Aggressive passing attack shows up for Iowa State in close loss to Iowa

Then-freshman quarterback Brock Purdy looks downfield as he scrambles to his right against Kansas State on Nov. 24, 2018. Iowa State knocked off Kansas State 42-38.

Matt Belinson

Coming into the much-anticipated Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk game against Iowa on Saturday, Iowa State had questions to answer.

After squeaking out of week one with a win against FCS opponent Northern Iowa, Iowa State’s offense was looking for a rebound, despite racking up 463 yards of total offense.

While 463 yards is nothing to be disappointed about, Iowa State went dormant on a majority of its drives in the game against Northern Iowa, allowing the Panthers to keep it a one score game the entire contest.

The offense was very safe, which is to be expected for the first game of the season. However, the passing game relied on virtually one man the entire way, creating a less than balanced passing attack.

Deshaunte Jones was that go-to target for the Cyclones in week one, hauling in a career-high 14 receptions for 126 yards. Jones was the focal point of the offense the whole game, seen on multiple drives catching screen passes and churning up field into open space.

The targets in the passing game were not equally distributed to say the least, with only three other Cyclones catching three or more passes against the Panthers. 

The gameplan changed dramatically as the Cy-Hawk game got underway in what would become an 18-17 defeat.

The Iowa Hawkeyes came into the Cy-Hawk game as the no. 2 ranked passing defense in the Big 10, allowing 233 passing yards a game on average.

That high ranking didn’t seem to scare the Cyclones on their opening drive, as they attacked the secondary for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa State’s first drive began right where it left off in its previous game, with Jones catching a 12-yard pass for a first down. 

After that first down, rain entered Ames. The game was delayed for a brief period before Iowa State returned to its opening drive.

Once the rain was over — for the time being — Iowa State wasted no time taking shots down the field, something that was absent all of week one against UNI.

After Purdy completed a pass to Tarique Milton, Iowa State reached into its bag of tricks.

In the next play, Purdy took the handoff and threw to his right to Deshuante Jones.

Except Jones wasn’t looking for space to run after the catch. Instead, he wound up and threw a 51-yard strike to La’Michael Pettway to give Iowa State an early 7-3 lead.

The 51-yard pass was not only a creative trick-play, but it was a longer pass than Purdy himself threw against Northern Iowa two weeks ago.

Purdy’s longest pass of the Northern Iowa game was to Landen Akers for 21 yards — yards that came when Akers ran up field after making the catch.

The offense for the Cyclones didn’t hold back in the pass game against Iowa.

“[Purdy] had a good game for us, but that’s Brock though, he is going to be him every single day,” Jones said. “That’s nothing new for Brock.”

Iowa State had six passes that went over 15 yards on the night, two of which ended in touchdowns. 

Purdy would find Pettway, Charlie Kolar or Milton on passes that went over 16 yards in the air during multiple drives.

Purdy was allowed to be himself.

Against Northern Iowa, Purdy barely scrambled, causing him to only look for his first read; if the screen of slant wasn’t available, the offense sputtered.

That was not the case on Saturday, particularly in the second half.

Iowa State received the second-half kick off but they didn’t have the ball for long.

After a three-yard run by Kene Nwangwu to begin the opening drive, the Cyclones once again relied on the arm of Purdy to do the scoring.

On the second play of the second half, Purdy took advantage of Milton getting behind the Iowa secondary and dropped a 73-yard pass into his waiting arms to put the Cyclones up 14-6. 

“I thought [Purdy] gave us every opportunity to win the game,” Campbell said.

Purdy had similar numbers to his Northern Iowa performance, throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns on 24 passes Saturday.

Despite the sophomore quarterback throwing for lots of yardage and a touchdown against Iowa, Campbell said the Iowa State offense can’t live by getting big plays for scores, as it leaves an opportunity to die by looking for them on every possession.

The Iowa State offense took deeper shots than in the previous game against the Panthers. 

Iowa State had six passes that went over 15 yards on the night, two of which ended in the touchdowns. 

Pettway caught some of those longer passes from Purdy against Iowa but felt that missed opportunities were present in the loss.

“We were definitely one play away; we have to get over that little hump,” Pettway said. 

Campbell was glad to see the offense become more aggressive but he said an aggressive attack can allow for lulls in the game where the offense can’t move.

Iowa State fell into that trap Saturday night.

“I think we are really close on filling in the gaps of when we score,” Campbell said. “You look and you say, ‘we punted three times during the game’ but we only got two touchdowns on the night.

“We can’t live with big plays as our only scoring chances. You can’t survive on big plays, I don’t care where you are.”

The offense tried to fill in the gaps in time where scoring was absent by spreading the ball around. 

The Cyclones had receptions by seven different receivers Saturday night, with four of the seven having three or more catches. The top four receivers for Iowa State were all within four catches of one another, presenting a clear difference from the matchup against the Panthers.

Against Northern Iowa, Jones had 10 more receptions than the next closest receiver for the Cyclones.

Campbell said that even though Jones was not the leading receiver for the Cyclones against Iowa, he made a big impact on the offense.

“[Jones] can do so many things for us offensively,” Campbell said. “He was exceptional tonight for us, which is nothing new to see from him.”

Even with the offense showing a more aggressive side against the Hawkeyes, Iowa State was not able to capitalize in key moments. This was evident late in the game as they were unable to drive down the field with the game on the line after a special teams miscue.

“I knew we were going to have a chance,” Jones said. “We were moving the ball so well and I knew we would have had a chance of driving down the field, but unfortunately we didn’t but we have to move on.”