AMES — Iowa State lost two of its main offensive contributors from the 2018 football team in receiver Hakeem Butler and running back David Montgomery.
But the Cyclones return, perhaps, their most important offensive weapon, sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy.
Purdy went 7-2 as Iowa State’s primary quarterback, including 6-1 versus Big 12 Conference opponents. He threw for 2,250 yards on 220 attempts and recorded 16 passing touchdowns. He also rushed for 308 yards on 100 attempts and had five rushing touchdowns.
Passing game coordinator Joel Gordon said Purdy hasn’t changed his approach much — if at all — since his breakout freshman campaign. And why would he since he was so successful?
That doesn’t mean Purdy doesn’t recognize he still has room to grow.
“He’s gotten game reps and he understands that he hasn’t been perfect,” Gordon said. “That’s one of the best things about Brock — he doesn’t have a great, big ego where he thinks he’s at the top of the ladder. He’s working hard at it, but he still needs more reps. He’s really young and he’s being challenged by our defense every day, and that’s the best thing for him.”
One of the biggest things Gordon and offensive coordinator Tom Manning are working on with Purdy is pocket presence. Purdy had a tendency to bail out of the pocket at the first sign of trouble last season, which worked out well more times than not, but it’s easier to make a throw standing still than it is on the run.
The coaches didn’t want to work that out of his game last season because he already had so much on his plate.
“We’re working with him on pocket presence so he can recognize a good pocket when he has one so he can go through his progressions and trust the pocket,” Gordon said. “He has an opportunity to become a way better quarterback than he was last year.”
That doesn’t mean they want to eliminate his running ability, just to be smarter about timing. In fact, the coaching staff is trying to figure out ways to get Purdy and backup quarterback Re-al Mitchell in some designed runs since they’re both good, natural athletes.
“With him, and all of the guys we have, they’re pretty good athletes,” Gordon said. “If something fits with being able to use those guys in a running game, that would be the next step we would take. But they also have to prove that they can handle that.
“They do a nice job of scrambling and keeping plays alive and doing those things. We know he and Re-al have some athleticism. We’ll see where that stacks up in the priorities of how we think we can move the ball up and down the field.”
Gordon said one of the biggest things that separates Purdy from other quarterbacks is his mentality. He’s able to move on quickly from bad plays, like interceptions, and bounce back in a big way. Against No. 6 West Virginia, Purdy threw an interception early in the game.
He bounced back to pass for 254 yards on 18-of-25 passing with three touchdowns.
Against Washington State in the Alamo Bowl, Purdy again threw an early interception. He bounced back and threw for 315 yards on 18-of-27 passing.
“I always play with that mentality of having a short memory, whether it’s in a practice or a game,” Purdy said. “There are four quarters for a reason.”
While the offense hasn’t changed much schematically, the Cyclones have to replace Butler and Montgomery’s production. Iowa State tended to be one-dimensional on offense at times. In the second half of the Alamo Bowl, it seemed like every play was going to either Montgomery or Butler.
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“We’re utilizing everybody in the passing game,” Purdy said. “It’s not just the X position, it’s the tight ends, tailbacks out of the backfield.”
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