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How Matt Campbell Has Revitalized Iowa State Football

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-2, head coach Matt Campbell has the Cyclones poised for their first bowl game appeareance since 2012, and maybe more.

Over the past decade, the Iowa State football program has been dismal. Since 2006, the Cyclones are a combined 44-91 and have had four different head coaches at the helm. Iowa State’s lone winning season over that span came in 2009, when Paul Rhoads led the Cyclones to a 7-6 record and a bowl victory in his first season as the head coach in Ames. 

This season, second year head coach Matt Campbell has turned the program around. Campbell and the Cyclones went 3-9 in his first year, but showed promising signs. Iowa State lost four one-possession games, including a near upset of 13th ranked Baylor. 

After a decisive 31-13 victory in Lubbock, Texas over the Red Raiders last week, Campbell has the Cyclones back in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2005.

In less than two years at Ames, it’s clear that Campbell has changed the culture of the Iowa State football program. He’s been able to do this through recruiting players to fit his system. According to the Land of 10 website, Campbell stated the following:

“… I do think that’s the one thing we’ve been able to do in our last two years is really change the roster, that what our 105-man roster going into fall camp looks like and feels like. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. I really don’t worry about what other people have to say. That’s their prerogative, but obviously my concern is Iowa State and Iowa State football and making sure we get the right guys here to go win Big 12 championships.”

Iowa State was bound to break through at some point. This year, Campbell and the Cyclones have gotten over the hump.

After opening the season 2-2, Iowa State shocked the world when they stormed into Norman and knocked off 3rd ranked Oklahoma 38-31. Campbell’s squad has reeled off two more wins since then, as the red and gold now sit second in the Big 12 standings and ranked 25th in the AP Poll. If not for an overtime loss to in-state rival Iowa, the Cyclones might be in the College Football Playoff conversation.

So, what has made the Cyclones so successful this season?

On offense, the Cyclones have been clicking on all cylinders. Led by senior signal caller Kyle Kempt, Iowa State is 3-0. Kempt took over when starting quarterback Jacob Park left the team for undisclosed personal medical reasons after a 17-7 loss to Texas. 

In Kempt’s first start, he rallied the Cyclones from a 24-10 deficit to a stunning victory over Baker Mayfield and the 3rd ranked Sooners. Kempt played like a veteran on the road, throwing for 343 yards, three touchdowns and posting a dazzling 95.2 QBR. The win was only Iowa State’s second victory over Oklahoma since 1961.

In his three starts, Kempt has 657 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. Kempt has the offense averaging a whopping 38 points since taking over the starting role. The biggest difference between Kempt and Park has been turnovers. In Kempt’s three starts, he has just one turnover compared to Park’s five interceptions in his four starts this year. 

Kempt made his first mistake last week when he threw an interception just four plays in. However, Kempt wasn’t rattled, showing poise and maturity as he led the Cyclones to a touchdown on the ensuing drive.

“It’s just part of the game. That’s on me,” Kempt said of the interception after Iowa State’s 31-13 win. “A little bit of their defense not getting lined up and I tried to make something out of it just from that standpoint. I knew that was on me completely. I knew it was really important to come back that next drive.” (Randy Peterson, The Des Moines Register)

Despite Kempt’s inexperience, he’s playing like a seasoned veteran. It appears as if Kempt has won over Campbell and will be the signal caller for the rest of the season.

The Iowa State offense has weapons around Kempt that help this high-powered offense. Star running back David Montgomery has helped the offense average 33.8 points and 121 rushing yards per game. His 642 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 131 carries give them a balanced attack, making Iowa State unpredictable on offense.

The 5’ 11”, 219-pound back has been successful because of his elusiveness and ability to avoid tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, he currently leads the nation with 63 missed tackles forced. Last week against Texas Tech, Montgomery forced nine missed tackles as he rushed for a season high 164 yards on 28 carries. Montgomery has four games with at least 100 yards of offense, as the sophomore running back has an extremely bright future ahead of him.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cyclones are led by senior captain Joel Lanning. Lanning made the rare transition from quarterback to middle linebacker this offseason, and he has make it look easy. Lanning is leading the team in tackles (78), second in tackles for loss (6), and tied for second in sacks (2.5). He also has two takeaways on the year, as he has been the X-Factor for the Cyclone defense. His efforts this season landed him on the CBS Sports Midseason All-America Team at the linebacker position.

Moving Lanning to middle linebacker has undoubtedly helped the Cyclones defense. In 2016, Iowa State’s porous defense gave up 31.3 points per game, ranking 88th in the nation. With Lanning on the defensive side of the ball, the Cyclones are only giving up 20.4 points per game, which ranks 34th in the nation and second in the Big 12.

In addition to Lanning’s success on defense, he’s also gotten some snaps on the offensive side of the football. Over the past three games, Lanning has tallied 74 rushing yards on 20 carries. In the win against Oklahoma, he completed two of three passes for 25 yards through the air.

His ability to play both sides of the football is very unique, as the Cyclones can use Lanning’s talents in a variety of ways. On defense, he showed his athletic ability when he chased down Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield for a sack earlier in the year. Lanning has been displaying his athletic ability on offense for the past two seasons, as the dual-threat quarterback threw for 2,537 yards and 19 passing touchdowns to go along with 848 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns over that span.

After three straight wins, the Cyclone’s confidence is soaring. With roads wins over both Oklahoma and Texas Tech, the Cyclones have proved that they are capable of beating anyone in the country. However, their next three games come against ranked opponents, including undefeated TCU this Saturday. In order for Iowa State to make the leap from a good season to great season and challenge for a conference title, they’ll have to knock off some of the best teams that the Big 12 has to offer.

All stats courtesy of, and

Edited by Joe Sparacio.

Before Iowa State's win over Oklahoma this year, when was Iowa State's last victory over a ranked opponent?
Created 10/23/17
  1. 2014 against Kansas State
  2. 2012 against TCU
  3. 2011 against Oklahoma State
  4. 2010 against Texas

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