STANZ: Offense struggles again in loss to K-State

Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Hunter Dekkers (12) nthrows the ball against Kansas State during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Ames, Iowa.

AMES — Iowa State’s offense has to get better — and fast.

I know, I know, I’m really stepping out on a limb there, but that’s the only thing on my mind as I sit down to write about this team on another disappointing Saturday.

This season feels as though it is starting to slip away on some level at the midway point after the Cyclones lost to Kansas State, 10-9, on Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.

Iowa State’s defense was good enough to win. Iowa State’s special teams, in a considerable turn from last week, were good enough to win.

Iowa State’s offense, on the other hand, was not.

The Cyclones did enough to move the football into field goal range for true freshman Jace Gilbert to put together one helluva bounce-back performance, but it did not do enough to win the football game.

The weird part is Iowa State’s offense isn’t making glaring backbreaking mistakes like turning the ball over at will. They’re moving the football at times, but they’re consistently finding ways to knock themselves off their rhythm.

One drive it might be a crucial false start penalty that pushes you behind the sticks. On another, it could be a significant drop that would have extended the drive and given the Cyclones an opportunity to get into the end zone.

Some of it can be pinned on just general youth and inexperience across the unit. Some of it can be attributed to inconsistency from the quarterback spot. Some of it falls on a struggling rushing attack. Some of it could fall on the shoulders of the man calling the plays.

Regardless of who is at fault, Iowa State’s offense has to get better, or else this program’s five-year streak of postseason appearances could be in jeopardy.

“Just young players that are playing inconsistently at times,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said after the game. “When all those things come together it creates an inconsistent offense and that’s what we’re seeing. You still see some ‘A’ players making ‘A’ plays, but we are not as consistent as we need to be to win football games right now.”

Right now, Xavier Hutchinson is the only ‘A’ skill-position player that Iowa State can rely on to show up and deliver play after play. No. 8 is the Cyclones’ offense — or at least has been for the last two weeks.

He caught eight passes for 100 yards on Saturday against the Wildcats. He was targeted 17 times, bringing his two-week total to 35 after 18 last week in Lawrence.

Nobody else in the receiving corp was targeted more than six times.

Now, this isn’t to say that Iowa State shouldn’t be making a concerted effort to get the ball in Hutchinson’s hands. He’s the best player on Iowa State’s offense by a considerable margin. You have to get him the football.

He needs some help, too, and right now he’s not getting that to the level this team needs to win.

“Man, he keeps putting himself and putting us in position to make big plays,” Campbell said. “We have great faith in Sean (Shaw) and Jaylin (Noel), and Dimitri (Stanley). It’s not a matter of a one-man show out there.”

This offense can’t be a one-man show if this team is going to win three of its next six games to make a sixth-straight bowl game, but the numbers clearly indicate that this is right now.

Those three players Campbell mentioned, Shaw, Noel and Stanley, were targeted 13 times on Saturday… combined.

Now, again, I’m not advocating for giving the ball less to Xavier Hutchinson, because he’s playing like one of the five best wide receivers in college football, but it is hard to argue this offense isn’t a one-man show right now when Iowa State’s next three receivers combined targets still don’t match Hutchinson’s.

Some of this has to fall on the shoulders of redshirt junior Hunter Dekkers. The game looks really fast for him right now as the defenses get better and the stakes get bigger.

This doesn’t look like the same Dekkers we saw lead a 99-yard drive to win the Cy-Hawk game.

Dekkers didn’t play terribly on Saturday against Kansas State, at least not on paper, as he completed 22-of-38 passes for 198 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.

I would say Dekkers played a C, maybe, B-minus game against Kansas State, but Iowa State needs him to be an A-player every week if this offense will succeed.

“I don’t feel like we’re totally off-kilter. It’s just our inconsistencies,” Campbell said. “We have to be right on right now to be consistent, and we’re not. There’s inconsistencies in some of the things that are going on.”

If Dekkers is going to be having off nights, Iowa State needs to be able to run the football, and the Cyclones can’t do that at the moment and have struggled to do it most of the season outside of a few isolated stretches in different games.

The Cyclones ran the ball 24 times for 78 yards against Kansas State for a 3.2 yards per carry average. Jirehl Brock was visibly hampered by an ankle injury suffered last week against Kansas. Back-up Cartevious Norton wasn’t available as he continues rehabbing an injury.

Deon Silas and Eli Sanders might have the ability to be bell-cow backs in the future, but they just don’t have that juice yet at this point in their careers.

The result is the offense falls behind the eight-ball without the ability to create even a couple of yards of push. Defenses have started to drop their coverage back, daring Dekkers to dink and dunk his way down the field.

Teams are starting to dare Iowa State to run the football, and the Cyclones just haven’t been able to do it to this point.

“We just got to gotta be more physical, more physical at the point of attack,” Brock said. “Running backs have got to be more physical just running the ball, making smarter decisions. I feel like we’ll figure it out. Hopefully, it’s sooner than later. But I think we will figure this out.”

Fans will ask a lot of questions and send a lot of criticism toward offensive coordinator Tom Manning. Some of that angst could be justified, but it also falls on the shoulders of the players to execute the game plan once the game starts and the lights are on.

It is easy to point at play-calling though when you’ve watched an offense throw short of the sticks in crucial situations multiple times across a two-week span. Is that play-calling or decision-making by the quarterback?

We won’t get a solid answer to that from anybody inside the program, but it leads to a larger point.

There is fault to go around for everyone when you’re breaking down what’s going wrong for this Iowa State offense because the only thing consistent about that unit right now is its inconsistency.

“We feel like we’ve got a really good football team,” Campbell said. “We’re not miles away. We’re inches away.”

Miles or inches, it doesn’t matter either way. Iowa State’s offense has to get a lot better in order for this program to reach the standard its set for itself over the last half-decade.

You won’t win many games in this league when you go through game-and-a-half stretches without putting the ball in the end zone. You won’t beat Texas next week in Austin by kicking field goals.

Major props to Jace Gilbert for that bounce-back performance knocking through three field goals on Saturday, though. That’s showing a lot of maturity and grit by not allowing last week’s failures to snowball into lingering problems.

Hopefully, Iowa State’s offense can figure out a way to do the same — and soon.

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.