Iowa State needed to hold on to a 38-31 lead for 3 minutes and 27 seconds. They failed to do so. It’s not that Iowa played amazing defense, or Iowa State couldn’t move the ball. It was simply fear which led to a 44-41 Iowa victory in Ames on Saturday.
Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt once told our nation, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” Matt Campbell feared that a turnover or some sort of mistake would cost his team the ball game. His offense did not lose the football. The Cyclone offense did not make any costly mistakes. Instead, the possession took 26 seconds off the clock and placed the defense right back on the field. What happened next? A seven-play, 89-yard possession that resulted in a 45-yard touchdown pass to the Hawkeyes running back.
This is what I call the Prevent Offense. The Prevent Offense is implemented in situations where the coaching staff fears its team might lose a late lead. It’s a vanilla run-up-the-middle style of offense that doesn’t usually work when the opponent has all three timeouts. Iowa had all three of their timeouts. When the defense secured a three-and-out, the momentum shifted. Iowa’s offense came on the field with approximately three minutes remaining. They scored, the game went into overtime, and the rest was history.
The Iowa State defense created a 3-and-out. You’d think the coach would want to reward them. Let the offense play the same game it had played all day. We hear it all of the time. Don’t change the recipe to success. Cyclone quarterback Jacob Park attempted 46 passes throughout the day. Compared to one interception, he accounted for four touchdown passes and 347 yards. It’s not like he had struggled throughout the day. Even after the game, Matt Campbell said that Park played a “remarkable game”, but the head coach’s actions would not tell the same story as his post-game words.
Instead of sticking to the game plan, head coach Matt Campbell played it safe. He called two runs and a short pass during the three-and-out. It seemed like Iowa State was playing with a fear of making a costly mistake.
Of course, there is that other side of this. The what ifs can be played all day long. What if Iowa’s defense created a turnover? What if Park threw a pick-six? What if Park got sacked and the ball was fumbled? That argument will always continue, and there is a valid point there.
We’ve all seen those mistakes. If any of that had happened, Cyclones fans would have screamed, “Why didn’t Campbell just try to run out the clock?” Remember, Iowa had three timeouts with over three minutes remaining. That’s more than one first down Iowa State needs to get. It’s more about the message you send to your team.
Iowa State was in its own home. They had the crowd behind them and momentum on their side. Play to move the ball down the field. The players performed as if they were just trying to kill time. The play calling seemed like it was just trying to kill time. The body language was sluggish. It looked like Matt Campbell implemented the Prevent Offense, and Iowa smelled that fear. It placed the mindset of “We’re going to win this game” into the minds of the Hawkeyes.
The next thing we know, the Cyclones defense gets tired. With a tired defense comes missed tackles. Iowa running back Akrum Wadley is the perfect Hawkeye in this situation. Iowa got the ball to Wadley, he broke five tackles on his way to a 45-yard touchdown reception. This is what happens to teams who play in fear. A team who plays in fear will always see its worst fears come true. Iowa State feared blowing its 7-point lead, and now they have their first loss.