It was a slow day at the office for Brock Purdy and the Iowa State offense on Saturday in the season opener against the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns.
Dropped passes. Risky throws into tight windows. Near interceptions. An interception. It was ugly for Iowa State's offense in its season opener.
Nothing worked for Purdy and company all day, as Louisiana unleashed a tough man coverage approach on the young and inexperienced receiving group for the Cyclones. The man coverage from the Ragin' Cajuns led Purdy into risky situations all day, having to throw the ball into tight coverage that would find his passes being tipped and nearly picked off all day long.
For Head Coach Matt Campbell, the offense couldn't find its rhythm later on in the game, leading to Louisiana's victory.
“We just struggled to make a play and really struggled to do that really the entire second half," Campbell said.
The stat line for Purdy paints a clear picture for how the day went for the junior quarterback. Throwing for 145 yards on 16-35 passing with an interception, Purdy threw for the third fewest yards in his Cyclone career on Saturday. Iowa State's offense averaged 9.1 yards per completion on the day.
Purdy's season opener wasn't good by any stretch, but he got very little help from his wide outs, who had plenty of struggles battling Louisiana's secondary.
“I felt like the the timing with the receivers from what they were doing defensively, I was a little off, they did a really good job of playing man coverage, mixing up their blitzes and stuff so I think it caught our guys off guard a little bit, threw off the timing but there’s no excuse," Purdy said.
Purdy said Iowa State has gotten used, for better or worse, to starting off slow in year's past, so the challenge of preparing for next week will be nothing new to handle.
Iowa State's leading receiver on the day was newly added JUCO transfer Xavier Hutchinson, who hauled in four catches for 43 yards in his first game as a Cyclone. But Hutchinson's leading performance had a chance to be even better, with Purdy targeting Hutchinson 11 times on Saturday. The seven missed chances proved to be mistake after mistake between Hutchinson and Purdy.
Brock Purdy has targeted Xavier Hutchinson three times and they have yet to connect.— Ben Visser (@BenVisser43) September 12, 2020
Between two dropped balls from Hutchinson, plenty of overthrown balls from Purdy, the two struggled to get in rhythm from the get go. Iowa State's first deep shot of the year was given to Hutchinson, but Purdy put the ball about two yards ahead of Hutchinson for an incomplete pass.
The lack of deep shots, or rather, the lack of plays made on the deep balls from Purdy left Campbell and the Iowa State offense struggling to find momentum.
“I think there were some balls pushed vertically down the field, we didn’t make many plays on them and I think that absolutely showed up and really is the big difference in the game," Campbell said.
Campbell said Iowa State likes to push the ball up the field normally, but Louisiana's secondary took opportunities away in most situations, leaving the offense stagnant and settling for bad options. Man coverage was dialed up in the second half from what it was in the first half, something Campbell attributed to the lack of explosive plays.
And in one of the biggest momentum switches of the afternoon, Purdy's long day with Hutchinson boiled over into Iowa State's second turnover of the afternoon deep in Iowa State territory.
On 3rd and 16, Purdy dropped back and took a chance with Hutchinson locked in coverage with Louisiana's AJ Washington. As the ball landed in Hutchinson's hands, the JUCO transfers bobbled the ball and eventually had it ripped away and intercepted by Washington.
Louisiana failed to get any points out of it, but the turnover encapsulated all of the problems Purdy and his wide receivers had all day long.
The play began with Purdy having to get rid of the ball quickly, a by-product of his new offensive line who had to play without returning starter Trevor Downing for most of the game. As Purdy eyed Hutchinson, Washington had seemingly locked him up, but Purdy wanted to give his man a chance to come away with it. Hutchinson was unable to beat the feisty man coverage and coughed up the pass.
Campbell felt Purdy had a good feel of the game in the first half, connecting on multiple 10+ yardage plays on crossing routes as well as with his feet to start moving the chains. That stopped working in the second half and Purdy's teammates struggled to put their quarterback in the best position.
“We got to do a good job of putting Brock in the best position to be successful,” Campbell said. “I’ve got the utmost faith in Brock and he’ll be back ready to get better on Monday.”
Iowa State's other main targets Sean Shaw Jr. and Tarique Milton contributed as well, combining for six catches and 52 yards for the day.
Chase Allen got it going in the first half, with two catches to keep drives alive for Iowa State. The senior tight end said mistakes on offense took the wind out of the sails of the whole team, leaving players frustrated.
“We had some drops early that are just deflating not because guys aren’t capable of doing it but it kind of takes the air out and that’s what I saw out there today," Allen said.