Oct 31, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Joe Scates (9) catches a pass for a touchdown as Kansas Jayhawks cornerback Duece Mayberry (22) defends during the second half at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Some call it “garbage time.”
Or maybe, “mop-up duty.”
But Iowa State true freshman quarterback Hunter Dekkers — along with several green, but gifted Cyclones on both sides of the ball — turned the final minutes of Saturday’s 52-22 shellacking of Kansas into a prime opportunity to shine against a Big 12 opponent.
“I think that was really important just from our end to go execute offensively,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said of Dekkers’ debut, which included a 2-for-2 passing performance and a 30-yard dime to Joseph Scates for the game’s final touchdown. “I think it was really important in a year like this where you just haven’t gotten many game opportunities (for reps for young players) that you had to take advantage of that with our quarterback situation. Hunter getting that opportunity to go in the game and execute, like I said, obviously did a fine job of doing that.”
Dekkers also hit former quarterback-turned-tight end Easton Dean for a 30-yard strike to open the 2-play, 55-yard touchdown drive — and his impressive maiden voyage at quarterback came the same day star play-caller Brock Purdy tied Bret Meyer for the Cyclones’ all-time lead in touchdown throws with 50.
So the past and present met the future, which likely bodes well for what lies ahead this week against Baylor (6 p.m., FS1) and beyond.
More young players will see time on the field. More can make big impacts along with usual suspects such as Breece Hall, Purdy, Greg Eisworth, Mike Rose and JaQuan Bailey — among many others who bided their time a bit before breaking through as transformational talents in the program.
Hall, for instance, didn’t become ISU’s featured back last season until conjuring up a head-turning 132-yard, 3-touchdown performance in week five at West Virginia.
“I think the majority of true freshmen other than our first year here, they’ve kind of had to go through the process to get on the field,” said Campbell, whose Cyclones (4-2, 4-1) are tied atop the conference standings. “I’ve always said this to any player that comes into our program: I probably would rather you play you too late than too early. My only hope with that is when you do play, you’re ready to handle the opportunity at hand. I think that’s what makes our sport really special, is you’re gonna get your shot more than likely. It’s a matter of do you take advantage of your opportunity when it comes your way? I think for Breece it was working to that point to being accountable in every facet of the game and, boy, when he got his opportunity at West Virginia last year, he really kind of (took) hold of it. He made the most of his opportunity and really hasn’t looked back since. I think Brock was very similar to that process in the (previous) year at Iowa State. I think for a guy like Breece, you always knew he had really high-end talent. I don’t think there was necessarily a rush to say, ‘Man, we’ve got to get this guy to play,’ other than by the time he came into fall camp we knew there was very high-end talent and we wanted to put the pieces together that we could trust him and he could trust himself to go play at a really high rate.”
Dekkers did the same in a snapshot effort, providing a glimpse of what ISU’s offense might look like once Purdy ascends to the next level.
That’s both exciting and necessary. It’s also a prime time development — no matter when it occurred in a game, or against whom.
“I think we have been really excited about what practice has looked like and really the competitiveness of our practices through the fall,” Campbell said about his young players developing in general. “I think one of the huge positives of how we’re practicing is the amount of good on good we’re able to do, which allows our young players to really practice in a highly competitive situation against our really good starters at times. I think what it’s allowed us to create is some depth and I think also what it’s allowed us to create is some excitement for the future of our football team. You were able to get a little peek of that on Saturday, which was positive, because not only did those guys get into the game, but those guys got into the game and on both sides of the ball, offensive and defensively, had the ability to execute at what I thought was a really high level. (They made) some impressive plays. So for me, those young guys continue to come on. There’s certainly opportunity through the rest of this football season that some of those really good young talented players are gonna have to step into critical roles and it’s my job and our coaching staff’s job to make sure that when they do get their opportunities, that they’re ready to take advantage of them.”
HALL’S WEEKLY R & R
Campbell was asked how the science that goes into keeping high-output and high-usage standouts such as Hall healthy from week to week compares to when he was a player.
“It’s a different world. That’s where having professionals like a nutritionist on staff, having a strength coach that’s not just about the verbiages and lifting weights and getting as strong as you can. The verbiages are about the holistic model — what you put into your body is what you’re going to get out of it on Saturday. How do you recover? All those things have changed for the better. They really allow young people to become the best versions of themselves they can be. I think we have made a huge jump forward over the last nine months of in terms of growing to where I want them to be. Breece is a great example of that and I think it’s an example of his maturity, too. I think sometimes as a young player, or even as a young person, you think you’re invincible. But unfortunately, the more you put out, the more you put into it, physically, the more you have to learn how to recover and take care of yourself if you want to max that output with great consistency. The elite players know how to match that output with great consistency. It doesn’t matter if it’s the NBA, NFL or college football. They know how to do it and it all starts with taking great care of their body. Breece has grown that way and I would say our program as grown that way in a huge way over the last nine months.”
THE PAST IS IRRELEVANT
Campbell said his team likely won’t draw many lessons from last season’s 23-21 loss at Baylor. The Bears were up 20-0 before Purdy led a rousing comeback that was thwarted by a Baylor field goal in the final seconds. The answer to that hot-and-cold and eventually heartbreaking day boils down to details — and those can only be dealt with in the present.
“I don’t think we ever worry about what happened a year ago and we really don’t worry about what happened last week,” Campbell said. “We just try to get better one week at a time. I think our kids understand that. Pretty simple message: Grow, or if you don’t grow, you won’t play to what your standard and capabilities are.”