Sep 14, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes linebacker Nick Niemann (49) chases Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa beat Iowa State 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker shined brighter than before. Collin Olson made a successful debut as the backup-turned-starting center in Colin Newell’s absence. Trevor Downing deftly moved defenders in his first career start — and Josh Knipfel was, blandly but vitally, his usual solid self.
In short, there was a lot to like in the Iowa State offensive line’s performance in Saturday’s ultimately disappointing 18-17 home loss to Iowa and there’s no reason to doubt growth will continue among an often-disparaged front five that’s finally coming into its own.
“I think there were signs of who we want to become and what we’ve got the ability to become,” said Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell, who’s team (1-1) faces Louisiana-Monroe (1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Jack Trice Stadium. “Signs of that occurred throughout the football game and it gave our team a chance to win the football game and be successful. It’s something that obviously we can continue to build off.”
The Warhawks used an opportunistic defense to push Florida State to overtime in the season opener, then smothered Grambling State, 31-9, last week at home.
Through two games, UL-M has snared three interceptions — including one for a touchdown in the one-point loss in Tallahassee.
They are fast and they gamble, which could pose problems for an ISU offense that’s moved the ball effectively all season, but has tended to bog down on the plus side of the field.
“They get after the quarterback,” Cyclones offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “They can come from any angle. I think they’re multiple in the way that they attack and stress you out. I think it’s really good team speed and they play really hard. They’re really aggressive and I think that’s a good group.”
The Cyclones have amassed 882 yards of offense this season, but average just 23 points per game — and that includes, of course, a triple-overtime win over Northern Iowa.
ISU’s current average of 6.3 yards per play is better than the season average of at least the past 10 seasons, according to cfbstats.com, so it’s perplexing that such productivity hasn’t translated into more points — or two wins, instead of one.
“Hopefully that line of demarcation (around the opponent’s 40-yard line), hopefully that doesn’t continue,” Manning said. “We know we have to be better within that region of the football field and we’ve also got to be better down towards the goal line. Those things have showed up a little bit and we’ve go to continue to hone in on what we’re doing and get a little bit better in that area.”
Penalties and turnovers have been the biggest drive killers. But something strange does happen once the Cyclones hit that de facto no-man’s-land at around the 40.
Purdy (and Jones, with the one touchdown throw) is completing a sizzling 79.6 percent (39 of 49) of his passes up until the foe’s 40. From there? He’s 16-for-27 (59.2 percent).
Coach Campbell said backsliding on drives stems from lapses in detail orientation. Good only becomes great when progress leads to increased production — when amssing yards means piling up points.
“The detail and precision piece that it takes to play elite football— and we’ve shown to be able to do that, (but) the consistency to be able to do that is what’s critical for us to win, period, any football game,” Campbell said.
Big plays are starting to develop, which help counter aggressive defensive schemes.
The Cyclones struck for two mammoth ones in the loss to Iowa: Deshaunte Jones’s 51-yard touchdown pass to La’Michael Pettway and Brock Purdy’s 73-yard scoring connection with speedy Tarique Milton.
Those should be there Saturday as well, but only if that precision piece continues to sharpen, and the execution element improves considerably, as well.
Fortunately, for ISU, Purdy holds the reins and sets the tone. Couple that with the best sustained O-line play of Campbell’s tenure and that should bode well for Saturday and beyond.
“(Brock’s) getting everybody involved in the offense, whether it’s the tight ends or it’s the collection of receivers,” Campbell said. “Brock’s got the ability to take the football where it needs to go with great consistency. If he can continue to build on that, we’ll have a really good football team.”