OK…so now what?
After the 56-7 loss to the top-ranked Sooners in Ames on Saturday night, things couldn't look a whole lot worse for Iowa State's football team. As if the final score wasn't bad enough, the injury-plagued Cyclones lost a couple more key players as Jason Berryman and Luke Vander Sanden were both injured.
And freshman quarterback Austin Flynn will probably be bruised until Thanksgiving from the shots he had to endure.
A year ago, Iowa State had a 6-1 record going into the Oklahoma game. After the 49-3 loss to the Sooners, the Cyclones never recovered, finishing the season with a 1-6 mark, which evened their record at 7-7. The most difficult loss to accept in that stretch was a 37-20 defeat at the hands of Connecticut.
I'm not saying that the 2002 team folded up its tent after the Oklahoma game…but it definitely never got its confidence or swagger back. As a result, the Cyclones were outscored by an average of 39-18 in the final seven games last season, which was quite a reversal after being ranked in the nation's Top 10 for a week.
So what happens NOW? Where do the Cyclones go from here?
There are a lot of things going against Iowa State, including…
- The schedule is a bear. The Cyclones don't have an easy game remaining and at least four of its final seven opponents will be ranked.
- Injuries have ravaged the lineup.
- ISU doesn't have a ton of depth.
- A lot of freshmen are getting their first taste of Big 12 football.
And on and on.
Fine. I can accept the fact that the remainder of the 2003 season is not going to be easy. I can live with the knowledge that the freshmen are getting some valuable experience that will pay off for the next three years. And I understand that injuries have greatly changed the make-up of this team.
How much can still be achieved in the 2003 season? What can be learned from the blowout loss to Oklahoma on Saturday? And what lessons did ISU learn from the way the team reacted to the loss to the Sooners a year ago?
These aren't easy questions. But, these are some of the issues facing Coach Dan McCarney and his staff today as they prepare for a trip to Lubbock, Texas to face the red-hot Red Raiders next Saturday. Texas Tech defeated Texas A&M, 59-28, on Saturday, which improved the Red Raiders' record to 4-1.
Texas Tech will present some unique problems with its pass-happy offense, led by quarterback B.J. Symons. Last week, Symons threw for 654 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 49-45 victory over Mississippi. Against Texas A&M, Symons threw for 505 yards and 8 TDs.
In five games, Symons has thrown for…(gulp)…2,467 yards…(seriously)…and 24 touchdowns.
So, the Cyclones will definitely have their hands full.
But as Coach McCarney & Company prepare for the aerial assault of the Red Raiders, I believe they may be fighting another battle. The battle against the loss of hope. The fight against disappointment and excuses. They must convince their troops in Ames to move forward and do everything they can to improve…and find a way to win games down the stretch.
It's a lot harder than you might think. Morale won't impove after a 53-7 loss just because it's important to the coaching staff. It will take some strong internal leadership among the players, as well.
Nobody wants to see ISU finish this season with a 1-6 stretch. And nobody wants to be outscored 39-18 per game during those seven games. But, the reality is that the Cyclones will have to face some teams in the next two months with more experience, better athletes, more depth and more speed than they have. At this point, those things cannot be controlled.
But, there is nothing keeping Iowa State from fighting harder than these opponents. Nothing that is stopping the Cyclones from playing with more passion and purpose in their final seven games than anyone else in the Big 12.
Moral victories? I hope they don't even discuss this concept. Instead, they should fight with everything they have—from the coaches through the second-stringers—to win games. They should be aggressive. Play with a chip on their shoulder. Even use the "we don't get any respect" card if they have to.
Whatever it takes.
There isn't anything that can be done about the 56-7 loss to Oklahoma. It's over. But, there are seven games remaining on the schedule that will determine how successful the 2003 season is.
I hope that we see a team that fights for every possession. For every yard. On every play. Because that's what Cyclone fans will expect...and that's what they deserve to see.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. His columns for CN online are published each Sunday and Friday. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)