Sports writers Randy Peterson and Tommy Birch break down the Cyclones’ matchup with Texas Tech, and then take a peek at the next Iowa State Basketball team.
Rodney White/The Register
LUBBOCK, Texas — At the start of every training camp, Iowa State associate head coach/running game coordinator Lou Ayeni will walk to the front of the room, hold up a football for the entire team to see and ask one of the program’s new players what’s in his hand.
The first answer Ayeni usually gets: A football. But that’s not the answer he’s looking for.
What Ayeni wants Iowa State players to know is that it’s more than a football — it’s the team’s most prized possession.
“I always use the quote that you are your mom and dad’s most prized possession,” Ayeni said. “Well this football is our football family’s most prized possession. We’ve got to take care of it at all costs.”
That’s what the Cyclones have done all season and it’ll be another important aspect for Iowa State when it takes on Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2 Big 12 Conference) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Jones AT&T Stadium.
“Our margin for error is really small,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “We have to do a great job with attention to detail, and I think that’s really allowed us, the last couple of games, to really hone in on what it takes for us to win football games, especially in the Big 12.”
The Cyclones have yet to lose a fumble this season. It’s one of the reasons why Iowa State is 4-2 for the first time since 2012 and has started Big 12 Conference play 2-1. Campbell’s team is playing clean, mostly penalty-free football and rarely turning it over.
It’s something the head coach has put a great emphasis on ever since he arrived in Ames.
But Ayeni has been leading the charge. Before he does any teaching, Ayeni tries to get his players to look at the football as more than just, well, a football.
“That’s where you try to set the attitude and the mindset that it is our most prized possession,” Ayeni said.
The talk is the start of what usually ends up about a 20-minute production by Ayeni, who uses a PowerPoint presentation to teach the five pressure points of the football and four areas of it that need to be protected.
Ayeni, who watches every fumble in the NFL from the season before, compiles a mix of those along with some fumbles from Big 12 Conference games. Every fumble is categorized into a different type from where they took place, to what situation they occurred in. One category is even called focus fumbles.
“Just understanding the different types of fumbles that can occur and why they’re occurring because there’s usually a common theme with each of those fumbles,” he said. “I’m also watching how the defenders have changed and how they’re attacking the ball.”
The same sort of importance on ball security is preached in between games as well. In practice, Ayeni will put his running backs through drills designed to help them hold onto the ball.
He’s tried ripping the rock out of their hands by throwing jabs at the ball while wearing boxing gloves and putting a helmet on a stick and swinging at at the ball. Ayeni even has a football that makes a sound if players are holding onto it right. If they aren’t, it goes silent.
Different drills are done daily.
“Sometimes they can be trying, but I enjoy them all,” said Iowa State running back David Montgomery.
The rest of the team also gets involved during a period of practice every Tuesday and Wednesday called “Win the 12.” This comes at the end of practice, when players are starting to feel tired and are more likely to lose the ball. Iowa State’s staff will put the team through drills and even Campbell will get involved with trying to swipe the ball out of his players’ hands.
The team will also go through situations in which the defense must grab a turnover or the offense must focus on keeping the football. If a player fumbles the ball, they have do 10 up-downs on the spot.
“I think some of those are some of the most intense drills we do during our Tuesday and Wednesday practices, and you see our guys get after it and you see our coaches get after it,” Campbell.
It’s all working for the Cyclones, who seem to understand the importance of keeping the football on offense and getting takeaways on defense. Iowa State is tied for second in the Big 12 in turnover margin. Iowa State has given the ball away just five times this season, all by interception.
But they’ve also picked off seven passes and recovered four fumbles.
“It’s that cliché term — ‘turnover margin’ — but at the end of the year, it’s that term, that statistic over anything else that really decides winning and losing, and I think our kids have bought into that,” Campbell said.
Every possession is important for Iowa State, especially Saturday when the Cyclones face a Texas Tech team ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring offense at 44.8 points per game. Campbell’s crew can’t afford to lose the football. And after everything they’ve been through this season, it’s a lot less likely they will.
“I think that’s why these kids really enjoy it,” Ayeni said. “(Focusing on turnovers) makes a lot of sense. It’s been good for us.”
Iowa State (4-2, 2-1 in Big 12) at Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2 in Big 12)
WHERE: Jones A&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas
TIME/TV: 11 a.m., FS1 (announcers: Aaron Goldsmith, A.J. Hawk, Danny Kanell).
LINE: Texas Tech by 7.
WEATHER: Sunny, southwest winds at 14 mph. High of 68.
Source: Des Moines Register
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