AMES — Iowa State’s offense needed to forge a new identity after the departures of NFL Draft picks David Montgomery and Hakeem Butler.
It took a few weeks, but head coach Matt Campbell is starting to see the offense take shape and play how he thought it could.
Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in Waco, Texas, against Baylor (3-0) will be the offense’s next challenge.
Campbell doesn’t expect it to put up 65 points like it did last Saturday against Louisiana Monroe (the defense scored the other touchdown in a 72-20 win), but he does want to see the same rhythm and flow that it had while finishing drives.
“You hear me talk so much about playing in rhythm,” Campbell said. “Offensively, if every possession can end with a kick is good. I think there is a lot of reality to that when you have a great defense. You have to understand that there may be games where ball control is really important, and we have to continue to have our defense put us in good positions to be successful.
“There are obviously games where scoring is critical to our success. But the ability to move the football and at least change field position is still really important in our game. Sometimes people love the high scoring — and we all do — but there is a point in time where you have to help your football team out and just being able to move the football at times is really important.”
What’s helped the Cyclones’ offense come along has just been in-game learning. Campbell and his offensive staff are starting to figure out who can do what based off the first three games.
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“The offense is so young,” Campbell said. “The quarterback is young, the offensive line has veterans but all those skill players you’re starting to see emerge in defining roles. That will only continue to happen. It was great to see guys start to get some consistency.”
Some of those defining roles are filled by receiver Tarique Milton, who has emerged as the big-play and explosive receiver. In each of the last two weeks, he’s had a 70-plus yard reception for a touchdown. He has 13 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns so far.
Receiver La’Michael Pettway’s role has become the reliable, big-bodied target quarterback Brock Purdy needs on third downs and in the red zone. Of Pettway’s 12 receptions, three have been touchdowns.
And receiver Deshaunte Jones has become the go-to check-down and bubble-screen receiver. Jones has the most receptions on the team with 20 for 257 yards and one touchdown.
“We felt like it was really close in those first two football games to having great games offensively, and we didn’t,” Campbell said. “We did some things well, but still weren’t playing to our potential. What you saw this past Saturday is growth.”
The biggest area of growth for Iowa State was finishing drives. The Cyclones have only had one three-and-out all season, but in the first two games the offense stalled out around 35-yard line routinely.
“The first two weeks we scored 13 and 17 points in regulation and that’s not good enough to win a ballgame in regulation,” tight end Charlie Kolar said. “Last week we moved the ball and we really finished better. The first two weeks we had three or four field goals, which is not good enough to be a great offense. We’ve been working on finishing more and that’s going to help us play better.”
The challenge for Iowa State’s offense this week is Baylor’s defense. It’s not that the Bears have an elite defense, but it’s different from what Iowa State has seen the first three weeks. The Bears have taken a lot of elements from Iowa State’s defense and they limit the big play, so the Cyclones may have to dink and dunk their way down the field.
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But if Iowa State continues to solidify its roles and doesn’t play outside itself, it should be able to have success.
“Our team is starting to take shape a little bit — we’re starting to become a real football team,” Campbell said. “And that part is exciting for us because that’s what will give us a chance to be successful.”
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