Football

FARMAGGEDON 2019: Diversity is key for Brock Purdy and ISU’s wide-ranging passing game

ISU receiver La’Michael Pettway makes a key catch in Saturday’s 41-31 win over Kansas. (Luke Lu photo). 

AMES — Guess the one team that can match Iowa State in terms of having four receivers with at least 600 yards in catches each?

 You’ll have to leave the mainland.

 It’s Hawai’i, which, obviously, isn’t playing in a power five conference.

 What the Cyclones have done in terms of diversification in the passing game after bell-cow Hakeem Butler left for the NFL hasn’t received enough attention.

 Yes, sophomore quarterback, Brock Purdy is rapidly rewriting the program’s record books.

 Yes, the Cyclones (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) retain hopes for their second nine-win season in program history.

 And, yes, it won’t be easy to notch win No. 8 in Saturday’s 6 p.m. matchup with Kansas State (7-4, 4-4) in Manhattan — no matter how many top targets zig and zag across the field on routes.

 But ISU’s ability to be multiple — and not just in formations and one-through-11 personnel — is a big reason why Purdy has been on fire through the air.

 “He’s a fun guy to watch on film because he just makes so many plays,” said Wildcats first-year head coach Chris Klieman, who grew up in Waterloo. “He’s playing with great confidence. Yeah, he has a lot of weapons out there, but he utilizes them all. He doesn’t panic under pressure. He buys himself some time. Extremely accurate player. Obviously a really fun kid to watch on film. I don’t know if I’ll have as much fun watching him live, but I think he’s a terrific football player.”

 Note that Klieman — who continued Craig Bohl’s string of FCS national titles at North Dakota State before taking the K-State job after the legendary Bill Snyder finally retired (again) — referenced ISU’s voluminous amount of threats in the passing game.

 Purdy’s pinpointed throws to all of them. 

 Ten different ISU players have caught at least one touchdown pass.

 Fifteen different Cyclones have notched at least one catch — including backup quarterback Re-al Mitchell.

 To put that in perspective, 14 ISU players caught a pass last season. Just six ended up clutching one in the end zone.

 Trust is strong across the board, a reality to which the stats attest. 

 “It just shows us he trusts us and it’s a credit to him because we work really hard in practice,” said graduate transfer receiver La’Michael Pettway, who caught two touchdown passes in last weekend’s win over Kansas. “We make these plays go in practice, so he’s comfortable enough to call it in a game.”

 Purdy rightfully dominates the headlines.

 His wide-ranging group of targets helps make those blurbs possible.

 Pettway has become something of a security blanket. He caught four passes on third down to extend drives against the Jayhawks.

 But he’s far from alone.

 It’s Purdy’s ability to go anywhere — to anyone — at any time that makes him so dangerous.

 “Brock’s special,” Pettway said. “Brock’s Brock. He stays the course. He doesn’t let a play affect him. He’s young, but he’s very mature. Brock’s definitely a leader of this team and he’ll be a leader of this team for years to come.”

 Time will tell. Purdy, of course, will remain a leader as long as he wears cardinal and gold.

 Yet as good as he is, it’s who surrounds him that makes it possible.

 That’s true of the guys up front, who, by the way, are allowing a Big 12-low 1.18 sacks per game

 That’s also true for the guys who run routes, whether slants, outs or posts.

 They help Purdy truly be “special.” But he possesses that quality all on his own, too.

“Brock’s a little out of the box,” Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell said. “That’s a good way to put it. I do think it’s rare. You either have it or you don’t. The great ones have the ability to do it. He has the unique ability to be great and step up in the pocket and have enough poise and find options, three, four or five. He can do those things.”

Rob Gray

administrator

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.