa State in 2015 — the Cyclones are feeling optimistic fractions are the only thing stopping them from taking the next step.
"The fractions for us are fractions; obviously those things can be frustrating if you let them be or they can be great growth opportunity if you let them be," Campbell said.
Campbell said the Cyclones having a pretty young roster and the mindset the team has taken on of constantly pushing forward has impressed him the most so far this season.
"We gotta keep pounding away at those details and those margins that allow us to take that next step," Campbell said. "It's making those plays that becomes the difference in our success. You are up against teams that have been there and done that for a long time and we're a team that's continuing to show that we can."
Breece Hall's consistent presence in the backfield
Despite a 21-point deficit at halftime to the Sooners, Iowa State came out of the half and did what most teams would not: run the ball.
Iowa State came out of the half and marched down and scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 14 points thanks to a true freshman running back — a true freshman who has only played in four collegiate games as a starter and yet earned the trust from the Cyclone play-callers.
Breece Hall was a consistent presence.
Hall's number was called on four consecutive plays out of half and the true freshman delivered. Hall rushed the offense down into Sooner territory with runs of 10 yards, eight yards, 16 yards and 20 yards right out of the half.
Where did that trust in a running back who has four collegiate starts under his belt come from? Campbell and his teammates see a consistent player who has earned the right for his name to be called in crunch time.
"From where we started this season at in the first four weeks of the football season to where we are today, you're really excited about what that looks like and what that feels like in our program," Campbell said.
Campbell speaks to the point in Iowa State's season where the running back spot was still up in the air, with many calling for Hall to get a shot on the field. Campbell said that Hall took his time and chipped away at the inconsistencies a true freshman would have and earned his way into the role he has now.
"I'll play our players too late then I will play them too early," Campbell said. "When a young player has earned that right, I want to make sure he is ready to handle the opportunity at hand ... that's a credit to [Hall] and a credit to our coaching staff. It takes a pretty special individual to even be in the running to be there."
Campbell points to the work ethic from the upperclassmen trickling down to Hall as a factor that impacted how fast he was able to to work out most of his mistakes before he even stepped into the starting role.
Brock Purdy's resolve and poise
After a tough three-interception fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, questions swirled as to how Purdy would respond, as Iowa State would be heading to Norman in the biggest game of the season.
Questions were seemingly answered when Purdy took the field last Saturday.
Purdy led Iowa State to a near 21 point comeback against the No. 9 team in the country — a mentality the Cyclones have seen time and time again from the sophomore quarterback.
Purdy finished his night 19-30 for 282 yards and five touchdowns. Campbell said that performance was something words could do no justice toward.
"I don't even know if my words can do justice of everybody saying 'how is Brock going to come back from Oklahoma State?'; well, you saw the fourth quarter in Norman, maybe one of the best performances you guys have ever seen," Campbell said. "He's just one of those guys that's got 'It.' He wants to be the best, he's always trying to find ways to better himself and he's never satisfied with what he's done, positive or negative."
Campbell said that Purdy's ability to communicate in and after plays of what he sees makes Campbell's job that much easier. Campbell said that to be able to have real conversations in crucial moments is a rare skill for young quarterbacks like Purdy to have.
Purdy said the key is to stay calm no matter the situation and that you just have to have poise and stay calm, as the more you start freaking out, the more erratic everything starts to get in the moments with the most pressure.
Purdy said nothing changes for him and the offense despite the prospect of making the Big 12 championship slipping away for the Cyclones.
"Honestly, I just remember it's a game; it's a football game and I don't take any more than what it is," Purdy said. "Even if we are in a big environment like Oklahoma, I just try to keep everything simple and tell myself, 'alright next play.' I don't try and do too much."