IOWA CITY, Ia. – It was more than two hours before Sunday's first scheduled 1:45 p.m. team meeting when Quinton Alston arrived at the Jacobson Athletic Building and rolled the video.
The video never lies. It exposes your mistakes. The final score never changes, either. Neither does the schedule. There's a game to be played Saturday at Pittsburgh. No time to live in the past. Time to get better.
"I try to watch the tape two or three times before we watch it as a group of linebackers," Alston said. "I try to critique myself before the coaches do."
Iowa senior linebacker Quinton Alston talks team psyche.
Alston, a senior from Sicklerville, N.J., is in his first season as a starter. He spent his career in the shadows of linebackers James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. But he was paying close attention. And now he's trying to put what he learned to good use.
Losing is never fun. Especially when the team doesn't play up to expectations. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has a 24-hour rule he expects his players to follow. In the 24-hour window after a game, they can relive it, talk about it, celebrate or sulk. But then it's time to move on.
Alston watched Morris, Hitchens and Kirksey live by that creed.
"Those three really embodied the 24-hour rule," Alston said. "Obviously, they felt it (a loss), but they couldn't show it because they were leaders. They'd come in the next day, learn from it and turn it into a positive spin. By Tuesday they were 100 percent headed in the right direction, which is the next game."
As a senior captain, Alston spent Sunday helping his fellow linebackers turn the page to Pittsburgh. First in the weekly film session, then in the walk-through that followed.
"We came in, went into the room and were communicating without the coaches even saying anything," Alston said. "They'd put a play on the screen and say, 'Put yourself in a call, and make the call as loud as you can.' We made our calls as loud as possible, hand signals and all, in the film room. Then when we went to the walk-through, everyone was doing the same thing. It was loud. Everyone was communicating."
Alston sensed, at that moment, that the season's first defeat had brought his team together more than any of the first two victories had.
"It's that kick in the butt that we needed," Alston said.
Alston shares starting linebacker duties with sophomore Reggie Spearman and freshman Bo Bower. Freshmen Ben Niemann and Josey Jewell are also in the linebacker two deeps. The next challenge is a Pittsburgh offense that is fourth nationally in rushing offense. Running back James Conner is fourth nationally with 181.3 yards per game.
As Alston said, there is no time for a learning curve.
"We need that switch to turn on right now," he said.
Criticism also fuels Alston in his mission to play better football. He saw fans critique linebackers Morris, Hitchens and Kirksey, and how they handled it. He also heard some disparaging words after the season opener against Northern Iowa, when David Johnson got past him for several long receptions. Listen and learn.
"I've been blessed to have great examples in front of me," Alston said. "I'm just a student of the game."
Alston could have been in a Pittsburgh uniform Saturday. He committed to the Panthers, but had a change of heart after Dave Wannstedt was fired in 2010.
"Ancient history," Alston said.
Now, as a captain and leader, he's a catalyst in trying to put the Iowa State lost equally in the past.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.