Notebook: A balanced offense and a level head for the Cyclones

Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar stiff-arms an Oklahoma defender after catching a pass during the game against Oklahoma on Oct. 3, 2020 at Jack Trice Stadium.

Matt Belinson

Sitting tied atop the Big 12 at 2-0 in conference play (2-1 overall), the Iowa State Cyclones are already focused on the next game against the 0-2 (1-2 overall) Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The quick shift to preparing for Texas Tech comes from a place of committing to a process rather than focusing on results, especially in a sport like college football, where successes like that fade away quickly.

And even with a balanced offense through the first three games of the season, Iowa State is ready to get better once again in the days leading up to another home game Saturday, which will be broadcasted once again on ABC.

Balanced offensive attack

It’s a balancing game for Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell.

In years where Iowa State has had success, a good balance has come about within the offense. A solid-run game, pick David Montgomery or Breece Hall, and then a talented group of offensive lineman and wide receivers have helped Campbell and the Cyclone offense create the rhythm it has wanted over the years, and the start of the 2020 season looks to have the balance Campbell wants.

“Finding balance has been big for us,” Campbell said. “I think that’s something when we’ve been at our best, balance has been the key to success.”

And it starts with the fact that it’s not just one guy making the plays for Iowa State on offense. Instead, all 11 players work together and let each other benefit from everyone else executing their assignments. 

Campbell said Iowa State is not one-dimensional, with tight ends that can block and be threats as pass catchers, running backs who can make big plays happen and receivers that are as talented as any group he has coached in his five years in Ames. 

“A lot of people see Brock Purdy and they see Breece Hall, but those are just two players, and on offense, it takes 11 guys executing together fundamentally to be able to have success,” Campbell said.

Yes, the Cyclones might not have receivers so far this season who will get over seven targets a game, which Campbell said varies week to week, but that works just fine for JUCO transfer Xavier Hutchinson and tight end Charlie Kolar.

Hutchinson hauled in his first career touchdown as a Cyclone against the Sooners and said plays took shape because of how much defenses are starting to stack the box to stop Hall or Kene Nwangwu. It’s hard to focus on one part of the offense, and Hutchinson likes the talent on his side of the ball.

Kolar said the Cyclones don’t have a lot of selfish guys on the team, particularly on offense. They care about one thing — putting the ball in the end zone. It doesn’t matter who scores or on how many plays for Kolar and his teammates on offense. 

The talent across the board is a blessing to have.

“It’s a blessing we have so much talent throughout the offense because the defense isn’t going to be able to key in on one guy,” Kolar said.

Evaluating Texas Tech

The Red Raiders may not have a win in Big 12 play two games into the conference schedule, but the lack of wins doesn’t take away from Campbell’s praise of new Head Coach Matt Wells and what his team looks like on film.

In the year of COVID-19 and the impact it has had across college football, Campbell measures teams not by looking at the scoreboard or the big wins they have, but are teams getting better week to week? Through three games, Texas Tech is getting better, according to Campbell.

“I think that is blatantly evident,” Campbell said. “They’re a really good football team.”

Texas Tech’s early strength is running the football, combined with a hard-hitting defense that makes opponents sweat under pressure.

Even with Wells starting off his Big 12 tenure winless, Campbell said he has the utmost respect for Wells and his reputation of turning programs into better places when he arrives.

Keeping a level head during a successful start

Things appear to be on the right track for Iowa State football. Take a pen and some paper and start checking off the early instances of success three games into the 2020 season.

A win over Oklahoma in Ames for the first time since 1960 and thus moving the Sooners to two Big 12 losses: check. Tied for first place with Oklahoma State and Kansas State: check. Not bad for three games into a season that’s unlike any other.

The highs have been high for Iowa State to start the season, but Campbell and his team know that for a program like Iowa State, the lows can come just as quickly. With the program’s history of being the perennial laughing stock of the Big 12, the mission of Iowa State in the good and bad seasons has been to focus on the process rather than game-by-game results, even if the wins are against top-10 opponents.

Teams are judged by how they turn out at the end of the season, not after three weeks in where games still have to be played. Campbell’s way of putting it is that Iowa State has never been results-driven but rather process-driven.

But even still, how are the Cyclones not feeling themselves after a big weight was lifted off their shoulders against the Sooners? The secret to staying level-headed? Kolar said it’s because the message stays the same, no matter how the games turn out for the Cyclones.

“If you took Campbell’s message after a loss and after a win, you couldn’t even tell the difference because both times, he always talks about how we need to get better,” Kolar said. “Well, the good thing about Campbell is if you miss his message once, you’ll get it again the next 10 weeks. I’m kidding.”