Sep 21, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Re-al Mitchell (6) runs away from Louisiana Monroe Warhawks defensive end Myles Cole (45) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Warhawks 72 to 20. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Re-al Mitchell grabbed his helmet and adjusted his mouthguard.
Iowa State’s highly-touted redshirt freshman quarterback was finally poised to take a handful of game snaps for the first time in his career, but first he fielded an important message from Cyclones punter Joe Rivera.
“(He) came up to me and was like, ‘Keep it going. I haven’t had to be out there at all,’” said Mitchell, who rushed for one touchdown and threw for one more in Saturday’s 72-20 demolition of Louisiana-Monroe. “I didn’t realize that so I was like, ‘Oh, OK, no pressure,’ but it feels great being out there and contributing.”
Mitchell did more than just prevent Rivera from having to punt even once against the outmanned Warhawks. He fully validated the effusive praise he’s earned from head coach Matt Campbell and a slew of teammates.
His first career pass ended up in fellow redshirt freshman Sean Shaw’s hands for a touchdown — his second in as many catches.
Mitchell’s first rushing touchdown spanned 29 yards and showcased his vaunted speed, which, according to senior receiver Deshaunte Jones is “top five” on the team.
Mitchell pegs himself a little higher, but that’s a minor quibble on a red-letter day for the offense that featured 11 straight finished drives to close the game.
“Maybe we’ll race one day,” Mitchell said of being one of the Cyclones’ top speed guys.
No need to rush. Mitchell bided his time last season and early in 2019 before playing a full quarter Saturday. While toiling behind the scenes, he honed superior practice habits and dove into film study with alacrity.
“He did amazing, man,” said ISU starting quarterback Brock Purdy, who set a single-game record for total offense with 510 yards. “I’m so happy for him. The whole offense is happy for him, making plays and breaking guys down and cutting and running, man. He’s got all the speed in the world. We’re happy for him.”
It’s not all about speed, though. Campbell said Mitchell had fully “earned” his time on the field because of his work away from the spotlight. Saturday, fans finally caught a glimpse of what he can do — and rightfully left Jack Trice Stadium excited about his prospects.
“I think anytime Re-al gets really meaningful reps is going to be important for this team,” Campbell said. “He’s one play away from playing past the starting quarterback here. He’s a guy that has earned the right to be a really good football player to be really honest with you. Re-al’s worked really, really hard and he’s a guy that certainly gives us a lot of different options and can do a lot of things for our football team. I think to watch him function offensively for the first time live, I think it was really big for everybody, but he’s earned the right to go play well because that’s how (he’s been) in practice.”
It’s how he’ll continue to ply his trade on the practice field, too.
Until next time, he’ll remain ready, poised to showcase his skills whenever his number is called.
“At the end of the day, football’s football and it felt like how it felt at practice in a lot of ways,” Mitchell said. “Just trying to keep that same mentality of being calm and collected. I think I did a good job of that.”
BEYOND MITCHELL, YOUNG CYCLONES IMPRESS
Saturday’s rout allowed several promising — or little used — younger players to shine in the second half.
Sean Shaw caught his first two passes — both for touchdowns, and one each from Purdy and Mitchell. True freshman Jirehl Brock gobbled up 40 yards on five carries and backup safety Arnold Azunna recorded his first career sack.
Second and third-stringers saw the field in virtually all position groups, which should prove valuable on both a personal and team level down the road.
“I think there’s a lot of guys today that gave us confidence, which was really big. I said up there, Sean Shaw, Arnold Azunna, Conner Greene had some huge plays today. I thought Jirehl Brock had a really good day today. There’s a lot of guys that earned — and confidence is earned under the lights when there are people in the stands. You earn that right through how you practice every day.”
EISWORTH AND NWANGWU “FINE”
Safety Greg Eisworth played sparingly in the second half Saturday and tailback Kene Nwangwu sat out after rushing two times for 22 yards. How dinged up are they?
“I think both guys will be fine, both guys are way more precautionary than anything,” Campbell said after the game. “We’ll know better as we get to Tuesday, but I’d expect those guys to be ready to go.”