AMES — Grab the yoga mats, limber up, put on some calming music and get ready to stand in tree pose for the remainder of this article because today we’re talking about balance.
We’re actually talking about the offensive balance No. 24 Iowa State (2-1, 2-0) needs to strike against Texas Tech (1-2, 0-2) to have success in a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa State’s offense has had two impressive performances so far this season and one unimpressive outing.
Iowa State was able to move the ball with relative ease against TCU and Oklahoma. TCU is a team that always ranks toward the top of the Big 12 in defense, and Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 in the nation in rushing defense before falling to the Cyclones.
On the other hand, the Cyclones couldn’t do anything against Louisiana in their first game of the season.
The difference between the two Big 12 games and the Louisiana game was balance.
In the second half of the Louisiana game, running back Breece Hall ran the ball just eight times. Conversely, quarterback Brock Purdy attempted 19 passes in the second half.
The easy out would be to say Iowa State was losing that game and needed to throw the ball to get back in it. And that’s exactly what Coach Matt Campbell said after the game.
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“Instead of trying to be balanced, you’re trying to play catch up,” Campbell said that day. “The run game was really positive for three quarters and then went by the wayside in the fourth quarter.”
But Campbell and the coaching staff clearly learned from the Louisiana game because when the Cyclones were down against Oklahoma, they didn’t panic and become pass-happy. They stuck with the run.
Hall ran the ball 16 times in the second half against Oklahoma, a game Iowa State trailed until midway through the fourth quarter. Purdy threw the ball 10 times.
Against TCU, a game Iowa State led wire-to-wire, the Cyclones had a good run-pass balance, rushing 28 times and passing 23.
“I think that offensively finding balance has been big for us,” Campbell said. “I think that’s something that when you look at us, when we’ve been at our best, balance has been the key to success. When we have been off-kilter one way or another, I really don’t know if that’s the best football we can play.
“Being balanced is really who we’ve been when we’ve been at our best. So finding that balance within a game, finding that balance within the run game and the pass game, I really do think is critical for us becoming the best version of ourselves we can be.”
The players can see the offensive balance evolve as well.
“It gives the opposing defensive coordinator a lot to think about,” receiver Xavier Hutchinson said. “You can’t just key on one player or one play. It’s really our whole system. Our whole system is really great and I think you’ve seen that we’ve grown a little bit as each game goes on. From our skill players to even our offensive linemen — they’ve all done a great job and I’ve seen the progress each week.”
Iowa State has done a relatively good job of finding a run-pass balance in past seasons but balance in the passing game has been elusive. Almost without fail, Iowa State quarterbacks have targeted one receiver more than any other, whether it’s been Allen Lazard, Hakeem Butler or Deshaunte Jones.
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This season, Purdy has been spreading the wealth. No receiver has had more than five receptions in any game.
“We have some elite talent across the board,” Campbell said. “If you remember back to some of our previous teams, there wasn’t a whole lot in terms of talent. There was maybe one guy. The nice thing for us is there are multiples now. That part is really big.
“And now we have tailbacks that can catch the ball, we have tight ends that can block and catch the ball, we have multiple receivers that can catch and block. I think having multiples is a lot better than having just one. I think that’s one area that’s certainly a positive for us.”