After going through another bye week following its 38-31 win over Baylor at Jack Trice Stadium, Iowa State football prepares to defend Jack Trice again when it hosts Kansas State on Saturday.
The Cyclones sit atop the Big 12 standings with a 5-1 conference record, with the likes of Oklahoma State (4-1), Oklahoma (4-2), Texas (4-2) and aforementioned Kansas State (4-2) trailing close behind.
With the 2020 football season winding down as it inches closer to December, Iowa State has some important football to play with the Big 12 Championship right around the corner.
Stepping up when it matters most
As the temperature quickly dropped, Iowa State’s hope of making it to the conference championship has started to rise.
With only two losses on the year, the Cyclones have played pretty well, including knocking off Oklahoma in week three and turning a three first-half interception game against Baylor into a 28-unanswered point performance in a 38-31 win.
That being said, Iowa State still has three major tests left before the regular season comes to an end, and it’s against three top-half Big 12 schools: Kansas State, Texas and West Virginia.
The month of November is the time for the Cyclones to put their foot down on the gas pedal and play some of their best football against high-quality teams if they want to keep their Big 12 aspirations alive.
“Two years ago, I think we’re 3-1 and had some really good successes and really learned how to win in November,” Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “Last year, [they were] a young team that just tried to navigate and really feel the expectation of it.”
Kansas State and Texas pose a real threat to Iowa State, with both teams only being one game behind in conference records. Both teams make out Iowa State's next two games of the season with Kansas State traveling to Ames, Iowa, on Saturday and the Cyclones heading to Austin, Texas, on Nov. 27.
Closing out Iowa State’s regular season is a West Virginia team that thoroughly defeated Kansas State 37-10 at the end of October and losing to the Longhorns by only four points in a 17-13 loss to Texas in Austin.
Iowa State’s next three games could make or break the Cyclones’ hopes of making it to the Big 12 Championship game in December.
“For this year, with this team, we’ve had a lot of guys with experience handle all this in the right way,” junior quarterback Brock Purdy said. “We’ve been here before, the coaches have been here before, we’re really excited being able to capitalize this year.”
The importance of the tight ends
Heading into the season, a ton of stock was invested in Iowa State’s tight end group that’s highlighted by First-Team All-Big 12 selection Charlie Kolar and Iowa State football veterans in redshirt seniors Dylan Soehner and Chase Allen.
Through the 2020 season, the tight end group has been looked at to be solid producers on the field and looked at for leadership in the locker room.
“I think when you talk about each one individually, I think each one of them individually are playing some of the best football of their career,” Campbell said. “On top of the collective whole of what they’re doing for us, them playing at such a high level, it’s been really big for this football team.”
Purdy credits Kolar, Soehner and Allen as being leaders of Iowa State’s offense with the amount of experience and playmaking ability they bring to the table.
In the pass game, the tight ends have combined for a total of 44 receptions for 516 yards and five touchdowns, to go alongside their ability to block and protect Purdy and sophomore running back Breece Hall.
Despite playing an important part of Iowa State’s success so far, Kolar still believes there is room to grow.
“We can just keep getting open for Brock and make it easy for Brock,” Kolar said. “In the run game, I thought we’ve been pretty good. I think we all could just clean up and making it just as easy for Breece as possible.”
The student side of being a student-athlete
One of the downsides with having a shortened season that goes hand-in-hand with an academic semester that starts and ends earlier than normal is an unusual overlapping of final exams and football for Iowa State.
In a normal football season for Iowa State, student-athletes are able to have their season close before focusing on being a student for Finals Week. However, 2020 is much different.
With classes being pushed up, the end date of the fall semester moved up as well, resulting in football players dealing with their final exams and final projects with the end of the football season also approaching.
Even with it being a stressful time for students and student-athletes alike, Iowa State football has done its part in making sure athletes are getting their work done and eliminating that stress. Campbell credited team leaders and veteran players for helping the team out and teaching younger players the importance of finishing their work.
“[I have] just a bunch of papers I have to type up for my finals, I have a couple quizzes and exams, but I think I’ve knocked that out for the most part with the online courses so I could focus on the last couple games here,” Purdy said. “So that’s been nice this year, it’s been different, but it’s been nice.”