Nov 3, 2018; Lawrence, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Hakeem Butler (18) runs for a touchdown against Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Hasan Defense (13) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Iowa State star receiver Hakeem Butler leaped and pounced at the same time.
An under-thrown ball from quarterback Brock Purdy found his strong hands at the Kansas 15-yard line.
Hapless defensive back Hasan Defense tried to grab the 6-6, 219-pound Butler by the hand — a desperate maneuver that simply didn’t work.
Butler broke loose fiercely, then added a forceful shove and spin before prancing into the end zone to give the Cyclones a 14-0 lead that would mushroom into a 27-3 win over the Jayhawks Saturday in a sparsely-populated (except for Cyclones fans) Memorial Stadium.
Butler’s latest dazzling play — one of two 50-plus yard touchdowns as ISU won its fourth straight game — prompted the Sports Illustrated college football Twitter account to Tweet the highlight-reel catch, stiff-arm, and run along with the words, ‘Get OFF Hakeem Butler.’”
Get OFF Hakeem Butler💪😤
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) November 3, 2018
Butler later shrugged at the latest batch of national buzz.
“My brother and my sister are more happy about it than anything,” said Butler, who became the Big 12’s leader in catches spanning 40-plus yards with his eighth and ninth of the season. “But, I mean, for me, you can’t really look at that. You’ve just got to keep working.”
ISU’s defense, along with another solid performance from Purdy, certainly did.
Purdy completed 16 of 23 passes for 263 yards and touchdowns to Butler and Matt Eaton. He also kept drives alive with his feet, amassing 27 rushing yards on 10 carries — a total adversely affected by two long second-half sacks.
Purdy’s passer rating on Saturday was a splendid 208.7. He also became the Cyclones’ single-season freshman record holder for touchdown passes with 12 — and is well within striking distance of the overall program record of 20 in a season.
“I thought Brock, especially in the first three quarters, the poise of seeing the field, when things break down, I think that’s the one thing Brock gives you — when things break down, he’s got the ability to use his legs to make really positive things happen,” said ISU coach Matt Campbell, whose team has won as many as four games in a row in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004 and 2005. “I thought really great accuracy early in the football game, especially getting the football where it needed to get to. And, again, in the third, late in the third, early in the fourth, I think it just kind of got cloudy a little bit. They started to do a couple different things and our ability to adjust both as coaches and players have to continue to get better. But, man, I thought his performance continues to really be impressive for a young guy.”
His twin connections with Butler, whose string of three straight 100-yard receiving games is tied for the second longest in school history, were followed by a fourth down stop by the defense — one of five ISU scraped up Saturday.
Connor Assalley tacked on a clutch 47-yard field goal to put the Cyclones up 17-0 with 11:20 left in the first half.
Then All-Big 12 cornerback Brian Peavy rose up for what Campbell dubbed the ” play of the game.”
After Kansas drove to the ISU 24-yard line, Peavy forced a fumble by KU receiver Stephon Robinson, which defensive tackle Jamahl Johnson scooped up and toted for 11 yards.
“I think that was the big play in the game to be honest with you,” said Campbell, whose team has kept the Jayhawks from the end zone in 10 straight quarters dating back to 2016. “I thought at that moment, that was a huge play. And Jamahl, he keeps saying he played tailback in high school so we saw a little bit of it. He looked pretty good. We’ll have to try to figure out how to get him in the game on the offensive side.”
Heck, Peavy even threw a block for the big man.
“Yeah!” Peavy said. “When I saw him scoop it, I thought he got tackled, but I blocked to the whistle and I saw him running. I thought that was pretty cool, right there.”
The Cyclones added another Assalley field goal before surrendering a three-point kick to Kansas moments before halftime.
The defense responded by pitching a second-half shutout despite allowing KU to march inside the 10-yard line twice in the fourth quarter. Both times, the defense bowed up to quash the too-late threats.
During the final stand — literally at the goal line — the throng of Cyclone fans in attendance offered up boisterous chants of, ‘defense, defense, defense.’
Did the players notice?
“It’s the best feeling knowing that everyone recognizes our defense for what it is and how we’re playing this year,” defensive end Matt Leo said.
That didn’t amount to anything approaching perfect on Saturday. Same goes for the offense, despite the glittering big plays and lopsided scoreboard.
“First half, missed tackles that we haven’t had, and in the second half, it was great to see the leadership of our football team on that side of the ball step up, and in some really critical moments, make some big plays, which is a credit to coach (Jon Heacock) and a leadership in that locker room,” Campbell said. “Then you flip it over and it’s kind of a tale of two halves for the offense. Offensively, really impressive in the first half and then in the second half we migrated through the football game. I think the reality of it is there was a lot of good on both sides – special teams was much improved.”
As for Butler, he’s just being him. He occasionally grins briefly when asked about his many hyped-up catches, but quickly shifts back into humble mode.
“I just made a play on the ball,” Butler said. “Brock under threw it — a rarity for him — but he under threw it and I had to make a play on it.”
Plain. Simple. Next one, please (Baylor, next Saturday, in Ames).
ISU avoids looking ahead by never deviating from its most important bedrock principle: Fully reside in every moment. The rest will take care of itself.
“I think this is a team that’s stayed in the moment all year,” Campbell said. “Everybody thought it was hard to keep focus when you’re 1-3. Everybody will say, now, it’s really hard to keep focus at 5-3, or whatever it is. And the reality of it is the only way we have any shot — our margin of error is still really small — that we’re going to have to continue to get better. And there’s enough, especially over the last two football games, to say, Man, if we don’t improve in some of these small value systems, we’re gonna get ourselves beat. And the only people we’ll have to look at is ourselves.’ So a lot of work to do. We know that. The great thing is so does the leadership in that locker room and I think their value is I have to get better and we have to get better.”