Royston: Let Dekkers cook


Jacob Rice

Cyclones celebrate win over West Virginia on Nov. 5.

The Iowa State football season didn’t go nearly as well as expected, and there is one major area that people could easily point the finger at.

The offense.

Whether it was the lack of creativity in the playcalling, the stagnant run game or the turnover issues, the Cyclones struggled to get anything going on offense through the entirety of the Big 12 stretch of games. However, despite the lack of production from the offense, I don’t think any single person is to blame.

So, when I see people berating quarterback Hunter Dekkers, questioning if he’s the real deal, I feel the need to remind everyone to trust the process. After the huge shift from the 2021 season, the 2022 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year, and that’s exactly what it looked like.

Dekkers got his first reps as a true starter while the running back room lost an NFL-caliber talent in Breece Hall and saw two-star tight ends move on to better ventures. Yes, Dekkers threw only 19 touchdowns compared to his whopping 14 interceptions, but when you take a closer look, there appears to be more to the story.

For starters, the Cyclones just revamped the offensive coaching staff, which took most of the heat during the 4-8 season. Iowa State fans got their wish as the team parted ways with offensive coordinator Tom Manning at the conclusion of the season.

Manning’s uncreative play calling and lack of offensive results led to many fans taking on the slogan, “Fire Tom Manning,” through the back half of games, where Iowa State continued to struggle. The breaking point for me came in the Texas Tech game when the Cyclones called four straight run plays within 10 yards of the end zone and failed to get points on the board, two drives in a row.

The frustration was justified, as the Cyclones lost all but two games by one score. Along with the news of Manning leaving the team, Iowa State also parted ways with offensive line coach Jeff Myers.

One saying I’ve always kept to heart when it comes to football is that games are won and lost in the trenches. In Iowa State’s case, most games were lost in the trenches.

This brings me to my first main point about Dekkers’ lackluster year. As I watched every play of every game, one thing became clear as day to me.

Dekkers was playing just fine when the offensive line gave him time. When the pocket collapsed in the blink of an eye, that’s where Dekkers ran into trouble.

Yes, the playcalling left Dekkers scrambling to make something out of nothing most of the time. However, a larger issue arose when the offensive line didn’t give Dekkers enough time in the pocket for the plays to actually develop.

There was talent on the offensive line, don’t get me wrong. The coaching just didn’t give the offensive line the tools to flourish.

I expected the line to grow and get better as the season progressed when in reality, the opposite happened. Give Dekkers a good line, and I’m sure he would have no issues moving the ball down the field.

What I saw in each of the 12 games Dekkers started was grit and determination to win, despite coming up just short. Dekkers has the talent, he has the arm and he has the confidence to win; he just needs the tools around him to help him succeed.

The biggest thing I saw from Dekkers throughout the season was his confidence. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, Dekkers never lost faith in himself.

Dekkers turned the ball over in a large majority of games during the season, yet he never let the turnovers keep him from slinging the ball. Growing up watching gunslingers excel in the NFL, there’s something to be said for a man who’s not afraid to heave the ball down the field, no matter the outcome.

In some cases, it could result in a less-than-ideal game, such as Dekkers’ performances against the Oklahoma schools, where he threw three picks in each game. On the other hand, it can result in massive yardage games, where finding deep receivers feels like second nature.

Although the team ranked well outside the top 25, Dekkers’ 3,044 passing yards was the 25th best in the nation, coming second in the Big 12 only to Max Duggan, who is a Heisman Award finalist. Dekkers’ 19 touchdowns were also third-best in the Big 12.

You can make the argument Dekkers only accumulated those stats by having the most passing attempts in the Big 12, with nearly 100 more completions than Duggan. But when the running game and play calling don’t work in your favor, the only thing you can do is pass the ball.

With running back Jirehl Brock suffering from injuries through the Big 12 season and breakout freshman Cartevious Norton only becoming fully healthy after Brock’s season ended, the run game never got into a flow. To make up for that, Dekkers had to throw the ball more.

That also led to his large amount of interceptions. He threw the ball a lot, so there were more chances for turnovers. Also, considering the lack of consistency on the offensive line, Dekkers also felt pressured to force balls to the wrong spots when the pocket collapsed on him.

Considering all that, I think it might be a little early to be calling for backup quarterback Rocco Becht. Don’t get me wrong, Becht is a talented player, but I think the outcome of the season wouldn’t have been any better with someone else throwing the ball.

The future is bright for Dekkers, and I have full confidence that he will bounce back in a dominant fashion.

For starters, Iowa State’s new offensive coordinator has experience with success. Nate Scheelhaase was the running backs coach and wide receivers coach through the last few seasons.

Scheelhaase has produced stars such as Xavier Hutchinson, Breece Hall and David Montgomery and will also continue to build up the wide receiver room in the upcoming season. He should open up the offense more than Manning was able to, which should, in turn, give Dekkers more to work with.

Iowa State also has a No. 32 ranked 2023 recruiting class, featuring star wide receivers in Kai Black and Beni Ngoyi and, more recently, Nebraska commit Benjamin Brahmer. Along with that, the Cyclones will also welcome running back Abu Sama, who rushed for six touchdowns in the Iowa Class 5A state championship game.

This season, Dekkers wasn’t able to get the job done, not because of his lack of talent but because of the lack of coaching and offensive pieces. Next season, Dekkers will have a new offensive system – that should hopefully benefit his style of play instead of hinder it – and a wide array of offensive weapons to work with.

I have believed in Dekkers ever since I saw him play in high school, and my belief in his skill hasn’t wavered. Dekkers wasn’t the problem this season and could be the reason the team finds success in the future.

I think Dekkers has the talent to be one of the most productive quarterbacks in the Big 12 and, quite possibly, the nation. He just needs the supporting cast around him to unleash his potential, which could be the case next season. I am not worried one bit about the 4-8 season, as long as Dekkers is at the helm of the ship.

So, let Dekkers cook.