Iowa State’s offense offers up a mixed bag in the season opener

Running back Johnnie Lang races past Akron’s players during the Cyclone’s game against the Zips on Sept. 22 at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones won 26-13.

Matt Belinson

With 463 total yards and 151 more rushing yards than the opponent, most football teams would walk out of a game with a comfortable victory.

No. 21 Iowa State had the exact opposite of that in its season opener on Saturday.

For Iowa State, the story was written by the efficiency (but mostly lack thereof) of the offense in the first and second half of the Cyclones’ season opener against Northern Iowa.

Iowa State came out of the gate on its first drive with a seven-play, 27-yard series that was just under three minutes, resulting in a punt. 

The drives didn’t get much better after that in the first quarter.

Iowa State’s next two drives resulted in a punt and a field goal (after a penalty took the Cyclones out of the red zone) that gave the Cyclones a 3-0 lead after the end of the first quarter. 

“Were we perfect today? Obviously no and I’m not going to sit here and say that we were,” said Iowa State coach Matt Campbell. “I really love this team and I think the character and resolve of this team had to show.”

The second quarter saw the same inability to move the ball that was present all throughout the first, with Iowa State churning out drives that resulted in another punt, a loss of downs near midfield and a three play drive to end the half that gained a total of nine yards.

It’s safe to say that the Cyclones’ first half on offense did not go as they planned.

“This was the first game under the lights with people out there,” Campbell said. “There is going to be growing pains and to have some guys that can at least steady the ship a litle bit.”

However, the second half showed signs of hope for the offense for brief flashes.

Those flashes came mostly from senior Deshaunte Jones, who caught 14 balls for a career-high 126 recieving yards.

Jones became Purdy’s go to target from the first drive of the game and was the only Cyclone to have over 5 catches.

“He honestly becomes the player of the game from an offensive standpoint,” Campbell said. “What he did in the game I think gives him even more credibility in his leadership role.”

The Cyclones began their first drive of the second half at their own 25 yard line, but that didn’t stop them from having the most succesful drive of the day.

Iowa State drove down the field on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Brock Purdy’s first touchdown pass of the year to Arkansas transfer La’Michael Pettway on a seven-yard slant.

“There are not many guys in the country who can make that throw,” said Campbell. “When I saw him in that posistion I knew we would be in great shape.”

Iowa State would take a break from driving down the field for a while, with the next possession ending in disaster.

Halfway through the drive Purdy dropped back and got swarmed by defenders, forcing him to throw the ball away — except it wasn’t heading toward the bench.

It was intercepted and craddled by Spencer Cuvelier and returned to the UNI 44 yard line. The call would be overturned after the replay showed the ball hit the ground before Cuvelier could get his hands on it. 

Purdy caught a break, at least for a brief moment.

Purdy’s line collapsed on the very next play and three defenders pounced on Purdy, forcing the sophomore to attempt to throw the ball away, but Panther defenders got their hands on the pass and it fell to the ground as a fumble.

Northern Iowa cornerback Xavior Williams scooped up the fumble and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.

The Panthers went up 13-10 over Iowa State after the fumble.

“[Purdy] would tell you the first half he was pressing,” Campbell said. “Northern Iowa’s defense forces you to press because they don’t give you much and make you dink and dunk your way down the field.”

Iowa State would get the ball back to begin the fourth quarter, after Johnnie Lang rushed for four yards to end the third.

The Cyclones once again walked away with no points after the offense marched for 52 yards on 11 plays, ending the drive at the Northern Iowa 13 yard line.

Iowa State attempted a 31 yard field goal to tie the game at 13. It was missed by Connor Assalley left of the uprights, resulting in five minutes of wasted clock for Iowa State.

But the Cyclones had their most important drive saved for the fourth quarter.

Iowa State began what would be a 17-play drive, spanning 74 yards at their own 21 yard-line.

The Cyclones marched all the way to the Panther’s nine yard line, where Purdy scrambled out of the pocket and dove into the right pylon of the end zone for a touchdown.

Iowa State would have taken the lead on the scramble if not for a holding penalty on Colin Newell, taking the offense back 10 yards.

Iowa State was able to gain 14 yards on a pass to Sheldon Croney but had to attempt a tying field goal.

Assalley lined up to tie the game on a 23 yard field goal. This time the junior drilled the kick with less than a minute on the clock.

Iowa State held Northern Iowa on the final series of regulation and headed to overtime.

Northern Iowa started with the ball in overtime and ended up kicking a 49-yard field goal to take a 16-13 lead, giving Iowa State a chance to either tie or win the game if they scored.

Things started bad for the Cyclones before the offense even snapped the ball, with Iowa State taking a penalty for illegal substituion by the offense.

Croney would get back 14 yards on a rush to the UNI 16 yard line. His very next rush he would take 12 yards, hurdling a defender for the Panthers and setting up Iowa State at the four-yard-line.

Croney was fed the ball again, but this time ran for a one yard gain and then a loss of two yards on two straight plays.

After Purdy threw an incomplete pass on third down, Iowa State kicked a tying field goal, sending the game to double overtime.

Iowa State recieved the ball to begin double overtime, once again giving Croney the rock. He began the drive like he did the last, with a rush of 14 yards.

This time around, the offense was able to finally find the endzone, with Purdy throwing his second touchdown of the game to Pettway on a nine yard strike. Iowa State would take a 23-16 lead.

Iowa State’s defense would give up a touchdown on a scramble by Northern Iowa quarterback Will McElvain, letting the game head to triple overtime. 

“We recruited him here and we thought he was a heck of a football player and you saw why: with his improvization, his feet, his ability to keep his eyes down field and his competitiveness,” Campbell said.

Iowa State gave up a field goal to begin triple overtime to go down by three on their final posession, giving its offense one last chance to prove itself.

The offense prevailed, with Croney punching in the winning score after fumbling the ball one play prior. Purdy was able to dive deep into the pile of players and was able to come out with the ball to give Iowa State a second chance.

“[Croney] is like the rock in there,” said Campbell. “He came in and really steadied the ship at the end of the football game.”

The offense found a way — which Campbell made clear was not something to be boastful about, especially in the first game of the year.

“It felt like a football game again,” said Campbell. “I just think when you haven’t played in eight months, our story is never going to change, we are going to have to win in the margins. We better learn from it and better grow from it.”