AMES — Greg Eisworth gets A's.
And Xavier Hutchinson. And Zach Petersen. And Brock Purdy. And Eyioma Uwazurike. The list can keep going in the eyes of Matt Campbell.
On Saturday, the Cyclones' best passed another test in a dominating 59-7 win over Kansas. But it's nothing new for Campbell and the veterans of the Cyclones to see. "A" players need to strive for "A's" — to be at the top of the class, or in this case the best on the field in a given game. Saturday was yet another — but maybe the biggest — example of when Iowa State's A-listers are making plays and staying sharp on the details, this team will be a tough out for anyone in the Big 12.
Start with the first quarter. Iowa State took it to the Jayhawks and scored on its first three drives of the quarter to put the game away from the opening kick. It's the A-listers steamrolling Kansas on the way to a three-score advantage. Brock Purdy saw the Kansas corner play too soft in his coverage. No problem. That just means Xavier Hutchinson is probably going to make you look lost. Purdy knew it and gave his No.1 receiver the ball and the chance to score.
He took it and walked into the end-zone on a 36-yard score. 7-0 Cyclones after less than five minutes of play.
Hutchinson would finish the game with seven catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.
"To be honest, it was man-coverage and I knew that if that guy is going to play that soft all I have to do is get [Xavier] the ball. 'X' has done a great job of making guys miss and so all it's going to take is one miss and he's gone and sure enough it happened," Purdy said. "That's Xavier Hutchinson for ya."
Two plays later, Zach Petersen, another experienced and trusted player for the Cyclones made his mark on the night after Kansas quarterback Jason Bean fumbled the ball at the Kansas 24-yard line. Petersen was there, scooping up the ball and giving Purdy and the offense a chance to add to its early lead.
But when you read off the names making these plays, Campbell isn't taken aback.
"You look at who, who created those? I said on the headset during the first half, 'It's Zach Petersen," Campbell said. "I mean how many times have we talked about Zach Petersen for the first five weeks of the season?"
"It's Kym-Mani King. He wasn't the starter at the start of the season, but he worked his tail off to earn the right that made us play him. He's got a broken hand and he makes an interception in the end-zone. Huge play. It's Aric Horne on 4th and 2, who's really practiced his tail off. It's Brock Purdy. It's Xavier Hutchinson. Who sparked it for us, it's the guys since January that have been leading since January in their attitude, their effort and their investment."
Through four drives, Purdy stayed patient and efficient and was 5-5 with 96 yards and four touchdown passes. Iowa State was cruising along with a 28-0 lead after the first quarter — the most in program history for a single quarter of play. Joe Scates found the end-zone on a wide-open touchdown pass from Purdy. Charlie Kolar did his best Radio City Rockettes audition in the back corner of the end-zone for a touchdown of his own.
Big names showed up throughout the night.
He may not be on the field with him, but Eisworth had to question if his Purdy's box score was accurate.
When the question was asked if Eisworth had ever seen a quarterback with a small and effective stat sheet like Purdy had through just one quarter, he knew his answer.
"From Brock Purdy I have," Eisworth said. "I remember sitting there like, 'Man, has he had an incomplete pass?'" That's him. That's what we all know he's capable of doing."
On the defensive side and in special teams, Uwazurike stayed steady. After Kansas moved the ball down the field for the first time all day and looked ready to add points on the board with a 34-yard field goal attempt, the Cyclones' reliable force on the front line came through again.
The six-foot-six, 320-pound defensive end put his right hand up and blocked the kick, allowing veteran safety Eisworth to take the ball back on a 55-yard return.
Kansas wouldn't have a chance to score again until there were nine minutes left in the third quarter.
Enyi Uwazurike is the first Cyclone with 2️⃣ career blocked field goals since Nick Leaders (2004).🌪🚨🌪 pic.twitter.com/vTyaFu08aq— Cyclone Football (@CycloneFB) October 3, 2021
Purdy watched with excitement from the sideline as Eisworth stormed down the sideline
He and the other top players know what they have to bring week after week.
"That's the reality of it here. Us leaders, the guys that are leading the show around here, we have to make plays, we have to do our job efficiently," Purdy said. "We don't have a lot of room to mess up and that's the reality of it and we know that."
Iowa State walked into the locker room up 38-0 at halftime and went on to beat Kansas by 52 points, the largest margin of victory over the Jayhawks in program history.
Campbell is just as impressed with how his best players carry themselves throughout the week leading up to game-days. And for many of them, that appreciation goes as far back as January when the grind of the offseason was in the players' hands. No scripted workouts. No practice times like in the spring.
But his best of the best went to work and Saturday was a showcase of their struggle through the process. And Iowa State needs these type of performances for the next eight weeks to have a chance to reach its goals.
"You got to strengthen through struggle, and when your best players have the ability to do that I think your team has the ability to do that," Campbell said.