Once again, Iowa State fans were met with a muggy, miserable-looking Saturday morning for football — and on the Cyclones' first two drives of the game, it felt like Louisiana-Monroe (ULM) would follow a similar vein of the first two games of the season.
The Cyclones' offense was making self-inflicted mistakes and putting the Cyclones' defense on the back foot. But then, something unexpected happened: Iowa State's offense caught fire and didn't look back.
After two underwhelming performances and questions about play-calling and Brock Purdy's apparent refusal to run, the Cyclones exploded for a record-breaking Saturday afternoon against the Warhawks in a 72-20 win.
Purdy started the game with a turnover of his own making — a bad pass intended for Tarique Milton that instead landed directly in the hands of ULM defensive back Corey Straughter.
Not so sure Monroe's defense is up to the challenge— noah (@noahrohlfing) September 21, 2019
He then fumbled the ball while attempting a handoff on a read option. The Cyclones somehow gave up zero points. It was the last two drives of the game where Iowa State did not score points until late in the fourth quarter.
The Cyclones' third drive ended with a Purdy touchdown run from seven yards out. So did the next Iowa State drive. A near-disaster start for Purdy had turned into a 14-0 lead for the Cyclones.
Coach Matt Campbell was thrilled with the team's production.
"We played like a football team for the first time this year," Campbell said. "I say that because it felt like we were playing off each other.
"It is really our only chance to be the best version of us we can be."
The next Iowa State drive ended with Purdy throwing a ball that might've seemed familiar to Cyclone fans — a 73-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore Tarique Milton. Milton had a touchdown of the exact same length against Iowa the previous week. It was 21-0, and the Cyclones were feeling themselves offensively for the first time all year.
Brock Purdy has set a new Iowa State record with 510 yards of total offense. That's 435 passing, 75 rushing.— Alex Halsted (@AlexHalsted) September 21, 2019
After two field goals to counter Warhawk touchdowns, the Cyclones were on the march again in the second half, scoring touchdowns on five of their seven offensive possessions — with a pick-six for good measure.
"This game really comes down to having momentum," Purdy said. "When the offense is doing good things and the defense slips up, or if we're slipping up on offense and the defense does good things, it's a little weird. I felt like today, when everything was clicking, man, you just saw great things happen."
Starting with a touchdown run of 13 yards and ending with a 12 yard pass to Sean Shaw — his first career catch and first touchdown grab — Purdy accounted for six total touchdowns, tying former Cyclone Bret Oberg for most touchdowns in a single game. Oberg scored six in 1989 against Oklahoma.
After his interception on the team's first offensive play, Purdy threw for 435 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, he tallied 75 yards to push his overall tally to 510 yards — breaking Seneca Wallace's record of 493 from 2002.
Milton said Purdy's game Saturday was exciting to be a part of.
"I told Brock he's awesome," Milton said. "He's one of the coldest people I've ever seen, and I told him I wanted to be like him one day."
Once Purdy sat, it was redshirt freshman Re-Al Mitchell's chance to shine — and Mitchell obliged by accounting for two touchdowns in four drives. The final touchdown of the game was on a 29-yard run that elicited oohs and ahhs from the Jack Trice crowd. In less than a full quarter of play, Mitchell ran for 65 yards and a touchdown on four carries and a passing touchdown on his only completion.
The Cyclones got plenty of young players involved in the action, with Shaw and freshmen running backs Jirehl Brock and Breece Hall getting run in the fourth quarter.
The final totals told a story of a team finding its killer instinct and finishing off drives it let go astray over the first two games of the season. Iowa State had 714 yards of offense — 444 passing and 270 rushing — setting a school record for yards in a game and scoring the third-most points (72) in school history.
Louisiana-Monroe was pretty generous on the defensive side of the ball, missing tackles and letting Cyclone wideouts run free at an alarming rate. The Cyclones aren't the finished article on offense by a long shot, and against better opposition the results might not be as eye-catching.
But Iowa State and Campbell will take it — especially with Big 12 play right around the corner.
"If we want to have the ability to compete in this conference, I think we needed to see our growth," Campbell said. "There's been moments and flashes of it and there's been some really good glimpses. I think we're a lot closer today than I think we were even two weeks ago."