Jacques Washington didn’t mince words when asked about Iowa State’s upcoming rivalry game with Iowa.
“This is the most important game of my career thus far,” the Cyclones senior said. “This is a must win, if any game is a must win. In order to get back where we want to be, we need to win this game.”
What’s the urgency you ask? Well, ISU looked ill-prepared and uninspired in a 28-20 loss to FCS opponent Northern Iowa in Week 1. The Cyclones allowed 457 total yards including 228 rushing yards to UNI during one of the most disappointing defensive performances of the Paul Rhoads era.
After an eight-month buildup and the excitement that naturally comes with a season opener, the Cyclones promptly stubbed their own toe against a lesser opponent. And if they don’t get it together, the loss could snowball into a scary start to their 2013 season with a road trip to Tulsa and home test against Texas on the horizon.
“Coming off a Northern Iowa loss, you really want to get the taste out of your mouth,” ISU running back Jeff Woody said.
To be frank, the character of the ISU football squad has been tested by the embarrassing performance in its season opener. Will they respond against their in-state rival? Or will they wilt?
“It’s going to be huge,” Woody said. “After a loss, the way you respond to it really determines the character of your team. If you let one loss spiral into two, spiral into three, it says something about you. If you make one loss stop at one loss, that says something about you too.”
It’s a message Woody has relayed to his teammates during the Cyclones’ bye week last week.
“One false step on the path doesn’t change the outcome,” Woody told his teammates. “But if you deviate too far out of the way, you’re going to get lost. We want to get back on track before everything starts to spiral.”
Several mistakes were made during the Cyclones’ season-opening loss. Missed tackles, missed assignments and lack of focus doomed ISU. The Cyclones, who had 11 players recording their first career start against UNI, including seven defensive players, showed their youth in the loss.
“We kind of looked past UNI and focused on this Iowa week,” Washington said. “Defensively we came out flat missed a lot of assignments, missed a lot of tackles. Now we know we have to hone in on the details. I think the young players realize we can’t start off slow, we started off too slow last week.”
While Woody had one message to his teammates, Washington had a message of his own but the overriding theme remained consistent.
“After the loss I contacted a few players by text message, players who could have been feeling down, to let them know, ‘Hey I made mistakes too,’” Washington said. “But that’s going to happen in a game, it’s how you respond.”
With a young squad, the risk of allowing the UNI loss to multiply into a consecutive losses increases. The Cyclones worked to avoid that and reverse the momentum by holding short, intense practices during its bye week, with an emphasis on correcting the mistakes that led to the UNI loss while keeping the younger players engaged and positive.
“We have to keep talking positive because we do have a really young team and a lot of guys haven’t had to deal with the ups-and-downs of a season that us grizzled ol’ vets have,” said Woody, a senior. “We [wanted] to get them back focused on redeeming that loss, not reliving it.”
Luckily for the Cyclones all could be forgotten with a win over Iowa. The intensity of a rivalry game could be the perfect prescription for a team eyeing redemption.
“It’s going to be a bloodbath,” Woody said. “Regardless of the records, when you play Iowa, it’s a big game for everyone within state lines.”
Said Washington: “I think if we win this one, [Cyclone fans] will forgive us and we can get this party bus back rolling again. And that’s what we plan to do.”