NOTEBOOK: Cowboys’ aggressive defense put the clamps on ISU offense

Oct 24, 2020; Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA; Iowa head coach Matt Campbell talks with quarterback Brock Purdy (15) in a game against Oklahoma State at Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Sarah Phipps-USA TODAY Sports

STILLWATER, Okla. — Matt Campbell did not need much time to think.

The Cyclones’ head coach had been asked what ailed his team’s passing attack during the 24-21 loss to No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday in Stillwater.

Brock Purdy and his pass-catchers entered the game averaging 235 yards per game through the air and 11.8 yards per completion but finished the loss to the Cowboys with only 162 yards and 8.5 yards per completion.

Receivers consistently failed to get open. Purdy was running for his life for the majority of the game due to constant Oklahoma State pressure.

Even when Purdy could set his feet for throws and guys did get open, drops were an issue, most notably an uncharacteristic one from All-American tight end Charlie Kolar that would have converted a first down on a drive early in the fourth quarter with the Cyclones behind by one score.

“Well, you’ve got to catch it. When you’re throwing the ball, you’ve got to be able to catch it so that was one issue,” Campbell said. “The second issue is you’ve got to give those guys credit. That’s a veteran secondary. Of the five secondary players, four of them are juniors or seniors and they’ve played a ton of football. I think you’ve got to give credit where that’s due in that they made a couple plays on the ball. It’s a little bit deceiving when you had the opportunity to make some catches and you didn’t.”

Kolar’s drop was part of a string of eight consecutive incompletions from Purdy, who finished 19-of-34 passes on the day.

The windows to throw into were small for nearly the entire game, but the window of time the Cyclones’ junior signal-caller had to throw was even smaller.

The Cowboys blitzed early and often against an Iowa State offensive line missing two of its season-opening starters and starting two redshirt freshmen on the right side. The result was three sacks, four quarterback hurries and Purdy being forced to throw with hands in his face on the majority of his attempts.

Oklahoma State was especially aggressive in third and long situations, which Iowa State found itself in fairly often due in large part to penalties and an inability to run with consistency on first and second downs sticking the Cyclones behind the chains.

“Jeez, that’s about as aggressive as you’re going to get,” Campbell said. “I think when you’re going to evaluate pass protection you’ve got to evaluate first and second down, not third and 12. That’s a good defense that can pressure you on third and long. They did that. I thought on first and second down though I thought they were pretty good for the most part. Again, that will be a really good evaluation from my end of it. I didn’t think it was terrible, but when you put yourself in long distances against a very veteran defense, man, it’s hard to protect and hold up forever against those kind of guys.”

In the end, Iowa State finished 3-of-13 on third down and faced an average of 8.5 yards to gain per attempt. They were 0-of-4 when facing nine yards or more to move the chains.

The Cowboys were able to force the Cyclones into playing behind the chains with regularity and the result was an aggressive defense being able to wreak havoc.

“I think there were some circumstances in the second half where we either got ourselves into second and long or third and long and you’re flinching,” Campbell said. “Tacking that onto an aggressive defense, that can be tough. Some of those things were tough as the game went on. I think putting ourselves in some tougher situations and then compounding that with some tough penalties, makes it really hard to have success in some of those critical moments.”

Breece’s big plays not enough

Breece Hall produced two of the team’s biggest highlights of the game on a 70-yard run in the first quarter and a 66-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter.

The sophomore tailback from Wichita finished with a career-high 185 yards on 20 carries, making him the first Cyclone to rush for 100+ yards in five consecutive games since Darren Davis accomplished the feat across the 1998 and 1999 seasons.

While that is all great, take out the two big runs and Hall finished with just 49 yards on his other 18 attempts for an average of 2.72 yards per rush.

“We know Breece is a really special player. His ability to create big plays is outstanding. Some of those yards came off some big plays. He was able to find that,” Campbell said. “I think the bigger thing for me is the consistency of running the football wasn’t as good as what we’ve had at times. We’ve got to figure that out. I thought Breece was outstanding for the larger part of the game.”

Precision found on final drive

Iowa State’s most complete drive of the game was its last.

The Cyclones drove 83 yards on 10 plays in roughly two and a half minutes to pull within three points with less than a minute to play on a touchdown pass from Purdy to Xavier Hutchinson.

Unfortunately, it was too little too late as an onside kick attempt failed and Oklahoma State was able to take a knee twice to seal the final tally.

Still, Hutchinson felt like the Cyclones got back to being themselves late in the game, which will hopefully be carried forward into next week’s game against Kansas in Lawrence.

“I can tell you one thing, our precision on that last drive was on point,” Hutchinson, who finished with eight catches for 68 yards and the score, said. “That’s what Iowa State football looks like. I think as a whole time if we can get that on every single down and every single series then we’re a really dangerous team.”

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.