Martin: Purdy’s legs are churning at the right time as Iowa State breaks 108-year title drought

Iowa State junior quarterback Brock Purdy eludes pressure from West Virginia’s Sean Mahone during the Cyclones and the Mountaineers’ game Dec. 5 at Jack Trice Stadium.

Zach Martin

Time for a history lesson.

In the year 1912, the United States added New Mexico and Arizona as the 47th and 48th states, respectively. William Howard Taft occupied the Oval Office at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

That same year was the last time Iowa State won a conference championship, co-sharing the Missouri Valley Conference title, at 6-2 and went 2-0 in the league.

These are not your great-great grandfather’s Iowa State Cyclones.

That 108-year old Cyclone squad didn’t have a dual-threat quarterback like junior Brock Purdy, who is playing his best football at the right time, in leading the No. 9 team in the country to a 42-6 victory over West Virginia Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium.

For the first time in program history, Iowa State (8-2, 8-1 Big 12) is an outright winner and will potentially face Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game in two weeks.

While the attention has been mainly on future All-American tailback Breece Hall — and rightfully so — the play of Purdy shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ever since the three straight interceptions in the first half against Baylor, there’s not a QB in the Big 12 that has been more efficient with his arm and legs.

Outside of last week’s win at Texas, Purdy has finished with over 30 yards on the ground in 12 of the last 16 quarters. He’ll finish the regular season on pace for a new career-high in yards per carry at just over four.

Two of the last four games, he’s carried the ball for over 50 yards.

Oh, and he completely ripped apart the Mountaineer’s top-ranked pass defense for 247 yards and just a trifecta of incomplete passes. He hasn’t turned the ball over in the last three games.

Outside of maybe Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, you know, the proverbial top-two picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, is there a QB in the nation playing better than Purdy?

Probably not.

“He’s been incredible,” Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “He has played as close to what he’s capable of playing down the stretch. He’s really special. Brock has had the ability through successes and failures to grow.”

There’s not a big running play that opens the eyes, but chunk yardage gains that turn second-and-longs or third-and-mediums into either third-and-short or a fresh set of downs.

That’s allowed pressure to be taken off of Hall, make defenses think about an option hand-off and allows Tom Manning’s offense to be much more versatile.

“It’s helped out, added what we can do as an offense,” Purdy said. “I’m not going out there like ‘Alright I’m going to run here’ if it presents itself, awesome, I’ll take it.

“Past couple of games, it’s worked out pretty well.”

It wasn’t like that in the opening handful of weeks.

Purdy couldn’t generate enough consistent plays with his mobility that led him to eight rushing touchdowns a season ago. He was more focused with trying to develop chemistry with a fresh set of wide receivers.

“Just understanding what the defense does, understand what our play is,” Purdy said. “I think I’m playing my game, not overthinking things.”

Once that happened, I would say after the Oklahoma game, it began the turning point for Purdy. Sure, he took some lumps, but I’m of the mindset it was that win that took a little bit of the pressure off his shoulders.

All of it vanished in the second half against the Bears.

“Having the courage to continue to improve,” Campbell said. “You see guys at the quarterback position that have success early in their career and they quit improving, they quit going to work because they think they’ve arrived.

“Brock Purdy has never acted like that.”

There’s no quarterback in more of a flow than Purdy. It’s been astonishing to see his sudden growth over the last few weeks.

And while the night was for the seniors, who’s to say this wasn’t Purdy’s last game in Ames?

The National Football League will likely be calling, and right now, he’s probably slotted in the second or third round. Is that good enough for him? Or will he return for a proper senior night to be recognized as the best player under center in program history?

All of that will be taken care of later. Right now, the Cyclones are going to prepare for their first Big 12 title game. If that’s not a symbol of how nutty 2020 has been, I’m not sure what is.

Lesson over.