Improvement pays

Early-season struggles didn’t keep Dan McCarney
from seeing Iowa State’s surprising potential
Tuesday, November 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:00 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Iowa State coach Dan McCarney spotted his team’s potential in one of the most frustrating games of the season.

Despite easily outgaining host Colorado on Oct. 16, the Cyclones left with a 19-14 loss. McCarney, though, knew the Cyclones had come together and started developing confidence. The next week, the Cyclones rallied late at Baylor winning 26-25 thanks to a touchdown with 41 seconds left.

“We’re improving each week, and there’s some clear evidence of that,” McCarney said Monday during the Big 12 Coaches’ Teleconference.

Against Colorado, the Cyclones missed two field goals and lost three fumbles, which counteracted their 403-304 yardage advantage. In the next four weeks, opportunistic play replaced the debilitating mistakes, with Iowa State gaining 13 takeaways. In addition, the Cyclones have scored seven non-offensive touchdowns, which ranks second in the country.

“The kids expect it, they believe it, they’ve seen it, they know how it’s done,” McCarney said. “Those kind of things can snowball, and it’s one of the real reasons we’ve been able to win some games in recent weeks.”

Since the loss in Boulder, Colo., the Cyclones haven’t looked back. Four straight wins later, and they have moved to top of the Big 12 North Division and to the brink of their first division title. To complete their tremendous season, the Cyclones need to win their final home game Saturday against Missouri or Colorado must lose to Nebraska on Friday.

The Cyclones’ win Saturday exemplified their newfound confidence and resiliency. They rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter, outscoring Kansas State 28-0 in the quarter to win 37-23.

“It was big for our season,” McCarney said. “It was big for our program. Kansas State has just dominated Iowa State through the years. Frankly, there haven’t been that many good games.

“There was a time there where it might have gone the other direction for Iowa State, but these kids wouldn’t give in to the adversity and getting behind. And they just fought and scratched and clawed the way any coach wants to do when you’re behind, especially on the road.”

Iowa State has not won a conference title since 1912.

SEASON-ENDING REFLECTIONS: Three teams completed their season Saturday, and Monday provided those coaches a chance to consider the 2004 season.

“Short term, it got a little frustrating once in a while,” Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. “Really, long term, this team has really pulled close together. We have a very good team chemistry, which is very important, and not just this team, but the underclassmen on this team.

“The future is very bright.”

Even though his team finished with the same 4-7, 2-6 record as Kansas, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder offered a much less optimistic recap of his season, saying their 37-23 loss to Iowa State on Saturday provided a microcosm for the season. The Wildcats missed a bowl for the first time since 1992 and lost at home to Iowa State for the first time since 1988.

“We found a way to self-destruct,” he said. “You have to applaud (the Cyclones’) efforts to come back when they were down two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.”

Finishing with fewer than four wins for the seventh straight season left Baylor coach Guy Morriss sour about his season. The Bears finished 3-8, 1-7 in the Big 12.

“I thought we’d be a better football team than it turned out we were,” Morriss said. “Really struggled through the first five or six weeks with turnovers. Really took ourselves out of a lot of opportunities to have a chance to win.

“I thought our kids played hard, but just playing hard doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

Morriss said the Bears’ 26-25 loss to Iowa State on Oct. 23, in which they yielded a 5-point lead on the final drive, was a good example for his disappointment.

Oklahoma also finished their regular season but isn’t finished playing. The No. 2 Sooners have two games left, the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 4 and a bowl game.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK: After his three-sack performance against Missouri, Kansas’ David McMillan earned the Defensive Player of the Week award.

McMillan, a senior defensive end, stopped the Tigers’ fourth-quarter rally with his third sack. McMillan also had five tackles, four for a loss, and forced a fumble in the Jayhawks’ 31-14 win.

“He just played phenomenal football with a bunch of pressures on the quarterback,” Mangino said. “Just a phenomenal day for him as a senior. I’m very proud of him.”

With his 10th 100-yard game of the season, Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson won the offensive award. Peterson ran for 240 yards and scored three times during the second half of the Sooners’ 35-0 win at Baylor. This is the third time he won the honor.

Peterson tied Ron Dayne’s freshman record for 100-yard games.

Iowa State’s Brett Culbertson kicked three crucial field goals, which kept the Cyclones in contact with Kansas State and won him Special Teams Player of the Week. He connected from 36, 30 and 20 yards.

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