Oct 6, 2018; Stillwater, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) scrambles against the Oklahoma State Cowboys during the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Nobody could have known what was about to transpire when Brock Purdy lined up behind center on Iowa State’s second offensive possession on Oct. 6, 2018.
The true freshman signal-caller was stepping in for Zeb Noland, who had struggled mightily in the team’s previous game, a loss to TCU, and led the team to a three-and-out on its opening possession against Oklahoma State.
The result on Purdy’s first drive as the Cyclones’ quarterback was the same, but we never could have seen what would come next. With Iowa State trailing 7-2 against the No. 25 Cowboys, Purdy led the team down the field and capped the drive with a 21-yard scoring strike to Hakeem Butler.
The Gilbert, Ariz. native finished that 48-42 Cyclone win with 402 yards of total offense and five scores, cementing himself as the team’s top option at quarterback.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“I think first of all, our football team was a little bit in search of an identity that year,” Campbell recalled during Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “Kyle Kempt had gotten injured. Zeb Noland had filled in and done a really solid job for us. Yet, we still felt like we weren’t reaching our full potential offensively. I think one of the things that Brock had done in practice through fall camp and the early part of that season had really been impressive. It earned him the right to, we’d lost to TCU the week prior, it earned him the right to get into the football game. You know, knowing what was going to happen or what might transpire, I think we were pretty confident that Brock could go in and function, but played really well in that football game and I think it gave him confidence for the rest of the season to really earn the trust of his coaches and his players around him.”
The No. 17 Cyclones will return to the scene of Purdy’s breakout performance on Saturday when they travel to take on the No. 6 Cowboys in Stillwater for a 2:30 p.m. kick on Fox.
It will be one of the nation’s marquee matchups between two of the Big 12’s three co-leaders with conference championship implications. Coming off of three straight Big 12 wins, the Cyclones are far from reeling offensively.
They have solidified themselves as one of the Big 12’s top teams through the first three weeks, which included a huge win over five-time defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma.
“I think Iowa State’s a really good football team. I think they’re well coached,” Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said on Monday. “I think they’ve got a future NFL quarterback. Their running back is playing good. Defensive numbers, they’re squashing people pretty good. They’re definitely a top-20 team in the country, in my opinion. We’re looking forward to a good game on Saturday.”
Two years ago when the Cyclones visited Stillwater, they were searching for an identity that was quickly found behind a true freshman quarterback.
On Saturday, they will be looking to take that process full circle and make another massive step towards playing for their first conference title in more than a century.
“I think, for us, we’ve really understood that this is a collective whole of a season. I think, again, some great growth for us to realize that there is an entirety to a year,” Campbell said. “I think the biggest thing we’ve lacked doing (in past seasons) is the ability to sustain and stay the course. Not even so much in the wins and loss column, but continuing to get better as the season goes and having the chance to become the best version of ourselves. I think, obviously, coming off another bye week and getting back on the football field and measuring yourself against what we know is an outstanding team is another opportunity to pound away at that challenge that I think we’re all seeking within our program. Another great challenge for us.”
*** The Cowboys are dealing with quarterback questions of their own at the moment after returning starter Spencer Sanders was injured in a season-opening 16-7 win over Tulsa. True freshman Shane Illingworth led the team to win over West Virginia and Kansas in the weeks that followed.
But, two weeks off since that win over the Jayhawks has provided Sanders an opportunity to return to full health and get the Cowboys’ quarterbacks room in its best position since before the season started.
Gundy said on Monday that both quarterbacks will be available against the Cyclones, but did not tip his hand as to who would be the starter. He also noted that both guys could play during the game.
*** Here is what Campbell had to say about both of the Cowboys’ signal-callers:
“I think for them it certainly sounds like they’re as healthy as they’ve been to start the season. I think both quarterbacks have shown that they can be really efficient in their offense. Obviously, Spencer Sanders is an elite talent and somebody that has been in their system for a year and a half. I really think the young man, the freshman, (Illingworth) that came in to play for them already has done a great job. Big arm, has got the ability to make all the throws and distribute it to all their playmakers. I don’t know if it really changes who they are offensively and I think both quarterbacks have already proven to be really efficient and really effective in their offense.”
“I think probably to me it’s more of just our kids’ belief of the ability to become the best versions of themselves they can be. I think we’ve continued to pound away at that over the last four or five years. I think that was the greatest thing that when we got here I thought was missing is belief. I think that’s something now that our kids, I really believe, they have the belief that they can become the best versions of themselves that they can be, whether it’s personally or even collectively as a team.”
– Matt Campbell on his biggest accomplishment as the Cyclones’ head coach