Sep 15, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell talks with officials during their game with the Oklahoma Sooners at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State has “upset” top 25, top 10, even top 5 teams before.
Just recently, Oklahoma State in 2011 was an epic Friday night that still gives chills to the collective neck of the Cyclone Nation. I’ll never forget sitting at my kitchen table at 3 a.m., gazing at my computer just searching for the right words to chronicle how great of a night that was. Problem was, everything I put on the page failed miserably because words couldn’t do the perfection that was that evening justice. I stayed up that entire night to watch an animated Paul Rhoads live from Ames on College Game Day.
Last year’s Oklahoma and TCU games were amazing but in different ways. The win in Norman was similar to the 2011 Oklahoma State game in the sense that it totally came out of nowhere. The Cyclones were 30-point underdogs with a walk-on quarterback making his first start. Anybody not named “Cyclone Jerry” not only had Iowa State losing that game, but being blown out.
The TCU win last year was refreshing because it backed up what Iowa State did in Norman. It was no fluke, but it was not dominating by any means. Iowa State was elite on one side of the ball, bad on the other and made just enough plays to get the job done.
Most recently, Iowa State’s 30-14 stomping of then sixth-ranked West Virginia felt totally different. Minus a couple of special teams blunders, the victory was so complete.
That’s why what Iowa State is building right now feels so sustainable to me. It’s coming from the inside-out.
The McCarney years were fantastic, but one had to be incredibly patient and filled with perspective to fully grasp what was occurring. I can tell you that at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate it. Over the course of a decade, Mac built a foundation that others have since benefited from. But, in his final few seasons Mac never won the “big” one when it mattered most.
He recruited well, but it never felt like Gene Chizik was going to win at Iowa State. Personality wise, it was a terrible fit. Chizik, who eventually won a national title at Auburn, learned on the job in Ames. Many of his in-game coaching blunders reflected that. Auburn eventually reaped the rewards from Chizik’s time on training wheels at Iowa State.
Paul Rhoads seemed to have things going on the right track. His blue-collar vibes resonated with this fan base and the Cyclone Nation responded by setting attendance records. One can argue that the early Rhoads years got Iowa State a brand new south end zone. He was a bad break away (2010 vs. Nebraska) from leading Iowa State to four bowl games in his first four years. I believe that Rhoads took a significant recruiting hit around the Big 12 Missile Crisis in 2010 and never fully recovered. Player development and quarterback recruiting constantly hindered Rhoads, which are two setbacks that you just can’t have and win with at Iowa State, or any other program in America for that matter.
Back to the present day…
That throttling of West Virginia started up front. On both sides of the line of scrimmage, it was men vs. boys. Iowa State was the team with hair on its chest.
Without Ray Lima (concussion), Iowa State’s line led the defense to seven sacks for the second week in a row. West Virginia averaged a measly 3.6 yards per play compared to the 7.0 mark they entered with.
Iowa State’s offensive line was the biggest question surrounding an otherwise stout roster all summer long. It struggled early in the season but has really shown signs of life from the second half of Iowa State’s loss to TCU on.
Add to all of this the Brock Purdy factor. The freshman has a 75 percent completion percentage with a 7-to-2 touchdown/interception ratio with the toughest part of Iowa State’s Big 12 slate in the rearview mirror.
As Brent Blum pointed out last week (this is a must-read column if you haven’t already), 30 percent of Iowa State’s participation in the West Virginia win came from freshmen.
Since Campbell got to town, we’ve witnessed best recruiting in Iowa State history. Even this is sustainable. Instead of constantly trying to pick up scraps in Texas and Florida, Iowa State is thriving in the Midwest, where it belongs.
An inside-out approach to recruiting, legitimate player development and growth at quarterback is what I see when I look at Iowa State football right now.
This is very sustainable and barring any unforeseen setbacks, Iowa State football is on the front door of its best era – ever.
Bye week timed out perfectly: Campbell’s staff was on the road all of last week with recruits that will sign in December. I’m sure it made for a much better conversation doing this now compared to a couple of weeks ago.
On top of that, because of a quarterback change, Iowa State has two games under its belt with a somewhat new look on offense. It made for a good time to tear all of that down in the film room to make things even better – especially with a true freshman quarterback.
And I know the defensive line looked great against West Virginia, but count me as a guy who wouldn’t want to go to battle without Ray Lima more than once.
Speaking of Purdy: Iowa State put out one of its fancy player graphics last week introducing us all to Brock Purdy.
Cyclone InCYder: Brock Purdy. #WinInTheDark
— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) October 16, 2018
I don’t know Brock Purdy. He can’t speak to the media this season because he’s a freshman. I’m not sure I need to know anything more than what’s in that graphic though.
The dude can ball. He apparently comes from a great family. His favorite musician is George Strait (the greatest of all-time) and according to the FS1 broadcast during the West Virginia game, Tim Tebow is his football hero.
What more do you need to know?
In all seriousness, isn’t it great that Tebow is Purdy’s guy? Say what you want about Tim Tebow (I realize he’s polarizing), but find me a better example of a team-first guy to lead a program?
I’m still waiting.
CHANGE-UP: I’ve been a Kene Nwangwu fan for a long time. However it was during the West Virginia game when it popped for me as to how nice of a change up he is to David Montogmery. It was considerably more evident when watching the film back. Their running styles are just different enough to make this back-and-forth effective. With an offensive line that’s constantly improving in front of them, it will be interesting to see what Campbell’s offensive staff has up its sleeve when it comes to change-ups in the running game over the second half of the season.
Hallelujah!: Iowa State isn’t exactly “Tight End U” yet, but it’s been great to see that position get some run. Chase Allen has been out the last four games but redshirt freshman Charlie Kolar has filled in admirably in the passing game. He’s got two touchdowns on three catches but there’s more to it than that. Iowa State’s tight ends have been vital to the overall offensive game plan over the last two weeks. If it’s the running game (I love the two tight ends in motion look) or stretching the field (Purdy seems to really like throwing to the tight end position), this is a group that is on the rise in Ames. A tip of the hat goes out to tight ends coach Alex Golesh, who has developed four guys (Allen, Kolar, Dylan Soehner and Sam Seonbuchner) who all see important snaps on a weekly basis.
SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: We all know how much versatility means to the Campbell staff and perhaps due to an injury to free safety Lawrence White, the Cyclones stumbled into something recently. I’m not sure I don’t like the defense more with D’Andre Payne back at safety, where he played his first season in Ames. I don’t think that White will get demoted and if it’s “get the best 11 guys on the field,” they both belong out there. But Datrone Young is a viable Big 12 cornerback and Payne is an elite tackler. I think there are some situational options for Jon Heacock to fool around with here…
GETTING AHEAD OF THIS NOW: Don’t complain when on Nov. 17, Iowa State’s game at Texas – which could be a HUGE contest in terms of Big 12 hierarchy – is televised on the Longhorn Network. I annually have to remind our Facebook commenters that without the Longhorn Network, Iowa State would probably be in the AAC or something right now. The situation isn’t ideal, I know. But this a small price to pay for the giant Big 12 checks that Iowa State receives every year compared to what could have been. And save me your, “I won’t want the game because I refuse to give Texas any of my money,” remarks. That isn’t how it works. ESPN pays Texas $15 million every year for its third-tier media rights, which also means that Texas doesn’t lose a thing if you don’t watch the game. So watch the game, enjoy it and support your team.
INITIAL THOUGHTS ON TEXAS TECH: Kliff Kingsbury’s defense is considerably better than what Iowa State has seen from the Red Raiders in recent years … Alan Bowman, a true freshman quarterback, is back and healthy after being out with a collapsed lung (yuck) for a couple of weeks following Tech’s loss to West Virginia. He’s already thrown for over 2,000 yards this season and is completing 71 percent of his passes, which is vintage Texas Tech. However, he’s no threat to run the football. It will be interesting to see if Jon Heacock goes with the Oklahoma State game plan that’s full of pressure to mess with the rookie’s head … Iowa State is currently a 4.5 point favorite to win this one. Gun to my head, right now, I’d lay the points.