AMES — The usual nine-game Big 12 schedule is about to kick-off for Iowa State on Saturday against the Baylor Bears. Matt Campbell is ready for the challenges—and to fight to make sure the Cyclones are prepared for it all.
After all, Iowa State made it through the Big 12 on top a season ago—in record and overall health. The Cyclones finished the regular season atop the Big 12 standings at 8-1 and had no games canceled or postponed due to the Cyclones' failing to meet COVID-19 health and safety protocols outlined by the conference.
But 2021 is a different animal altogether. No pod scheduling. No COVID-19 makeup dates. There's still no margin for error like normal, but the changes from a year ago are gone.
Campbell and the Cyclones head to Waco, Texas, on Saturday well aware of what the Big 12 presents in terms of on-the-field matchups and the standard it will take to make it through on top again.
“I’ll fight everyday of the week, knowing the schedule we play and the conference we play in, that you better be your best and I think you’re seeing that across the board," Campbell said. "You’re talking about a really high-end conference right now you’re going to have to be your best each and every weekend that you play.”
Baylor has begun the season as no pushover, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Baylor has started the season 3-0 for the eighth time in the last 11 seasons, with wins against Texas Southern, Texas State and Kansas, and they seem to look a lot different this time around from when the Bears finished 2-7 overall in 2020.
Baylor head coach Dave Aranda has a new quarterback, junior Gerry Bohanon. Bohanon has already established himself as a dual-threat quarterback for the Bears through three games with five passing touchdowns and three rushing scores.
Pair that athleticism with new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes—who came over from BYU in the offseason—and the Bears have taken off offensively through three games. In 2020, former offensive coordinator Larry Fedora’s offense ranked 100th nationally in scoring with 23.3 points per game and 118th in total offense with 310.2 yards per game. It's a different story through the early portion of the season for Baylor.
“Beyond impressed [with] certainly the offensive structure they have right now [with] what’s going on there," Campbell said Tuesday to reporters.
The Bears are averaging 321.3 yards on the ground at 7.26 per carry and are 16-33 on third down. Baylor heads into Saturday leading all Big 12 teams at 46.7 ppg, total offensive yards per game (558.7) and in the rushing attack (321.3 ypg).
Iowa State defensive lineman Eyioma Uwazurike said offensive success isn't a new wrinkle when the Cyclones have faced Baylor over the years. With that knowledge in mind, Uwazurike said it all comes down to preparation to make sure the rigors of a Big 12 season starts off with a win.
“They have a lot of talent. Baylor has always had a lot of talent," Uwazurike said Tuesday. “They’re really good. But we’ve been against really good teams, we know how to play really good teams so as long as we prepare properly we should be able to do our thing.”
Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy learned first hand last season of the talent of Baylor has on the defensive side, with the four-year starter throwing three interceptions in the first half of an eventual comeback victory in 2020.
And he'll get to face the exact same secondary on Saturday.
The physicality of Baylor is present on film in the lead-up to Saturday's Big 12 opener and the slow start of Iowa State's offense caused dissatisfaction through the first two weeks. But Purdy said Iowa State understands that getting a win on Saturday and to 3-1 to end September would be a positive sign for the No.14 Cyclones.
“This is how we’ve played the last couple years and hopefully we can eliminate the mistakes and that stuff," Purdy said. "You don’t want to be playing your best football at the end of the season, it’s gotta be from this moment going forward.”