A 29-26 triple overtime victory wasn't what No. 21 Iowa State had in mind when it stepped on the field to face Northern Iowa Saturday morning.
But the Cyclones' struggles highlighted issues they need to address to make their preseason aspirations a reality.
Mr. Jones and Purdy
If there was a big bright spot, it was senior wide receiver Deshaunte Jones, who emerged as sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy's safety blanket in the passing game.
Jones' statline — 14 receptions and 126 yards on 16 targets — was full of career-highs for the Ohio native, who took a backseat to Hakeem Butler in last year's offense.
In this season opener, the Cyclones were looking for Jones early and often — mainly in the short passing game — in order to get an offensive rhythm going.
The result was an offense that relied heavily on Jones to move the ball through the air, with only two players recording three or more catches (Charlie Kolar and La'Michael Pettway).
Pettway was impressed by Jones' performance.
"My guy Deshaunte, man, he ate it up," Pettway said. "Me as a receiver, and him being in my room, I'm glad that things like that happen. It'll open up doors for me or another receiver next game."
No. 21 Iowa State 29, Northern Iowa 26: It was a win, but it wasn't a pretty one. https://t.co/eTHVUMXiSj— noah (@noahrohlfing) August 31, 2019
As the most experienced receiver on the Cyclones' depth chart, Jones was always expected to play a role in Iowa State's offense. His role in Saturday's win suggests there'll be a healthy dose of targets coming his way the rest of the season.
Offensive line woes
There were some positives in the Cyclone offensive line's performance Saturday, but they pretty much start and end with the run blocking. Each of the four Iowa State running backs to get carries gained four-plus yards per pop. But in the passing game, there were a lot of issues.
Too often, the Panthers pass rush was able to break through the lines and pressure Purdy. In particular, the stretch in the third quarter where Purdy threw an interception that was overturned and then fumbled the ball and gifted Northern Iowa a touchdown was a bad stretch. Both of those plays came off the right side, and right tackle Bryce Meeker was the likely target for the blame.
Wait, now Brock Purdy fumbles (for now) and Northern Iowa Takes it back for a touchdown. Review incoming again https://t.co/6x1ZeLkm3O— Zane Douglas (@zdouglas27) August 31, 2019
Further complicating matters for Campbell is the leg injury starting center Colin Newell suffered late in the game. Although the injury might not be season-ending, Newell missing any sort of game time could cause problems for an offensive line that's been a mixed bag since Campbell got to Ames.
Vance was a surprise starter on Saturday after Will McDonald had been named on the depth chart as a starter at SAM linebacker. What fans saw instead was a starting three of Marcel Spears, Vance and Mike Rose, with Vance at middle backer and Rose pushed outside.
Vance panned out well, recording eight total tackles and sacking Will McElvain twice in his first career start.
Campbell said it shouldn't have been a surprise that Vance started.
"I've always been a big O'Rien Vance fan," Campbell said. "He's changed his life, he's changed who he is, how he sleeps, how he eats, how he approaches the game and we've gotten what I think is the best O'Rien Vance Iowa State's seen.
"So he's earned that right to be in our starting 11."
Vance certainly made a case to keep his starting position going forward, with McDonald still making the transition to linebacker and learning coverages.
The redshirt sophomore said he used last year as a chance to grow.
"Coming in every day, helping Mike [Rose], getting more help from my seniors in Willie [Harvey] and Reggan [Northrup] and all them," Vance said. "I just feel like that was a great learning experience."