Iowa State’s offense seeks to get back on track in unique road test at Ohio

Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell gets congratulation from Ohio Bobcats head coach Tim Albin after winning 43-10 at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

 AMESJarrod Hufford will likely owe some of his Iowa State teammates a few favors after Saturday’s 11 a.m. nonconference finale at Ohio.


 Let the senior offensive lineman and native Ohioan count the ways …

 “I need to get 43 tickets,” said Hufford, who grew up in Newark, Ohio — or about an hour and a half from the Bobcats’ campus. “And that’s not even counting the people that have already bought their own tickets — family, friends and whatnot. So, yeah, definitely a big crowd. Hopefully, I get to see all of them after the game, but that’s not something I’m focused on when I get out there. We’ve got to beat them. That’s the main point.”

 No kidding. The Cyclones (1-1) trounced Ohio, 43-10, last season at home, but it’s unlikely to be that easy this time around. The Bobcats — who scored 17 unanswered points to beat Tom Herman’s Florida Atlantic Owls last week on the road — return several veteran standouts, including quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who is the reigning MAC offensive player of the year.

 Rourke struggled against ISU last season, throwing just one touchdown pass to two interceptions, but boasts a strong arm and can make all the throws. Cyclone head coach Matt Campbell called him the best quarterback his team will have faced to date this season — a lofty assessment his defensive coordinator, Jon Heacock, echoed.

 “Probably as steep a challenge we’ve played to this point on our side of the football,” Heacock said.

 So while this game will serve as a homecoming of sorts for Hufford and a handful of his teammates — including punter Tyler Perkins and safety Malik Verdon — the Cyclones are also likely to receive a rude welcome from the upstart Bobcats (2-1), who made this matchup their actual Homecoming game.

 “They’re gonna come in there swinging, so it’s important that we come out (of) the gate fast and play hard the whole four quarters,” ISU linebacker Jacob Ellis said.

 What precisely does that look like for the Cyclones, who seek to finish their nonconference schedule with a 2-1 mark for the fifth time in Campbell’s seven-plus seasons?

 For one, Hufford’s group needs to keep making steady progress. ISU’s offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack this season — and it’s the first time since 2012 it’s done that in consecutive games. The Cyclones’ frontmen also need to open up larger hopes for top tailbacks Cartevious Norton and Abu Sama, who averaged 4.5 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, respectively, in the 30-9 season-opening win over Northern Iowa, but just 2.8 and 3.0 yards in last week’s 20-13 loss to Iowa.

 “It’s something we’re definitely focused on this week and something we’re gonna fix,” senior tight end Easton Dean said.

 ISU will also need to see more growth from redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht, who rebounded from throwing a pick-six against the Hawkeyes by leading a pair of scoring drives that allowed the Cyclones to retain at least faint hopes of tying or winning the game until the final moments.

 “He bounced back fast,” Dean said. “Like, no one really had to say anything to him. It was just, like, in his head (that) he needed to come back and be better and he did that. That’s just huge for him and huge for our offense to see.”

 And perhaps it’s a harbinger of what’s to come this Saturday at Frank Solich Field and at future Big 12 destinations down the road. Becht doesn’t need to be perfect. He merely needs to be efficient — a quality the redshirt freshman embodied in week one, but struggled with in week two. So what to expect in his first road test as a starter? Stay tuned, but it better be good.

 “How do you go on the road and handle yourself?” Campbell said. “How do you get into a tough environment? All those things are gonna be on display and who are we, and are we going to continue to unfold ourselves and grow ourselves? I think those are great opportunities for our team to show our growth.”