Analysis: Cyclones are running wild in October


Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy runs the ball during the first half of Iowa State’s game vs West Virginia on Oct. 13, 2018.

Trevor Holbrook

The expectations certainly changed around Iowa State’s football program after its 17-14 loss to Texas Christian University. Fans’ minds wondered from ‘Can Iowa State push for the Big 12 Championship game?’ before the season, to ‘Will the Cyclones even make a bowl?’ after its third loss in four games.

Since then, Iowa State has flipped the narrative, knocking off Oklahoma State and West Virginia and boosting its record to 3-3.

The wins over a pair of ranked opponents aren’t the first time a Matt Campbell-led Iowa State team showcased streakiness.

After shaking up the quarterback position in 2017, Iowa State rattled off four wins in October, defeating Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU.

When Halloween hit, the scariest thing in Ames was the upcoming Cyclone schedule. In November, Iowa State lost a trio of close games to West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. The Cyclones did manage to knock off Baylor, 23-13 with Zeb Noland orchestrating the offense.

This season, the Cyclones hit their rough patch at the start of the season and have followed a similar path in October so far. Looking at the October and November stats last season reveals the foundation of what the Cyclones need to establish to turn around their season.


In October last season, the Cyclones averaged 31 pass attempts per game for 243.5 yards per game, while scoring nine touchdowns through the air. In November, they averaged almost 38 pass attempts per game for 269.8 yards per game with seven passing touchdowns.

In September 2018, Iowa State averaged about 32 pass attempts a game for 210.3 yards per game and four touchdowns. In the two October wins, Iowa State averaged 25 pass attempts for 289.5 yards per game.

The fewer pass attempts in October 2017 is partially a result of better defense. Iowa State’s newly-introduced three-man front challenged opposing offenses, allowing an average of about 13 points per game.

In November, opponents averaged almost 26 points per game, meaning Iowa State was often pushed to throw more, including its shootout against Oklahoma State and a slow start against West Virginia.

It’s also worth noting Iowa State flip-flopped its quarterbacks last November — a trend the Cyclones carried into 2018. During its hot stretch, Iowa State started Kyle Kempt every game in October 2017. So far, freshman Brock Purdy has started both games in October.


After a slow start, tallying 19 rushing yards against Iowa, the Cyclones improve as the season ages. Against Oklahoma, Iowa State gained 87 yards on the ground. Iowa State managed 132 rushing yards against Akron, 119 against TCU, 140 against Oklahoma State and 244 against West Virginia.

While the yardage improved, the volume of carries is important to look at. Iowa State’s only win in September came when the Cyclones called more rushing plays than it’s opponents.

Fast-forward to October, and Iowa State averaged 42.5 rush attempts per game and averaged 192 yards. The added element of Purdy’s ability to run opened up the rushing game. Against Oklahoma State, he busted out for 84 rushing yards and a touchdown. He was limited on the ground against West Virginia, but the rushing skills still forced the Mountaineers to remain honest.

In October 2017, the Cyclones actually totaled fewer yards per game than in November with 112 yards per game compared to 133.8. Once again, the volume is key. Despite fewer yardage, Iowa State attempted 144 rush attempts in October to 128 in November.

With a defensive team, Iowa State needed some sort of rushing attack to eat clock and rest its defense. With a shoddy offensive line play early in the season and a banged up Montgomery at times, Iowa State overcame a poor rushing attack it featured in the first few games to propel it to success.

The running combination of Purdy and Montgomery figures to play a key role in Iowa State’s defense against the November woes.