GRAY: Defensive stands set the tone as ISU overcomes adversity in 72-20 romp

Sep 21, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell celebrates during their game against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Warhawks 72 to 20. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Two drives. Two turnovers. One irksome dose of self-imposed adversity — again.

Yes, Iowa State’s offense started Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe in the worst possible way, but the defense lifted the entire team up — and then it was up, up and away in all phases during a 72-20 frolic through Jack Trice Stadium marked by steely resilience, instead of being marred by woulda, coulda, shouldas. 

 “We played like a football team for the first time this year,” said Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell, whose team (2-1) aced the final non-conference test of the season in advance of its Big 12 opener next Saturday at Baylor. “And I say that because you felt like we were playing off each other for the first time all year. I know I’ve said that multiple times, but it is really our only chance to be truly the best version of us we can be. When we play with each other, when we play special teams, offense, defense and flow, then you have the opportunity to be a really good football team. That’s been our recipe for success.”

 Saturday, the first two ingredients proved to be sour and bitter, but once all the elements were fully incorporated, the final product produced nothing but sweetness that flowed for hours.

 After those turnovers — a Brock Purdy interception and fumble — the defense bowed up, allowing a total of eight yards on 10 plays.

 The first stop, aided by a Greg Eisworth pass break up, ended in a missed ULM field goal. 

 On the second, Marcel Spears and Jamahl Johnson tag-teamed to quash Warhawks quarterback Caleb Evans’s fourth-down conversion attempt.

 So the score remained tied. ISU eagerly sought to finally force a turnover for the first time this season. But first the offense had to respond to the defense’s crucial stands, which it did by embarking on a record-setting march that produced the most points in program history since the Cyclones dropped 81 on Carroll College in 1906.

“As on offense, you never really want to turn the ball over,” said senior receiver Deshaunte Jones, whose 84-yard touchdown catch from Purdy is the fifth-longest in program history. “We just tried to stay even keel and tried to just keep pushing forward. Just take one drive at a time; try to keep finishing drives and keep trying to have consecutive successful drives.”

 Purdy darted seven yards for back-to-back touchdowns to put ISU up 14-0. Then the celebrated sophomore quarterback hit speedy wideout Tarique Milton for a 73-yard score and the rout was on.

 Purdy broke the single-game school record for total offense with 510 yards (435 passing, 75 rushing). He also tied a single-game mark with six total touchdowns (three rushing, three passing). His 435 passing yards were a mere five yards from tying Austen Arnaud’s single-game standard.

 So much for that rough start, but that’s what makes Purdy so unique: his utterly unflappable nature.

 “Brock’s got great poise and I think that’s the thing I really do appreciate about him is his ability to just continue to navigate the present and not get wrapped up in either what happened in the past or what’s coming in the future,” Campbell said. “You say, what makes Brock a really talented football player? Those are the qualities that probably embody him the best, his ability to be present in the moment.”

 Oh, Purdy enjoyed those moments, but he wasn’t alone.

 Purdy engineered eight consecutive scoring possessions (six touchdowns, two field goals) before leaving the game after three quarters.

 “He’s the man,” Milton, who posted his second straight 100-plus yards receiving game, said of Purdy. “And I’m trying to be like him.”

 ISU led 48-20 at the time — and the backups picked up where the starters left off.

 Dynamic second-string quarterback Re-al Mitchell led three more touchdown drives, to give the offense points on its final 11 possessions before entering victory formation in the final seconds.

 But it gets better: Linebacker Jake Hummel complemented Mitchell’s three touchdown drives with a pick six, which gave ISU three takeaways to place his team on the plus-side of turnover margin for the first time since last October’s 40-31 win over Texas Tech.

 “It was great seeing all those guys,” said safety Lawrence White, who snagged the Cyclones’ first takeaway of the season after cornerback Anthony Johnson broke up a pass late in the first quarter. “Hummel, (Jetairis) Grant with the strip and D.J. (Miller) with the recovery (on the second turnover). … “We’ve just got to do our job in there and get the ball back to the offense and let them get to rolling. You see what they can do. We just came together.”

 It couldn’t happen at a better time. When self-sabotage came early Saturday, ISU turned to collective self-confidence to snuff out its effects.

 The result?

 A comfortable (finally) and satisfying win that was long overdue and impossible to derail — and vitally important with the grueling Big 12 slate set to unfold.

 “Coach got done telling us in the locker room that Big 12 play is coming,” Purdy said. “We’ve got big games coming and everything. We know that. We understand it. We’re gonna take the positive and negatives of this game and the past couple games and just keep building on it. I feel like everybody, as a team, offense, defense and special teams, we’re clicking right now. We’re just getting closer and closer. I’m so excited to see what’s to come.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.