Sep 18, 2021; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) runs out of bounds against the UNLV Rebels at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Iowa State football needed to have fun again.
There wasn’t much fun about the Cyclones’ performances during their first two games — most notably offensively. High expectations, high-pressure matchups against in-state rivals had created a vibe of fear, in a sense.
A fear of making mistakes, a fear of letting people down. It made football a lot less fun and that showed on the field as the Cyclones struggled to consistently move the ball.
So, Iowa State needed to have fun again. They came to the right place.
Fun was had by all in “The Entertainment Capital of the World” this weekend. Fun was had by the fans who flooded The Strip in the days preceding Iowa State’s 48-3 dismantling of overmatched UNLV at Allegiant Stadium on Saturday.
Fun was had by the players on Iowa State’s roster, including their veteran quarterback who had become the primary target of folks looking to throw the Cyclones away as potential contenders in the Big 12 this season.
“I think it was just good as far as just getting out here and just playing and having fun,” Brock Purdy said after the game. “Just keeping it simple with our game plan. Obviously, just coming in here and trying to get our offense rolling, clicking. To have that first drive of the game was huge. It felt good. Obviously, coming off of last week, it was rough. Just the way we played, our mindset, everything, my mindset in that big game last week, it hurt. Just to get on the road, get away, come out here and play football with the guys was our main mission and goal. I think we did a pretty good job of it.”
Iowa State entered this game as 30-point favorites. For the first time all season, they looked like a team deserving of those lofty expectations.
The Cyclones were methodical in marching the ball down the field on their opening possession before Breece Hall capped a 12-play, 72-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. Hall added his second one-yard touchdown run of the day shortly after that.
Iowa State’s defense did what Iowa State’s defense does and that’s shut down opponents from the opening snap to the final whistle. Iowa State’s offense finally did what we have all known they’re capable of doing.
They played efficiently. They played with pace. They had once again found the rhythm that made them one of the nation’s most difficult offenses to defend in 2020.
“I think we played with the intensity and the sense of urgency that really I expected our football team to have,” Matt Campbell said. “I think we played our style of football.”
Iowa State being able to play its style of football starts on the shoulders of No. 15. When Purdy is playing his style of football, Iowa State usually follows.
The senior from Arizona was on his game in this one while completing 21-of-24 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with his favorite wide receiver target — Xavier Hutchinson — 10 times for 133 yards and a pair of scores.
He connected with his favorite tight end target — Charlie Kolar — four times for 69 yards and a score. The lone blemish on Purdy’s stat sheet came in the form of a second-quarter fumble in the red zone.
That followed Purdy using his legs more than we saw during the team’s first two games, including on a designed run on fourth and one during the first quarter that went for 15 yards to set up Hall’s second touchdown.
“We all had to look each other in the eye Sunday after last weekend,” Purdy said. “I feel like a lot of guys were coming into the facility or going into the games, guys cared so much, including me. We don’t want to disappoint our team, the people, all kind of stuff, so we just played like a robot in a way. You’re going to do your job and that’s it, but there was no joy, no excitement, no sense of urgency. Those are things that we talked about and we got them cleared up throughout the week. It wasn’t perfect. You go out to practice and you’ve still got to create momentum and you’ve got to make plays and you’ve got to do your job, but I thought Thursday we had a really great practice just in terms of having fun, going and playing ball, but doing your job in the right manner. I thought we saw it tonight.”
Brock Purdy was having fun playing football again. He was making plays and helping his unit perform at a high level while scoring the game’s first 31 points.
Hutchinson didn’t have to think when asked to describe what he saw from his quarterback.
“He was just old Brock again,” Hutchinson said. “He wasn’t uptight. He was just comfortable, relaxed. He was joking on the sideline. That’s something that you never really see from Brock. Just to see that was great to see. I feel like it’s what led to him having a great performance today.”
The biggest key for Iowa State now will be carrying that sense of urgency, that looseness to have fun out on the football field, into next week’s Big 12 opener against Baylor in Waco. The Bears beat Kansas 45-7 on Saturday in Lawrence.
That will be the first of nine (or eight depending on how you’d evaluate Kansas compared to UNLV) considerably tougher tests than what the Cyclones saw on Saturday in Las Vegas. That’s a problem to worry about tomorrow, though.
Iowa State got what most everyone gets out of Sin City.
“Still a lot of things we’ve got to clean up, but it was good,” Purdy said. “It was a good confidence booster for sure.”