“Natural,” not “magic”: Why ISU has won nine straight games in October is no mystery

Oct 12, 2019; Morgantown, WV, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) celebrates after beating the West Virginia Mountaineers at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

AMESBrock Purdy fully embodies the expression “even keel” as Iowa State’s quarterback.

 He doesn’t get rattled. He eschews the highs and lows and stays in the moment, game after game, season to season.

 But apparently, there is one way to get under the star sophomore’s skin: Bring up one clever and complimentary term — and it pertains to his association with the team’s string of October successes since 2016.

 “I call it ‘Brocktober’ every time I see him,” joked ISU tight end Charlie Kolar, who hopes to help his team to a win in Saturday’s 11 a.m. matchup at Texas Tech. “I call him ‘Brocktober in October,’ but that’s just because I know it makes him mad.”

 Now, it’s hard to imagine Purdy as angry, so it’s likely his mild irritation with the personalized term stems from the fact that the Cyclones’ October success predates his arrival.

 ISU’s current string of nine consecutive October wins started, of course, when Kyle Kempt took the reins at quarterback against Oklahoma on Oct. 7, 2017 — and the Cyclones shocked college football with a 38-31 road win over the then-No. 3 Sooners.

  A lot has changed since that day, but ISU’s one-month dominance in this two and a half-season span — mirrored only by top-ranked Alabama (7-0) among FBS schools — is rooted in slow, steady progress and carefully-charted course corrections, not smoke and mirrors, or singular performances.

 “It seems natural, man, because this culture is so together and this team is so together, that it just seems like it’s a norm,” said graduate transfer receiver La’Michael Pettway, who recorded one catch for 10 yards against Alcorn State in October 2016 as a redshirt freshman for the Razorbacks. “That’s what I mean about the culture: they’re so established and so in tune with each other.”

 It may be that simple. The Cyclones (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) have struggled early in each of the past three seasons, starting 1-3, 2-2, and 2-2. Then October hits and fortunes change. It’s no mystery why it’s tended to happen. Answers lie where ISU head coach Matt Campbell incessantly points: The margins.

 1. The Cyclones are a staggering plus-14 in turnovers in the nine straight October wins — and precisely plus-two in seven of those victories. Purdy’s first two breakout games (Oklahoma State and West Virginia in 2018) were washes in terms of turnover differential. Both October wins this season have been accompanied by twin plus-two marks on the turnover ledger. 

  “As a team, we’re finally coming together,” said defensive lineman Matt Leo, who committed to the Cyclones a month and a half after the team’s last October setback. “It’s something — we have struggled in the past the first few games of each year and finding and grasping how we play as a team; I just feel that by this time every year, we kind of figure out where we are and where we need to improve and that’s how we attack it.”

 2. Having depth, not lacking it, is now a firmly-established talking point. The Cyclones like to talk about “rolling” players in and out — and not just in games, but in practice. Establishing quality depth has helped ISU overcome key injuries in the meat of the Big 12 schedule and it’s showing up again as safety Greg Eisworth, linebacker O’Rien Vance and defensive end JaQuan Bailey have been dinged up in recent weeks, or all season.

 “I think we all know that we need everybody,” Cyclones defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “Sometimes it’s hard for young guys to understand that, ‘Hey I might be one play away,’ but as coaches, I think we all know you’re one play away. So I think our guys, our players and coaches, have done a great job of getting guys ready.”

 3. Accountability. Again, there’s a reason the same areas are stressed by Campbell — and show out best as the season wears on. Kolar was asked Tuesday about the Big 12-leading production he, Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner have provided at tight end. His response?

 “I personally didn’t play well this past week (at West Virginia),” said Kolar, who made his second and third career catches in last October’s 30-14 home win over West Virginia. “I had three drops, so from a personal perspective, I’ve just got to keep getting better and make more contested catches. And as a group, we’re really blessed to have three guys right now who are all playing good football. It’s good because you can roll… It allows you to play fresher and harder for those snaps. So we’re really lucky to have that.”

 Texas Tech (3-3, 1-2) aims to snap that string of “luck” — and remaining fresh and poised will be key if ISU is to win its 10th straight October game since that loss to K-State 1,056 days ago.

 The Cyclones enter as seven-point favorites, per OddsShark, but know that what outsiders expect has far less bearing on wins and losses than what they routinely demand of themselves — whether that’s in October or beyond.

 “Everybody keeps asking the question, ‘Why in October?’” Kolar said. “I don’t know. I don’t know if we’re just clicking or what. We’ve played two games (in October) so far (this season), we’ve got two wins. The goal is to get the next one. I don’t think it’s any magic or hoopla. I think it’s just a team that, you know, we’re trying to continue to get better.”


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.