Notebook: Purdy’s progression and avoiding a slow start to the 2021 season

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy looks to pass during the 2020 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. (Courtesy of PlayStation Fiesta Bowl/Slingshot Photography)

Sam Stuve

Editor’s note: The Iowa State Daily Sports Desk will have a spring preview of each position group for the Cyclones heading into the 2021 season. You can find other position group stories here.

Throughout his three years as the starting quarterback for Iowa State, senior Brock Purdy has made a name for himself.

The Gilbert, Arizona, native has earned three All-Big 12 honors, capped off by being a first teamer in 2020 in addition to being a Davey O’Brien Award semifinalist for the second year in a row. 

With a Big 12 Title game appearance, its first New Year’s Six Bowl victory under its belt and a bevy of starters returning, Iowa State continues through spring practice with the expectations for the program being higher than they ever have been before, with Purdy at the helm at quarterback once again.

Purdy’s decision-making a focal point for the spring

Purdy is the winningest quarterback in Cyclone history with 23 wins and owns or shares, an Iowa State record.

In his first three seasons, he’s thrown for 8,982 yards, 62 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, while also rushing for 939 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“I think he’s proven that he’s one of the best players in the country playing how he plays,” Iowa State Quarterbacks Coach Joel Gordon said Friday. “I think his blend of what he does on his feet and what he’s able to do through the air, in my opinion, is awesome to have.”

In terms of how he can progress, Gordon said it is about being “the full body of playing quarterback.”

“I think it’s looking at the full body of playing quarterback; I think it starts with him just continuing to make good decisions and understanding what goes into that process,” Gordon said. 

Gordon said he’s seen growth from Purdy in those areas over the past three years and that he has a “better picture of what’s going on offensively.”

In regards to what is most important in the course of the game, Gordon said it is decision-making. 

“For Brock, I think it’s just continuing to understand that he doesn’t have to do too much,” Gordon said. “Just let the play do the work itself. Take what the defense gives him and really just keep it simple in that mindset.” 

Purdy said decision-making was one of the things he needs to work on this spring and summer.

“It’s my fourth year, I feel like I just want to polish up everything, my decision-making skills, my ability to make the right decision every play and limit the turnovers,” Purdy said. “For me, as a quarterback, I understand the position that I play is really valuable to the success of the team, and if anybody can handle that, I know that’s me.”

Mixing it up in the passing game

Iowa State had nine players last year who had at least 100 yards in receiving.

Eight of those nine players are back for the 2021 season, with the only departure being Dylan Soehner, who is headed for the NFL Draft.

Redshirt senior tight end Charlie Kolar led all Cyclones in touchdowns with seven, while wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson led all pass catchers in receptions with 64 and in yards with 771.

Hutchinson and Kolar are the go-to pass catchers for Iowa State, but there will be some more pass catchers in the mix.

“In our passing game, it might look like we’re targeting Xavier and Charlie more than other guys, for the most part, that’s true, and those are the guys that have proven that they can be trusted in a game situation against man coverage or whatever that might be,” Gordon said. “But it’s always bigger than one guy in the progression or two guys in the progression.”

Where the ball ends up on a pass almost always depends on the quarterback’s read of the field.

Gordon says Purdy understands this. 

“Brock understands, and our receivers understand that our passing game is very multiple; we can move a lot of guys around to a lot of different places,” Gordon said. “Sometimes, they’re number one in the concept, sometimes they’re number three; the running backs are involved in it too.”

Purdy’s backup last year was Hunter Dekkers.

Dekkers, a Hawarden, Iowa, native, only threw three passes last year but completed all three for 12 yards and one touchdown in addition to rushing for a touchdown as well.

Despite not having a lot of in-game reps in his freshman campaign, Dekkers says he’s ready if his number gets called.

“Anything can happen in football; [Purdy] could get hurt one play into the game, and then it could have been with anyone one of us going in,” Dekkers said. “I think everyone has to stay ready in the quarterback room because anything can happen.”

Creating big plays in the passing game was something Gordon brought up Friday.

Over the last three seasons, Purdy’s average yard per completed pass has continued to decline.

His freshman year, he averaged 15.4 yards per completion, but last year, he averaged 11.3 yards per completion. 

“We always have categories of plays where, if we got the right opportunity to take it, we can then end this drive in one play or get a big chunk play, on a drive and get us moving? We’re always going to look to do that,” Gordon said. “Early on, I think we were out of sync for sure.”

Gordon said part of the reason for this was because of how the offseason was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think there was obviously a different offseason for everybody in college football, so the relationship that was between Brock and all of the receivers, I think was a little bit challenged, you know, because of what we went through in the offseason,” Gordon said. 

Avoiding a slow start in 2021

In the last three seasons, the first completed game of the season has not been a pretty performance by Iowa State.

Iowa State lost 13-3 to Iowa in the first game of 2018, beat FCS school Northern Iowa 29-26 in triple overtime in 2019 and lost 31-14 to the unranked Louisiana Ragin Cajuns in 2020.

“I think that comes down to really looking back, you know, on a couple of the last early season games and being able to study ourselves,” Gordon said in regards to avoiding a sluggish start to the 2021 season. “Maybe it was a game plan kind of thing where we didn’t have exactly what we thought we needed, and maybe we didn’t execute as well as we needed to execute.”

Gordon said the focus for a coaching staff heading into the first game of the season is knowing personnel and figuring out how to use them without putting too much pressure on them.

Purdy said injuries and COVID were part of the reason Iowa State dropped the game to Louisiana in 2020.

“Obviously, we missed Charlie, we had probably like a week and a half together [before the game] just because a couple guys had COVID and Charlie had some injury stuff going on, and some other guys were banged up with ankles and stuff,” Purdy said. “Still, it’s no excuse for why we lost the game, but it did play a factor.”

Following the loss to Louisiana, Iowa State won nine out its 11 remaining games, making it to the Big 12 Championship and winning the Fiesta Bowl. 

With the expectations for the football program being at an all-time high, a slow start to the 2021 season could potentially sink those expectations. 

Now, with spring practice and a full offseason together, Purdy says he expects “the connection” to be better in the first game in 2021 rather than developing it throughout the season. 

“I know going forward from here, with everybody here, everybody healthy, together, a full offseason together, everyone not being away at their homes and stuff, [not having] the whole quarantine thing, I feel like our connection and everything is going to be way better going into the first game,” Purdy said.

With a successful season in the rear-view mirror, Purdy’s goal for 2021 is simple.

“My goal this year is to be me, lead these guys and to do something even more extraordinary than last year,” Purdy said. 

Iowa State is one of the favorites to get to the Big 12 Championship in December and potentially make another New Year’s Six Bowl Game and maybe be in the discussion for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

But first, Iowa State will need to avoid a sluggish start in game one this season Sept. 4 against Northern Iowa.