Blazevich: The pieces are in place for Dekkers and the offense to improve next season


Jacob Rice

Hunter Dekkers listens to his coaches speech after the Iowa State Spring football game, Jack Trice Stadium, April 22.

AMES — Twelve games, 242 points.

That statline placed Iowa State at No. 119 out of 131 teams in scoring average for the 2022 season, marking the worst offense in head coach Matt Campbell’s tenure. The inept offense was the main culprit of Iowa State’s 4-8 season, resulting in several coaching changes on the offensive end.

Iowa State’s offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, strength and conditioning coordinator and quarterbacks coach all went separate ways. Campbell promoted former running backs/wide receivers coach Nate Scheelhaase to offensive coordinator, along with adding some veteran outside names.

Although the offensive coaching staff received a makeover, quarterback Hunter Dekkers is still operating as the heart of the offense. With some revamped pieces surrounding the quarterback, Dekkers could help lead an offensive leap in 2023.

“I think that group worked really well together and has continued to grow, and I think they’ll only continue to grow forward as well,” Campbell said after Iowa State’s spring game Saturday.

Dekkers took over the starting job in 2022 after four-year starting quarterback Brock Purdy moved on to the NFL. Although Dekkers lacked starting experience, he began the year as a redshirt sophomore in his third year with the program already.

His natural talent and experience showed in glimpses during the year, but Dekkers also struggled with inconsistency at times. Part of it was due to limited reps in the starting role, but he also carried a greater burden than most other quarterbacks in the Big 12.

Injuries and inefficiency in the running back room forced the passing game to tighten up even more, and a sub-par offensive line performance made it more difficult for Dekkers to execute his approach. Dekkers will need to refine his game in order to help the offense improve next season, but Campbell has worked to make his job easier.

“If we’re going to be better next year on offense and we’re going to take a huge step forward, what are the things that we could work on?” Campbell said. “It’s the ‘how to,’ and I think [Scheelhaase] and his staff have done a great job of really doing that.”

When former offensive coordinator Tom Manning parted ways with the program, Scheelhaase received a promotion to the play-caller role. Not only has Scheelhaase been a rising star in the coaching industry, ranking on 247Sports’ “30Under30” list in 2019, but he carries four years of starting quarterback experience at Illinois.

Along with his duties as offensive coordinator, Scheelhaase has also helped coach the quarterbacks after quarterback coach Joel Gordon moved to the same position at USF.

“Nate’s done a great job starting back from square one and rebuilding it forward,” Campbell said. “We haven’t really done a whole lot on offense. I think we’ve been really trying to be purposeful on what’s our process?”

Promoting Scheelhaase was a no-brainer for Campbell, but his best move of the offseason may have been the pickup of Northern Iowa strength coach Ryan Clanton. During his five years with the UNI program, Clanton sent two players to the NFL Draft, including 2022 first-round pick Trevor Penning, while Iowa State sent zero linemen to the draft in the same time period.

Clanton was brought in to harness the present talent on the offensive line and repurpose it in order to create a more aggressive and proactive unit. An efficient line is the first step for an offense looking to recapture a top spot in the Big 12.

“I think what [Clanton] has been able to do and what’s been impressive is he is a great teacher,” Campbell said. “I think just the holistic approach has given that group some confidence to move itself forward and again a lot of room to continue to work too. It’ll be a big summer for that group.”

There hasn’t just been improvement up front. The Cyclones also brought in Noah Pauley as wide receivers coach from North Dakota State and Reid Kagy as strength coach from Boise State. The running back room has grown steadily more healthy, though some injuries still persist, and Dekkers has some new weapons to rely on at wide receiver.

Talent acquisition and coaching hires addressed some of the more pertinent issues on the offensive end in 2022. More growth still needs to be made during the summer and fall camp, but the pieces are in place for Iowa State to return to its position among the top-scoring offenses in the Big 12.