After tinkering, Iowa State’s offense hopes to thrive in the Alamo Bowl

Wide receiver Hakeem Butler goes up against Drake University defensive back Sean Lynch during the game against Drake University at Jack Trice Stadium on Dec. 1. The Cyclones won 27-24.

Trevor Holbrook

Iowa State sent four players and two coaches to represent the football team at Wednesday’s press conference in San Antonio.

Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, redshirt senior linebacker Willie Harvey and redshirt senior cornerback Brian Peavy answered questions related to the Cyclone defense, and quarterbacks coach Joel Gordon, junior running back David Montgomery and redshirt junior Hakeem Butler covered the offense.

Offensive changes throughout the year

There’s been good stretches throughout this season for the Cyclone offense. If all goes as planned for Iowa State, the Cyclones will hit their stride offensively against Washington State in the Alamo Bowl on Friday.

Washington State defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys noted some of keys to Iowa State’s success on offense at the Cougars’ portion of the press conference.

“It’s a matter of with their size and their skill levels, having a running back and two big wide receivers, and [they] got a tight end that runs good, as they make you defend everything,” Claeys said. “Vertically and horizontally, they make it hard to cheat anywhere and then mixing up their tempos on you it’s a challenge.”

Over the course of the regular season, the Cyclone offense changed quite a bit. The season began with senior quarterback Kyle Kempt and shifted to Zeb Noland orchestrating the offense and, finally, to freshman Brock Purdy.

Outside of the quarterback position, Cyclone fans saw redshirt freshman Charlie Kolar gain a bigger role. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tarique Milton earned snaps throughout the season.

In the back field, Sheldon Croney Jr., Kene Nwangwu and Johnnie Lang received carries in David Montgomery’s absence. At times, Iowa State shuffled its offensive line.

The Iowa State offense featured moving parts from game to game, and sometimes it showed. The Cyclones failed to score a touchdown at Iowa, and the team nearly repeated the drought against Texas before a late Montgomery touchdown.

Other times, Iowa State’s offense popped off, scoring 40 or more points against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas State.

“It’s been a work in progress,” Gordon said about the offense this season. “We’ve had new guys step in in new roles all year long. Played with a couple different quarterbacks, played with a good group of running backs. We’ve had a bunch of wide receivers step up and do different things — new guys at the tight end position.”

With the added time for the bowl game, the Cyclones can construct a plan, while Claeys prepares to slow down Iowa State’s offense.

Hakeem Butler

As Gordon mentioned, the wide receivers stepped up for Iowa State, assisting Purdy in his quick adaptation to the college game.

Milton and junior Deshaunte Jones teamed up to combine for 777 yards on 76 catches. Kolar — one of the most involved receiving tight ends at Iowa State in years — turned into a red zone target for Purdy, securing three touchdowns out of his 11 catches.

But the top choice for Purdy, or whoever else was behind the center, was Butler. Butler reeled in 51 passes for 1,126 yards and nine scores. Not only did he snare the most passes for Iowa State, but the balls he caught went for big chunks.

Butler ranked second in the NCAA for yards per catch, averaging 22.08.

The 6-foot-6 wide receiver capitalized on a solid redshirt sophomore campaign where he tallied 41 catches for 697 yards and seven touchdowns.

The key behind Butler’s breakout redshirt junior season is simple from his perspective.

“Being more confident in myself and having more fun,” Butler said.

Considering Washington State’s offensive firepower, the Cyclones may need a couple of those big plays from Butler.